Henrik Muehle's introduction to the hospitality industry came in 1987 when he moved from his home town of Cologne in western Germany to study at a technical school for hotel business near Munich. He spent three years between the college and working as an apprentice at the Hotel Alpina in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, near the Austrian border.
"My first real job was as a demi chef de rang at the opening of the Hotel im Wasserturm, a privately owned hotel in what used to be Europe's largest water tower," he says. "It was a very exciting time as it was a beautiful property - it is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World - and has a Michelin-starred restaurant."
Muehle moved from the restaurant to reception, where he made his way up to chef leader and then, in 1991, was invited to go to France to help with the opening of the company's second hotel, L'Impérial Palace in Annecy. "It was a very useful move, as I joined the hotel's management training programme and worked throughout the different departments, as well as learn French."
In 1992 Muehle moved to Paris to join the opening of the Copthorne hotel at Charles de Gaulle Airport as front-of-house manager. It was from there that he moved to the UK, when he was transferred to the Copthorne Hotel Windsor as front-of-house manager.
Muehle moved to Jersey in 1998 as operations manager for the Hand Picked Hotels' property L'Horizon, and the following year was given the opportunity to study on a management programme at Cornell University in New York.
He moved back to the UK mainland in 2000 as deputy manager of Tylney Hall hotel in Hampshire. "There are some wonderful properties here, and I decided that the UK was where I wanted to work," he says.
Muehle's first general manager position came in 2002 with a move into London to the Capital hotel.
"It was a time when so many hotels were suffering after 9/11, and it was great to be able to put my stamp on the hotel and bring new business through its doors."
Muehle's role at the hotel expanded in 2005 when he was promoted to assistant managing director of the Capital Group and took on responsibility for the company's Levin hotel, the catering operation at Bafta, a winery and bakery, as well as continuing his managerial role at the Capital.
Muehle was appointed managing director of the St James's Hotel and Club in June 2009, a position he has embraced with relish. "The hotel is managed by the Athoff Hotel Collection, which has some wonderful properties in Germany and is particularly strong on food and beverage, with several Michelin-starred restaurants amongst them," he says.
"The refurbishment of the hotel, which was finished nine months before I arrived, has resulted in an amazing design with bedrooms which are truly some of the best in London. Together with the fantastic location of the hotel, we have been able to attract a great team here and really put the hotel back on the map."
HIGHS… Muehle found that studying at Cornell University was a wonderful opportunity to exchange experiences with some exceptional hoteliers from around the world. He has also found taking over the St James's to be satisfying. "We've been able to achieve high occupancy figures - 82% in March 2010 - during the recession, and it's been great to attract to the hotel such a great chef as William Drabble," he says.
LOWS… Experiencing a dramatic fall in business following 9/11 was a frightening time for Muehle. "I was at Tylney Hall at the time and didn't think anything could affect what was a strong operation," he explains. "It was a real wake-up call."
Favourite holiday Venice
Motto Any leader is only as good as the team he creates
While a growing business needs to constantly capture new customers, the focus and priority should be on pleasing your existing customer base. Long-term customer loyalty is a long-term challenge that one must strive for every day.