Business interview: Peter Lederer OBE

Peter Lederer. Picture: Neil Hanna
Peter Lederer. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Next year will be the culmination of a 25 year dream for the chairman of the luxury Gleneagles resort, writes Erikka Askeland.

This week in 2014 the Ryder Cup will descend on the Perthshire resort bringing with it 40,000 spectators a day, the world’s sporting media as well as golf’s most notable stars.

Of course, 2014 brings with it a few other noteworthy events, not least the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But the glow of that event will already be fading ahead of the start of the autumnal US versus Europe golf championship classic. What has also become clear is how close the referendum for Scottish independence will be - on 18 September Scotland will vote on its constitutional future and then a few days later another event of global interest will be taking place.

If Lederer, who first started thinking of bringing the Ryder Cup back to its spiritual home in 1989, is annoyed that such a major political event is taking place within days of his parade, he doesn’t show it. Instead, the constitutional debate will make events that year “very interesting and very special,” he says. In fact, having spent a number of years being one of the most pre-eminent figures promoting Scotland and its tourism industry to the world as chairman of VisitScotland, he sees 2014 and all it entails as an opportunity, particularly for exporters.

He says: “2014 will be an amazing year. It will be one of those years we all remember. The Commonwealth Games, then the Edinburgh Festival, the referendum and the Ryder Cup almost back to back. It will be an amazing atmosphere. The opportunity that gives everybody - and that is what we all have to think about - is if we have got that level of profile in Scotland, how can we use it? And not only from a tourism perspective, but from a business and export one. The whole economy, if we get this right, can really benefit in a much broader sense than just the events.”

There were two unofficial matches between professionals from Great Britain and the United States before the birth of the Ryder Cup in 1927, and the first was played at Gleneagles in 1921.

“The first conversation I had about the Ryder Cup was 1989,” says Lederer. “Everyone thought it was a good idea, because it started at Gleneagles. The first informal match was played here and we thought it would be nice to bring it home. It will have been a 25 year journey.”

In Auchterarder, the ground is ready. Over recent years the hotel has invested tens of millions to get in shape for what will be a vast logistical exercise as well as a major world sporting event. The course has been upgraded - with the input of both Ryder Cup captains - as well as the clubhouse, spa and the restaurants, with just finishing touches to of some of the pool areas to finish.

In his 30 year career in Scotland, Lederer has become synonymous with its great hospitality industry jewel. When he arrived at Gleneagles in 1984 as general manager, the hotel was only open part of the year. Just as he arrived there was a rapid succession of ownership changes, as the property was snapped up by whisky firm Bells, which was in turn bought by Guinness, which was to become the global spirits brand Diageo.

Under his management, the hotel has been transformed from a somewhat dour highland golfing estate into an internationally recognised resort with a wide range of leisure facilities and a two-Michelin-starred restaurant led by chef Andrew Fairlie. It has been showered with travel and tourism industry awards, as has Lederer.

Yet all this may never have happened if circumstances had been different. Initially Lederer only intended to spend five years in Scotland before returning to Canada where he had spent the most part of his early career and met his wife.

After a stint as a trainee at the Calton Tower in his home town of London, he came to the conclusion that the future of hotels was being played out among some of North America’s growing hotel companies and eventually he worked his way across hotels in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and New York. It was 1971 and he chose to work in Canada after he realised he would be eligible for call up to fight in the Vietnam war if he went to the US.

It was thus he found himself in the freezing depths of a bitter November in Ontario. He had £200, a suitcase and a warm coat his mother had insisted he take with him.

“In the first week I was there, I had nowhere to stay, I didn’t know anybody, I had no job,” he recalls. “I was job hunting in the middle of a snow storm trudging up and down the street, thanking my mother for this coat.”

It is an irony that Lederer, who has been living and breathing one of the golf’s most significant rivalries for decades, doesn’t play the game himself.

“I always said that someone on the senior management team of Gleneagles should be a non-golfer, because otherwise the danger is it runs like a golf club and it is run for passion not business. It served us well. I have played, but it is just not my thing.”

And what after? Lederer, still svelte and energetic at the age of 64, plans to continue in his role focusing on his passion for getting young people into work. Currently he is the chairman of the Saltire Foundation, which runs a international internship programme for talented Scottish graduates. Once the Ryder Cup is over, he will be involved in the development of a programme for Diageo called Learning For Life, a skills development effort backed by £5m over five years that will launch by the end of the year. The project will be piloted in Scotland and be expanded out across Europe.

“My passion has always been trying to get young people started in business, particularly at the moment,” he says.

30 SECOND CV

Born: London, 1950

Education: City of London School, four-year hotel and catering management course at Hendon College, advanced management programme at Insead

Kindle or book?: “As a dyslexic, both are a struggle. Reading is not something I tend to do a lot. I can keep a lot of things up in the air and going quite easily, whereas focusing on one thing like a book is difficult. I don’t have a Kindle but I will take a book on holiday.”

Ambition while at school: “To be a psychologist. But because of my dyslexia I couldn’t go to university, so that was out the window.”

Car you drive: Audi

Claim to fame: chairman of VisitScotland from 2001-10

What makes you angry: Negativity.