Andrea Kracht grows the legacy of the Baur Au Lac 

There are only a handful of hotelier families who have managed to maintain their independence over multiple generations, concentrating primarily on one asset, continually reinvesting, and keeping the family values and relationships intact. One such family is the Krachts of Zurich, owner-operators of the Baur Au Lac, founded in 1844 by Johannes Baur and forever the host of the world’s elite who travels to the Swiss city for business, the arts and to enjoy the central location of the 119-room “villa” on Lake Zurich with a view of the Alps.

Today, under the leadership of 65-year-old Andrea Kracht, who is now mentoring his 31-year-old daughter, Marguita, to become the seventh-generation leader, time marches on with little change to the familiar beat of the property its loyal guests prefer. The Baur Au Lac continues to thrive and profit as the service and style meet the expectations of discerning clientele. While some of the hardware and technology have been added to enhance the experience, much more so the hotel has stayed the same – just as Andrea Kracht likes it.

“This is my life. It takes a lot of diligence; there’s no resting. It’s every day. It’s our business and we love it.” – Andrea Kracht

HOTELS 2022 Legend, Kracht is the custodian of the Baur Au Lac legacy, always looking ahead as opposed to reveling in its past achievements because he knows all too well that he must maintain the hotel’s edge. Yes, he is working with a great location, great structural bones and a well-prepared staff, but what he says truly matters is keeping the very best guests happy and returning because that is what makes the hotel’s story and reputation complete. Repeat guests, says Kracht, allow the Baur Au Lac to endure.

“Yes, we have this heritage in the family, and we must make sure that we maintain it well and give it to the next generation in a good state,” said Kracht, who until 2021 also served as chairman of The Leading Hotels of the World, a title he relished because of the luxury ownership company he and the Baur Au Lac maintained. “Out of respect for my ancestors and what has been done inside these four walls for generations, I want to do the best. Now, with our daughter, it’s really a pleasure to see her grow because she comes in with the same type of attitude – that it’s ours and we must do the best to maintain the big tradition. But what is most important is that we never really look back – we always try to be on top of the business and look forward.”

At some point, Andrea Kracht expects his daughter Marguita to take over family leadership of the Baur Au Lac.

With the perspective of a seasoned professional who has grown up in the business, Kracht recognizes every day is a big challenge. “We are professionals, we have a great know-how, and we live for it,” he said. “It is real, and we are very quick to make decisions, which gives us a big advantage.”

Road back home

Taking over the Baur Au Lac was not initially predetermined for Andrea Kracht and he didn’t spend his impressionable years working at the hotel and only occasionally coming to the property for special celebrations.

But soon after finishing prep school and having no specific plan in mind, Kracht’s father suggested the newly defined hospitality program at the school in Lausanne, where he sat on the board. The young Kracht agreed and was soon in the kitchen slicing vegetables and peeling potatoes. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m in the wrong movie. What am I doing here,” Kracht recalled.

Rather quickly, however, the magic that is a life in hospitality started to redefine his thinking and Kracht started making the connection between his schooling and the 50 chefs in the Baur Au Lac kitchen. “More and more you get interested and I started calling my father to ask him about technique. I had a connection to what my work represented in the real world, and very quickly I was hooked.”

The 119-key Baur Au Lac, a member of The Leading Hotel of the World, sits just across the road from Lake Zurich.

Upon graduation, Kracht ventured out to gain experience, first at Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and then to Monte Carlo to work for SBM properties such as The Hermitage. From there, Kracht went to the kitchen at the Ritz in Paris, followed by the restaurant front-of-the-house and then roles in administration, gaining four incredibly valuable years of experience.

It was then that Udo Schlentrich, a family friend who was running The Dorchester in London, said that young Kracht needed to go to the United States for further seasoning. He started by taking courses at Cornell and followed it up by taking an assignment at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Texas, followed by a subsequent move to New York City in 1986 and a short-lived tenure in the front office at the city’s Plaza Athenee.

After meeting legendary hotelier Gunter Richter at an award’s dinner in Manhattan, Kracht moved to the Grand Bay as assistant director and started dating his soon-to-become wife, Gigi, who also came over from the Plaza Athenee. The trio went on to work closely together for the next few years. But by 1990, Kracht’s father became ill, and it was time for him to come home to the Baur Au Lac. He married Gigi the same year and started his occupation at the family property working with longstanding GM Michel Rey, whose father also ran the property for many years.

“I was very comfortable, and we had a great team,” Kracht said. “All of that experience I gathered in the United States turned out to be very beneficial as in the early-90s the European luxury hotel market was starting to have more of an Anglo-Saxon culture with the growing U.S. banking industry, and the investment companies and private equity firms coming to Zurich.”

Baur Au Lac deluxe suite

Guiding principles

Kracht certainly benefits from two rules that guide the family’s business: only one family member actually runs the business and profits are continually invested back into the hotel.

Today, General Manager Christian von Rechenberg, only the fifth in the history, handles the day-to-day and the family focuses on the big picture surrounding its investment.

Hiring the right management is always the biggest decision, Kracht said, and only having a handful over more than 175 years creates a consistency of service delivery that can’t be matched. “A consistent product is essential because we have built-up clients across generations, and they come all the time” Kracht added.

Among the other challenges Kracht and the team have faced included the complete refurbishment of the property in the 1990s, which at the time created a lot of worries because it was a four-year project that was filled with surprises and way over their budget. “The investment was totally crazy, out of hand,” Kracht recalled. “I thought it could go totally wrong, but it really saved us for the coming 30 years. Although we are a traditional building, our product is very solid and behind the-scenes modern and well-functioning.”

Of course, the other big challenge for Kracht has been the past three years and all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Again, a steady hand, a great location and stellar reputation for delivering the very best service carried the day.

The Baur Au Lac never closed during the pandemic and pretty quickly rebounded to 30% to 40% occupancy to manage its budgets. Its affluent guests tend to be international and very mobile, and even as early as 2021 performance was at record levels. Kracht said another record is a project for 2022.

Cooks with August Escoffier at the Baur Au Lac in 1930

The Leading years

Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of Kracht’s career has been his association with luxury representation firm The Leading Hotels of the World, where he remains a shareholder.

He began his run with Leading in the late 90s and first came into prominence when then-CEO Joe Giacoponello appointed Kracht as vice chairman. Some 10 years later he became chairman, a run that ended in 2021. Kracht led strategic planning for the for-profit organization that reinvested all of its profits into the business.

He spent about one-third of his time in his Leading role, taking it very seriously and often attending regional meetings to support the membership. Among the highlights of his tenure was the creation of Leading Quality Assurance, which sets standards for members and non-members.

“As an owner, it gave me an international perspective and connection,” Kracht said. “You see how others think, what they are doing, how they are investing… You learn things as they happen, and it is so beneficial as an owner from Zurich.”

When considering his experiences with Leading, Kracht is also inspired to tell the next generation to connect and work for the likes of its membership. “Find a good job but go into a well-known property that has a good name, that has a great know-how because this will be so beneficial to your future,” he said.

What’s next?

Staying motivated is never an issue for Kracht, who has been entrusted with the family business and takes the responsibility quite seriously. “It’s the success… it’s always step by step to make our product even better,” he said. “We train our people better. We make new, beautiful things. It’s a constant and we never stand still.”

Today, Kracht is focusing more on working with the new GM and his daughter Marguita’s ascent in the business, which gives him particular joy. He is also involved in the family’s wine business, which he said accounts for about half the revenue the hotel generates.

Marguita, who was expecting her first child in August, has been working on a new corporate identity program and has been very hands-on with the recent renovation to the entrance and reception of the hotel and the refurbishment of the brasserie restaurant. The garden’s tiled terrace has also been redone, with enormous umbrellas so it’s influencers’ choice from outdoor breakfasts through to late-night suppers.

Along with GM von Rechenberg, Marguita is also focused on continually driving innovations in digitalization and sustainability and optimizing the experience for both guests and employees.

“She’s gathering her experience,” Kracht said. “She’s very humble. She is great with people because she goes into substance with everyone.”

Just as it was a natural progression for Andrea to take the reins of the family business, he sees the same qualities in Marguita, who has worked at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, The Lanesborough and Peninsula in London, as well as for Aman. “She is really amazing. Actually, you don’t have to explain anything – she’s just a natural,” Kracht said with immense pride.

But the baton has not been passed just yet and Kracht remains as devoted as ever to the Baur Au Lac. “This is my life,” he reflected. “It takes a lot of diligence; there’s no resting. It’s every day. It’s our business and we love it.”

Three generations: Andrea Kracht with his mother and daughter Marguita

Baur Au Lac timeline

1844: Johannes Baur opens the hotel and eight years later he turns it over to his son, Theodor.

1898: Emmy, Theodor Baur’s daughter, married the Cologne hotel owner Karl Kracht, who expanded the hotel to its current size of 17,000 square meters (plus 1,400 square meters of outdoor space).

1914: Karl Kracht passes away and his nephew Hans Kern takes over the business.

1916: Fritz and Hermann Kracht, Karl Kracht’s two sons, aged only 20 and 25, take over the management.

1949: Charles Kracht takes over and subjects the hotel to an extensive investment program. He builds and founds the Club Baur au Lac, as well as the winery in Urdorf, where 700,000 bottles are stored. He initiates the renovation of the century, the planning for which already begins in the late 1980s.

1990: After the death of his father, Andrea Kracht, his mother Marguita Kracht and sister Gabrielle Feldhahn-Kracht take over. Andrea acts, among other things, as a delegate of the board of directors, while Marguita devotes herself to interior design. Gabrielle is a silent partner.

2019: The Baur au Lac celebrates its 175th anniversary.

2022: Marguita Kracht joins her father, Andrea Kracht, working side-by-side guiding the Baur au Lac into this exciting new era. Kracht joins her father in the management and strategic direction of the Baur au Lac.