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Revered by celebrated hoteliers and prominent members of the travel sector the world over, this month the inimitable Geoffrey Gelardi steps down from his role as managing director of the Lanesborough hotel after 28 years.
As London's longest-serving managing director of a luxury property, Gelardi's reputation for his devotion to his clients and dedication to his team is widely known. His standing as the principal of the Lanesborough, the five-red-AA-star Hyde Park property, is legendary.
Gelardi, a third-generation hotelier, is from Johannesburg in South Africa. His grand- father, Commendatore Giulio Gelardi, simultaneously held the positions of general manager of Claridge's in London and the Waldorf Astoria Towers in New York, and his father, Albert, was president of Trust House Forte North America.
Gelardi trained at the Waldorf Astoria and enjoyed a 25-year career in the US, which included periods as managing director at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, from 1982 to 1986, and at the Sorrento hotel in Seattle, from 1986 to 1990. When he arrived in London in 1990 to oversee the opening of the Lanesborough, he planned to stay for only three years. It was to be another 28 before he announced his departure.
When fellow hotelier Stuart Procter took over the running of the Stafford in 2006, aged just 29, Gelardi took him under his wing. Procter said: "Quite simply, Geoffrey is the best managing director of a standalone hotel in Britain by a long way. He has run one of the top five hotels in the country for 20 years and produced the best average room rate."
When the hotel opened in 1991, Roland Fasel, chief operating officer of Aman, says it set new standards for comfort, introduced another level of service and amenities, and was number one in the competitive set for years.
"The hotel owes everything to the commitment, dedication and focus of Geoffrey," says Fasel. "Yes, there were companies involved, but ultimately, it was his leadership style that kept the hotel on top of its game for many years."
For Fasel, he has been a boss, a mentor, a professional colleague and a personal friend. "We met in his office somewhere in the belly of the Lanesborough to finalise the opportunity for me to take over Badrutt's Palace in St Moritz as managing director. He was supportive and guided me through the challenges. I have so many great memories of that journey, which was a major milestone on my CV."
Property owner Michael Malone first met Gelardi when he was managing director of the Hotel Bel-Air and persuaded him to move to Seattle to manage his Sorrento hotel. He said: "I've spent the better part of my life in great hotels, and Geoffrey is in a class of his own. His eye for detail and hands-on leadership, steeped in professionalism and class, is unmatched.
"He is a true friend of the guest, a dedicated and respected boss with the staff and an advocate and representative of ownership. It doesn't get much better than that."
Procter concludes by saying that Gelardi is an institution: "If you were to take a football analogy, he is up there with Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson - his hotel is always in the Champions League. He has such great knowledge and expertise, a ridiculous black book and he's so well connected. We can't wait to see his next move."
The editorial team of The Caterer, with nominations from all the Cateys' judging panels
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