David Frei

General Manager || Grace La Margna St. Moritz

“Hello everybody. My name is David Frei, I am the General Manager of the Grace La Margna St. Moritz and this is my humans of hospitality story!

My dream was actually to become a pilot as I wanted to fly around the world and discover new places and cultures. I had already started my application when the Swissair grounding happened. So my dream grounded as well and after serving my obligatory service in the Swiss army for almost two years I was thinking of following my father’s footsteps in becoming a lawyer. I started studying law and economics in St. Gallen, butI learnt pretty fast that this is not for me at all.

I soon asked myself why I am not following my dream becoming a hotelier and I wanted to make it a reality and be part of this magical world. That is when I applied to the École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) and got accepted.

I used to be not very outgoing and I did not step up to others. Going to this university helped me step out continuously of my comfort zone and it really helped me becoming who I wanted to be. This is what I am doing throughout my career. The moment I feel comfortable and not challenged anymore, I realize I need to change by switching jobs and locations to change perspectives and to grow again.

After getting insights in the international luxury hotel industry in Berlin and Shanghai, I started my career as a Head Concierge in Arosa, a Swiss mountain resort, where I collected the necessary skills to exceed the expectations of discerning guests. After this more than valuable time I went to the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz to work on my managerial skills as Front Office Manager in a huge 5* resort operation.

Feeling the need to go back to a chain hotel environment and a more international city surrounding, I decided to go to Munich to pursue the career in rooms division. However, due to different circumstances in the pandamic I did not find my job as fulfilling, so I decided to go back to Switzerland. There I had the unique opportunity to help a four-star hotel in Celerina to convert the operations to go digital. From changing all systems to a working digital landscape, it gave me the perfect idea of the hotel of the future.

Doing this for almost a year and already thinking of what is coming next, I  got approached by Ian Millar, an old and very dear professor of mine from EHL and he told me that someone is looking for an opening GM for a boutique hotel of 74 rooms in St. Moritz. After a lunch with the owner’s representative and a short introduction to the owner three days later they told me within the talks that they want me to appoint me as their General Manager. I could not believe what was happening as it happened so quickly and I did not have any experience as a GM! My present boss pulled me aside and told me that sometimes life gives you these opportunities where you are the right person, at the right time, at the right place. We simply matched as we had a common understanding and vision of the Grace. Honestly, he took a risk, but trusted me. I feel the same way in my team as they are all very young and it is their first time working in these positions. By trusting these people, the reward is that you get such a dynamic, energetic and motivated team that is not comparable to any other.

I was given a once in a lifetime chance, as I could participate in the concept development as well as the design of the Grace since we have been building it for the past year. If I would have to describe the Grace in three words it would be cool, urban and welcoming. We are a luxury lifestyle and boutique hotel as we want to show a different kind of hospitality in St. Moritz. Here you have the top hotels, which everyone knows about, however they are kind of stuck in this old-fashioned way of doing hospitality: they do not meet the needs of a new traveller segment. Guests from all walks of life, are young in mind and body and want to be treated as such, to experience new things and that is what we offer with our concept.

St. Moritz is the place to be in the winter season, all the world is here, however for instance there is not really a cocktail bar for an urban crowd in this Alpine metropolis. With “N°5 – The Bar” we will create an overall feel-good vibe through a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere by offering extraordinary cocktails and simply good food.

For the upcoming opening, my wish is to welcome everyone ranging from house guest to the public and local communities to our hotel. Also the architecture of the building supports this approach by having glass fronts and windows, representing ourselves as an open, friendly and welcoming space.: We will be one the only five-star boutique hotels in the Alps which will be open all year around. We will not just be a luxury hotel; we will be much more.

After diving into what the Grace is all about, I want to take a step back and share a bit of my life lessons with the audience, especially the young hospitality enthusiast. It is important to stay ambitious and be passionate about what you set your mind to, but also stay humble about it. Another factor is to stay open-minded as people tend to zero in on their perfect plan and then miss amazing opportunities. If you set your mind to something, just follow your own path and try different doors on your way towards your dream. This was my experience, I did not take the textbook career path, but I stayed humble, open minded, energetic, driven and stepped out of my comfort zone all the time. The moment you feel too comfortable, switch it up. And if that means taking a step back that is also fine. My plan was always becoming a GM, but I did not pursue this plan by any means. I did what was right at a certain time in my life and career and now I can humbly say that I am one of the first GMs from my academic year. This is also the vision I have for my team, the people around me and also the young talents we want to attract. Gratefully, we did not have any major difficulties attracting amazing young talents in our recruitment process and it boils down to how you communicate and approach these talents as well as implement a cooperate culture. Everyone is always complaining about the current situation that we do not have enough people and talents wanting to join our hotels. I believe we need to take a step back, stop complaining about others and try to make a difference by adapting ourselves to make this magical industry attractive again. I am convinced that I work in one of the coolest industries. You get to see the world, get exposure to different cultures and meet inspiring people. In addition, you have amazing job opportunities and get to follow a divers and unique career. Also, this is one of the most flexible industries out there in regard to when you can get off or when you are working.

My vision is simple: Creating an inspiring and enjoyable space not only for our guest but moreover for our colleagues.”