Born in Winningen, Germany, Schulze was just 11 years old when he announced that he wanted to work in a hotel; never mind that he had never even set foot in one. Three years later, he quit school and went off to be a busboy at a hotel 110 miles from home. His mother warned him to behave, he remembers, because the hotel was fancy, and the guests were "important people."
Shortly after he started, he had his first life-changing epiphany. "The maître d' of the restaurant was exceptional in his position," Schulze remembers. "When he entered the room, you felt it. People felt honored when he came to the table. He was as important to the guests as they were to him. Some see service as menial, but it was clear to me early on that it was an art. I knew from then on ... hotels would be my life."
Schulze's next seminal experience took place at the Beau-Rivage in Lausanne. "The place was a palace," he recalls. "Everything about it exuded sophistication: the original art, the huge chandeliers, the painted ceilings, the view of the lake. It made an enormous impression. There was no way I could afford to be there as a guest. Yet, I had the same beautiful things around me. Why not enjoy it?"
Schulze felt the same giddy excitement at the Plaza Athénée in Paris, where the clientele included Gary Cooper and Brigitte Bardot. "My little room was barely as wide as a bed," he says, "but I was spending my days in the same surroundings as the Aga Khan. It just confirmed for me that I had chosen the right career. And that feeling has stayed with me ever since."
It was in 1959, while working as a waiter for the Holland America Line, that Schulze got his first glimpse of America. The ship docked in Hoboken, New Jersey, and the crew had a two-day leave. "All my friends ran off the boat, heading for the Empire State Building or Times Square," he recalls. "I went straight to the Waldorf-Astoria."
Schulze went on to management positions with Hilton and, later, Hyatt. When he quit in 1983 to join Ritz-Carlton, the company had just three hotels. "My father-in-law called and said, 'Are you crazy?' " Schulze remembers. " 'You're leaving Hyatt for a company with no hotels?' " Schulze was named Ritz-Carlton's executive vice president in 1987 and president and chief operating officer a year later.
The catchy Ritz-Carlton motto - We Are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen - may sound like a slogan dreamed up by a slick branding firm, but it's actually something Schulze wrote in an essay when he was 15, while working as a busboy and attending hotel school once a week.
"It was the only 'A' I ever got," he laughs, "and so of course I remembered it. In this business, we're not servants; we're professionals. If you want respect, you have to create excellence."