Step inside the steakhouse at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, and be greeted by the restaurant’s manager. The overhead chandeliers sparkle. The tables are perfectly set, with Italian Frette linen napkins, silver cutlery from Germany and Czech crystal ware. As you enjoy your glass of the Fisher family’s Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and a world-class meal, there is no sound of glasses being cleaned or chatter from workstations. Only a pianist or harpist playing songs from classic Broadway musicals.
“That’s a Ritz-Carlton experience,” says Edward V. Staros, the recently retired vice president and managing director of the resorts in Naples that are Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond properties. Staros’ 48-year career culminated when he announced his retirement in December, soon after Hotels magazine named him “Hotelier of the Year”—a lifetime achievement Staros compares to a football player winning the Super Bowl.
Locally, The Ritz-Carlton name is synonymous with Staros. He is one of the brand’s six founding fathers, and he helped develop the company’s Gold Standards credo—a few sentences that encapsulate the brand and mission. Staros knows the words by heart—reading them like his home address or The Pledge of Allegiance.
“Sentence number three is really who we are,” he says. “The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”
Raised in Long Island, New York, Staros got his first taste for life’s finer things when he was 7 years old attending business luncheons with his father at The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. “They handed me a kids’ menu, and I was looking at my dad’s menu after he’d put it to the side,” Staros recalls. “When they got to me, the waiter said, ‘Son, what would you like?’ And I said, ‘I’ll have grilled swordfish.’ And he said, ‘I didn’t think that was on the kid’s menu,’ and I said, ‘It’s not, it’s on dad’s menu, and that’s what I want.’”
Staros remembers how the doorman greeted them by name: “’Mr. Staros, good to see you again, I see little Ed is here with you today.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, this guy knows my name, and he knows daddy, and he’s so dang nice,’ and the romance of what the hospitality business is from the guest perspective is what I fell in love with,” he says.
Staros attended Florida State University, graduating in 1972 with a degree in business and hospitality that led to a position as one of 10 corporate management trainees at the Hyatt Union Square in downtown San Francisco. He spent a decade with Hyatt Hotels, and met two key people: Colgate Holmes and Horst Schulze. Those two would eventually be tapped to create a new hotel company, for which they recruited Staros.
That hotel brand was The Ritz-Carlton. Staros joined the team in 1983, traveling around the country to launch new hotels, including one in Naples (the fifth hotel in the U.S.) in 1985. While in Florida for the hotel’s grand opening, Staros remembers looking out the window of his guest room and calling his wife, Tricia, who was eight months pregnant with their son, Ted. “This is the most beautiful sunset, and the most beautiful hotel, with the most beautiful employees. This is nirvana,” he recalls telling her. “And her answer to me was, ‘Maybe someday you can come back and be the managing director.’ I took her up on that.”
But first, Staros would spend 13 years at multiple Ritz-Carltons in the Atlanta area, with titles that included general manager, regional vice president and later, vice president of worldwide operations for the entire brand at headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1999, he and his family relocated to Naples after he was named vice president and managing director of the first local Ritz-Carlton. He also helped launch a second property in 2002, The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples—a first for the company. “Naples is the only city in the world to have two resorts in the same community,” Staros says. “We have a few cities that have two business hotels, like in D.C.—but no cities that have two resorts other than Naples, Florida.”
Philanthropy is deeply embedded in the hotels’ identities. During Staros’ first year at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, the resort hosted a black-tie ball, attended by the Naples Winter Wine Festival founders. They asked Staros if he wanted to be a founding sponsor, and he immediately responded: “I’m in.” Today, the festival has raised more than $191 million for NCEF.
Post-retirement, Staros will continue his role as an honorary trustee of the event. He will also remain involved with two advisory boards at Florida Gulf Coast University: the Lutgert College of Business Advisory Board and the Resort & Hospitality Management Advisory Board, and as a board member of the Florida affiliate of Fifth Third Bank.
While retiring is bittersweet, Staros believes it’s the right time. The Hotelier of the Year award, combined with his 70th birthday this past November, is the perfect ending. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of my career. All 48 years,” he says. “But the most enjoyable part of it is the coaching and mentoring, and knowing I gave many people a better chance in their careers and have been there for them for whatever it may be—hurdles in life, ups and downs—and I’ve done my part to assist them to become greater than myself.”