Ermes De Megni: The Innovation Interview

Mr. Ermes De Megni, General Manager of Hotel Splendido & Splendido Mare by Orient Express in Portofino, Italy shares his thoughts and insights on how technology and innovation is impacting the hotel business.

Prior to commencing his career in the hotel business, Mr. De Megni earned a degree at the Ecole d’Hotellerie in Abano Terme, Italy followed by a masters degree from Luiss University in Rome in Hotel Management and Yeald Management.

After completing his studies, Mr. De Megni worked all over Europe as a Front Office Employee and in the Sales & Marketing Department at such distinguished hotels as The Westbury Hotel and Claridge Hotel in London, UK, Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Munich, Germany and the Grand Hotel Paris, France. While Mr. De Megni lived and worked in Germany and France he learned to speak German and French.

To improve his competences and desire to speak fluent English, Mr. De Megni moved to the United States to work in Sales & Marketing at the Mayfair Hotel in New York City and then as Assistant to the Food & Beverage Director at the Boca Raton Hotel & Club in Boca Raton, FL. His time in the States was followed by an eastern work experience at the Amanpuri Resort in Phuket, Thailand as a Food & Beverage Consultant.

When Mr. De Megni joined Hotel Splendido he began as a front office employee and worked his way up to General Manager, a position he has held since 2009.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation means to me, speaking of course, of our Hotel, keeping the traditional Italian standards of hospitality, using new technologies without altering the ‘historical’ flair of our house. Tradition goes hand in hand with innovation.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Speaking of the hotel business, I would say that innovation is needed particularly to speed up the reservation methods even though what we should not do is depersonalising the booking process.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

What I recommend to anyone of the staff is to be himself, honest, and respectful. The best advice received is to transmit the passion I have for my job to my team.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

This is difficult to answer. I could mention more than one, but probably the fact that our guests come back  year after year and we see their children grow up and then marry. The high fidelity to our house clearly indicates that our efforts to offer excellent service is in the right direction.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Both: physical for the library at home or at the hotel. Have you ever noticed that every book has its own distinct ”smell” ? Digital for travelers-how can we quit reading?

Mr. Philip Mengel, the Interim CEO of Orient-Express has gone through great effort to protect and enhance the Orient-Express brand since he was named to the position on May 15, 2012. What inspiration and advice have you received from Mr. Mengel?

I have received the advice to keep working like we do everyday always showing clients the fondness that we all have for our work.

What new technologies have exhibited the greatest impact on your business and best enhance your guest’s experience?

The Internet, Social Networks and the iPhone.

When we visited the hotel in July of 2010 we were impressed that the hotel offered complimentary wi-fi service. When and why did you start offering complimentary wi-fi to hotel guests?

It has been offered since 2003 in order to optimize the service for our guests.

Any plans to offer mobile check in? Or do you feel that this will depersonalize the guest experience?

In accordance with Italian Law we must require travel documents upon arrival. In the near future we will offer a mobile check-in service for the documents, but the warm welcome of our guests at the Front Desk and the personal escort will remain the same.

Guests return year after year as is commemorated in the Golden Book and the staff’s attention to detail is extraordinary. In fact, a staff member rescued us with an impromptu lesson on how to drive stick shift after we were became stuck on one of the famous winding roads of Portofino. How are you able to maintain this high degree of service year after year?

At the beginning of the season we conduct internal training sessions for all staff, both junior and senior. In addition, the wisdom shared from our invaluable department heads and all senior staff members who have been working at the Splendido for many years.

Charles N.W. Schlangen: The Innovation Interview

Charles N.W. Schlangen, Board President of the Santa Rosa Symphony and President of Charmar, LLC, a commercial real estate investment firm. Prior to launching a career in real estate, the Santa Rosa native was an attorney with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, LLP, practicing in the New York, Palo Alto, and Hong Kong offices where he focused primarily on securities and capital markets work for Fortune 500 companies and international clients.

After graduating from Stanford University with departmental honors and academic distinction in International Relations, he spent two years at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. in their Strategic Growth department before going on to obtain his law degree at the University of Chicago.

Schlangen is also on the Advisory Board of the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, a member of the Council of Fellows and the Young Members’ Steering Committee of the Morgan Library in New York, as well as being Vice President of the Board of the Clarion Music Society.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

I define innovation as applying and/or integrating new ways of thinking, and new technologies, to existing challenges, or to explore ways in which we can do things better, more efficiently, and more effectively.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Among others, I would say that it needs to happen in the area of the performing arts. In order to stay relevant and reach new and younger audiences, adopting innovative practices and thinking will be crucial.

What is the best piece of advice you have given and received?

Given: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Received: Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

That’s tough to say, but the most recent one of which I am proud is my election as President of the Santa Rosa Symphony. I am grateful for the trust that my board members have placed in me despite my comparative youth, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead the organization at a time of significant change and opportunity.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?


When do you think that Operas and Symphonies will embrace new innovations to reach a younger demographic and expand the donor base?

Many are already doing exciting, innovative things. An excellent example is the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD simulcasts to movie theaters, which makes the medium more accessible, more affordable, and demystifies the art form.

I think that both the opera and the symphony are going to have to embrace new innovations as soon as they are able. The speed with which they can do so will vary from group to group, and it also remains to be seen whether and how much the innovations they adopt will move the needle for generating new audiences.

Acoustics are so important to the way that an audience experiences music. How do you feel about the experience in a new building constructed to enhance sound versus an older yet more storied location as La Scala?

The age of the building is much less important than the design and shape of the building. Without naming names, there are some concert halls in major cities that have very poor acoustics, while older buildings with the right design can be magnificent.

You have an extraordinary voice yourself. How has your voice training changed the way you listen to Operas and Symphonies?

You are far too kind. My own experience in singing has made me a much better listener, and therefore when a performance is truly exceptional my excitement, and appreciation for the musicians, is all the greater.

Conversely, I am much more apt to be aware of missteps and problems. But that is part of the joy of a live performance, which can’t be captured in a recording or MP3.

You speak six languages and impressed us when we were all in Italy together with your appreciation of languages. Why did you want to learn so many languages?

I don’t know that it was ever really a plan in any way. The school I attended in 5th and 6th grade started me early with French, and I had an aptitude for it. Spanish and Chinese were more strategic choices as I could see that they would be useful given population trends and the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

Portuguese and German were due to intellectual curiosity. And I also speak some Italian due to my study of opera.

As President of the Board of the Santa Rosa Symphony, what would you like the general public to know about the Symphony?

Having taken our place as the orchestra in residence at the acoustically superb Weill Hall at the Green Music Center on the campus of Sonoma State University, we are poised to cement our position as one of the country’s leading regional orchestras.

We are known for innovative programming, artistic excellence, and a deep commitment to our community as evidenced by our music education and appreciation programs, which touch the lives of 20,000 children in Sonoma County each year.

Joseph A. Izzillo J.D.: The Innovation Interview

Joseph A. Izzillo J.D. is a renaissance man who spent two years in a monastery and three years in the army during World War II in the combat engineers and the topographic engineers. After the war he attended Fordham University and received his Juris Doctor degree in 1951 from Saint John’s University. Joe has practiced law in New York and Connecticut for sixty years. He has been a private pilot since 1962.

Joe is now a captain in the Naples, FL squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. Some of his most memorable moments were spending a day with Charles A. Lindbergh, personally meeting General George S. Patton, Jr. Helen Keller, Pope John Paul II, and J. Edgar Hoover.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is finding something new rather than improving something already in existence.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The industry which needs to find innovation is the industry which powers our civilization such as the use of oil, gas and coal which are being depleted and one day will disappear.

We should make more use of atomic energy and at the same time we must find ways to make it safer. Also I think that we should make more use of wind turbines and solar energy.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

The best advice I have ever received is to work hard and to aim for the top and at the same time to be honest with yourself and with others.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

My greatest achievement has been to make my marriage work by picking out the right woman and to learn to make compromises and to not let my ego blind me to the ego and desires of my wife.

I also consider that having children is one of my great achievements and instilling in them the values which were instilled in me. My achievement in my ancient profession is secondary.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Newspapers and books. There is no question that digital is where we are going. I prefer the physical. At one time every city and town had a number of newspapers. They are rapidly disappearing due to television and e-mails where one can get the news almost instantaneously.

I do not believe that books will disappear e.g. I have Kindle but I still prefer the physical book. The communication technology is improving so rapidly that it is difficult to project what will come next.

On August 2, 1944 you were ordered by your commanding officer to personally deliver maps to General George S. Patton. Today, maps and real-time video can be delivered over a secure network directly to the Generals in the field. What are your thoughts on how technology has changed the military?

Regarding the delivery of the maps to General Patton with our new technology there is no question but that it could be done over a secure network. However as has been proven in the past, our enemies and others will find a way to burrow in and overcome the security and privacy. We read news every day now about how our privacy is being invaded in so many different ways.

You had the honor of spending an afternoon with Charles Lindbergh at the home of Pan American World Airways Executive, Sam Pryor in 1972. Lindbergh was an innovator who would forever change aviation and medicine. Today in 2012, what do you think Charles Lindbergh would make of all the great innovations and technological breakthroughs?

Lindbergh was not only the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic to Paris but he was the person who made many innovations in the progress of aviation. Also he was a technical genius in many fields including medicine. In my opinion he had a most unusual brain and also was willing to take risks in all that the did.

He was very unique.

When you were in your 50’s, you took some classes at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Since then, there has been a foodie movement and chefs such as Ferran Adrià and Grant Achatz have embraced molecular gastronomy. What’s the next trend?

It was an honor to attend the CIA and also the culinary department of the New School which is now a college. I am not a chef but I grew up with a love of food and the desire and ambition to find new ways to make our natural foods more interesting and more attractive to all.

The current interest in food and the proliferation of food programs especially on television has made the chefs famous and also have given the average person the desire to emulate them and to experiment on the kitchen. Cookbooks are flying off the shelves.

The molecular gastronomy especially used in Spain by Ferran Adrià is another historical step in preparing food since the days of the cavemen. I do not think that it will become common in the preparation and service of food.

As to the chefs themselves see the story in my book about how the chefs are treated like royalty. My profession never received this adulation. This is a great time to become a chef. However, the field is so crowded that only a few make it to the top. Read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

As a Captain in the Civil Air Patrol, what is the greatest technological breakthrough to have a positive impact on flying and why?

The greatest technological breakthrough in aviation has been the invention of the jet engine. In one form or another that has brought about a revolution. However the propulsion for rockets is an advanced form of the jet engine and we have already gone to the moon and I am sure that we will go to other planets.

Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized on 10/21/2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. You have worked tireless throughout the years on this cause and even painted a portrait of Kateri which hangs near her tomb at the St. Francis Xavier Mission near Montreal, Quebec. Your painting of Kateri was even chosen by the U.S. Postal Service to honor the 350th anniversary of her death. What did it mean to when Kateri became a saint?

I always knew that Kateri was in Heaven. Her very life told me that she was with the saints and I have been praying to her for many years. You know from my book what she did for me with my disease. Actually only God can perform miracles but it was through Kateri’s intercession that I was cured.

We do not need to use a saint to ask God to perform miracles. But we know that they are close to God. Now that the Pope has canonized Kateri the whole world knows about her and her life and I am sure that it will inspire others to lead better lives.

Especially, it will help the Native Americans who are living in such dire poverty and acute alcoholism and unemployment. As you know I have been on many reservations and I have seen it with my own eyes. The white man has much to answer for in his treatment of Native Americans.

When the early trappers introduced them to “firewater” we learn that Native Americans have a weakness for alcohol and it caused them to go into a downward spiral which continues to this day. Hopefully Kateri’s life and prayers will bring about a transformation in the lives of many Native Americans.

Joe Izzillo recently published his extraordinary memoir “My Nine Lives (minus) One” which is available on