Anyone who has ever worked for Schulze knows that "creating excellence" is more than just a motto to him - it's his raison d'être, his religion.

"If an ashtray was dirty, Mr. Schulze would pick it up himself," remembers Pascal Bertrand, who was with Ritz-Carlton for 10 years and is now the general manager of the luxurious Legends Resort in Mauritius. "How often do you see the COO doing that? Then he'd bring it up to our office to remind us what it takes to be the best."

"Few company leaders roll up their sleeves and get involved like Horst does," agrees Wendy Reisman, who spent eight years with Ritz-Carlton and now runs her own Washington, D.C.-based PR firm. "And few are as motivating. When Horst got up to speak, the entire room sprang to attention."

At one point in his Ritz-Carlton days, Schulze set out to lure a group of ­Michelin-starred chefs into leaving their European restaurants and coming to work for him in the United States. One of them was Guenter Seeger. Today, as chef/owner of Seeger's in Atlanta, Seeger praises Schulze for devotion not only to "heads in beds," but also to serving the finest food.

"He's one of the very few hoteliers who has a vision for the culinary part as well," Seeger says. "If anyone can do a six-star hotel, it would be him."

In 1999, Schulze and his corporate food-and-beverage director invited their 45 ­executive chefs and 45 hotel food-and-beverage directors to join them on a whirlwind culinary and wine tour of France and Germany. The eight-day trip was an epic undertaking that involved moving about 90 people and their luggage around Europe; arranging tours, tastings, and vineyard visits; and ­securing reservations at some of the ­hardest-to-get-into (and most expensive) restaurants in the world, including many Michelin three-stars. The goal was twofold: to inspire the employees and to reward them for all their hard work.

Schulze was also known for having an almost gurulike effect on his staff and, at the same time, maintaining an approachable, down-to-earth style. "I've never known a company president who knew almost every employee's name," Reisman says. "And he really, sincerely cares. Horst was totally accessible by phone and by e-mail. He is about as loyal as they come."