Dick Henggeler is owner of The Rose Hotel, Tralee, Co. Kerry which he purchased along with his wife Eibhlin in 2015. Dick qualified as an electrical engineer from University of Note Dame in 1975 and worked in Texas and England before setting up Henggeler Computer Consultants in 1996. The company which grew to 150 employees was recognised as one of the best companies in the industry and is used as a model today for many other companies. Dick sold the company in 2011 and retired. Dick and Eibhlin had three children but sadly lost two girls. Their son and his wife have two sons and live near them in Baltimore. Dick and Eibhlin spend most of their time in Maryland, USA but also spend a considerable amount of time in Kerry with Eibhlin’s family and The Rose Hotel.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
I am not sure that leadership can be taught but certainly future leaders can be educated. At the most basic level there are skills that every leader (or anybody for that manner) would be wise to have which include public speaking, setting and achieving goals, having discipline, importance of good appearance etc. There is a more nuanced knowledge set which is important but not as easily taught but learned through life experiences. These would include situational awareness, understanding personalities in the workplace, dealing with failure etc. These could be examined and discussed in a leadership class. Generally leaders are pretty good at educating themselves on leadership topics by a variety of means. There are books, lectures, podcasts etc that give examples of great leaders of the past – good and bad, leadership styles, seeking out mentors. These resources could be catalogued and shaped into some kind of curriculum for the leadership student.
If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?
Certain principals for the hotel have been established over the last two years. These include: make the customer experience outstanding, get and retain the best people, keep the hotel in the best condition, continue to look for ways for us to improve, continue to follow these principals on a daily basis. 98% of what our General Manager does is exactly what I would want done. Where we might differ he more often than not enlightens me based on his experience. Other times he just humours me. This suggests that my 1 year absence would be an overall plus for the hotel. I talk to my General Manager each week to go over everything – revenue, employees, maintenance, marketing, items from previous weeks, incidents etc. These meetings keep me informed of what is happening but more importantly they bring a certain amount of oversight and accountability to the organisation. I would have the General Manager hold these weekly meetings with someone else while I am gone.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
Any business has to worry about being relevant in the future. Our strategy to differentiating ourselves as well as being sustainable is to achieve top quality. We have transformed the hotel from average to excellent. The time and effort in doing this will help us not only in the next few years but 10 years from now. Money has to be continually reinvested into the business. In our case we bought a hotel that had not got any investment for 8 years. We executed a massive refurbishment to the public areas and now we are working our way through the 162 bedrooms. We realise that when we are done, we will have to start the cycle over but this time on a more gradual basis. These cycles keep the hotel fresh and allow new ideas to be added. We are gradually building up our reputation and we will continue to grow that over the next 10 years. The time and expense of establishing a great reputation will serve as an insurance policy going into the future. Our ability to withstand what awaits us will be greatly enhanced if our reputation is firmly established.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
For most Americans, George Washington is a great example of what a leader should be. He was a wealthy land owner who risked everything for a higher cause. Among his many accomplishments, he took on the world’s greatest military and out lasted it to win the revolution. As our first president he showed the world how a leader should be.
Lewis and Clark explored the western US in the early 1800’s shortly after it was purchased from the French. Their two year expedition challenged them in so many ways from surviving in the wilderness, dealing with friendly and hostile Indians, travelling 3,000 miles all without support from anywhere. They kept their brave men focused, made life and death decisions regularly, made scientific discoveries, overcame disasters and lived to tell the tale.
If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your career what advice would you give yourself?
You are in charge of yourself. It is up to you to look out for yourself. Push yourself to your limits and do not be satisfied with what others would be satisfied with. It takes a devotion to hard work and long hours. Your energy, your youth, your education are extremely valuable assets – non of which should be wasted. They need to be spent on obtaining knowledge and preparing for my life’s work. In addition, be the best employee that your supervisor ever had. Learn as much as you can from your current job but also be looking out for your next job. Learn what you want to do and what you do not want to do. Also you should have a second, personal job where you work for yourself. The job is to groom yourself for a future supervisor/manager position. It requires you to develop a whole range of personal skills as listed above. Each day should have some time devoted to this.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
These are some of my favourite books on leadership:
• “Good to Great” by Jim Collins – Traits of companies that became great
• “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey – A self help book that talks about what traits powerful people seem to possess.
• “Boyd” by Robert Coram – John Boyd was an amazing Air Force Officer who thought outside the box and outside the system. He single handedly made significant changes to the military and to business.
The best resource for me while I owned my own software company was Vistage. This organisation brings together a group of CEOs for monthly meetings. We would hear from speakers on a variety of topics, share ideas amongst ourselves, work on issues that we may be experiencing. There was also one on one coaching with the group moderator – an ex CEO.