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Hans van der Reijden

Managing director of hotel operations and educational initiatives
The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center

Hans van der Reijden was introduced to the hotel and restaurant business at an early age. In high school, he worked as a dishwasher and server before earning a degree in hotel and restaurant management, or HRMT, from Hanze College in his home country of The Netherlands. As Van der Reijden heard stories of American hospitality and customer service, he dreamt of moving and experiencing it for himself. A job with Holland America Cruise Line afforded him the chance to investigate hotels and restaurants in major American cities. Near the end of a three-year stint with the cruise line, Van der Reijden met Lisa Thanos, who was working for a large VIP travel company. As fate would have it, their paths continued to cross, even after Van der Reijden landed a job with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. The couple married in St. Louis, Mo., and spent the next several years living and working all over the world for Ritz-Carlton. In 2002, Olivia van der Reijden was born. The following year, Van der Reijden got a call from the West Paces Hotel Group in Atlanta. The company was planning to redesign a hotel property in Auburn and expand its academic component with the university. The opportunity meant leaving the exotic world of Bali for the southern hospitality of Auburn, but Van der Reijden accepted. Since then, he has been the managing director of hotel operations and educational initiatives at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.

1. How did you get into the hospitality industry in the first place?

I knew at a young age that I did not want to go into the family business. (His family owned a life insurance company and funeral homes.) A very close family friend owned two restaurants and introduced me to a colleague, Gerard Fagel, whose own restaurant was popular with members of the royal family, movie stars and captains of industry. I was in awe of him, of how he worked. He would connect with everyone, acknowledge each customer by name and deliver a deeply personal and respectful touch. He would come to a table and go down on one knee, lowering himself to eye level and look directly into the eyes of a patron. That's when I knew I wanted to go into the restaurant business. With my family's support, I went to work.

2. What is a typical day for you?

There is no such thing as a typical day. I spend 60 percent of my time at The Hotel and 40 percent in the classroom. At The Hotel, my day could be spent talking to donors about supporting our program, visiting with guests and working with our staff. I could also be teaching Introduction to Hospitality Management or my senior lecture series, or I could be lecturing in someone else's class. I think the most valuable time I spend is one-on-one with students. They come to me at The Hotel, where my office is, and we talk about where they want their career to go. I offer advice on what works and what doesn't work in the industry. The goal of the Auburn program is to deliver students to the hospitality industry that are marketable and will come back to be a part of our program. We want them to be an ambassador for the program, to hire more Auburn graduates because they know what they are going to get.

3. In December, it was announced that the West Paces Hotel Group was renamed the Capella Hotel Group. How will the relationship with a high-end luxury hotel company affect The Hotel and Auburn's HRMT program?

We have had a tremendous relationship with the West Paces Hotel Group that has provided guests at The Hotel, Dixon Conference Center, Ariccia and Piccolo with top-notch service. It has also opened many doors for students in the hotel and restaurant management program to work at West Paces properties around the world. With the projected growth of the Capella Hotel Group, I expect we will see many more opportunities for students in terms of careers, internships and the like. Our guests will enjoy the superior level of service that is synonymous with Capella.

4. You've been in the hospitality business for more than 25 years. What do you think of placing the responsibility of planning and presenting the annual Hospitality Gala in the hands of Auburn's HRMT students?

The event has evolved over the years to one of the biggest one-night fundraising events on campus. Last year, we raised more than $200,000 and we couldn't have done that without the students. Putting the responsibility for organizing the gala in the hands of 25 students is of tremendous value to them and to the Auburn program.

5. With your vast experience as an international hotelier, you've had the privilege of traveling the globe, including Bali, Egypt, Turkey and Singapore. What's the best place you've ever been to and why?

I have been very fortunate to see much of this beautiful world, but if I have to make a choice, it has to be Bali - the culture, the people. It enlivens all the senses, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

April 2, 2012