“Before studying at IE, I took decisions based on intuition”

This interview is taking place at the Only You Hotel in Madrid, one of the properties belonging to the Palladium Hotel Group led by Abel Matutes. Sophisticated décor and cordial service are permanent features at all the group’s establishments.

A number of years back, Matutes redefined the hotel business with a large-scale investment project, the best-known outcome of which was the Ushuaia Beach complex, in Ibiza. “We decided to bet on differentiation and specialized demand, to find those niches that were less affected by the crisis,” explains Abel Matutes. Ushuaia Beach encompasses everything that a thirty or forty-something-year-old with significant purchasing power might need during a luxury stay. “Nothing similar existed before that. We brought it all together in the same location, creating a 24-hour experience. At other sites we’ve changed things too, but we haven’t reached the same levels of differentiation.”

An injection of euros isn’t a magic wand, however: unless managed properly, it can lead to resounding failure. “Four or five years ago, Ibiza was heading for a slow death. We decided to stop competing on price and start competing on quality. But, of course, if it hadn’t worked out well, death would have come even faster,” says Matutes.

Reflecting on the digital transformation of his companies, Matutes explains that the influence of new technologies in their activity is nothing new. His father, who was Foreign Affairs Minister during the Aznar administration, was also keen to be up to date. “When this business was managed without technology, it was because the technology didn’t exist. I remember that we were one of the first companies in the Balearics to have a computer.”

As you might expect, a firm that’s so focused on experience gives “maximum importance” to service design. “Our clients are at the center of any decision the company takes. It’s been instilled in us that we’re here to satisfy them.”

The group organizes corporate social responsibility actions through the Abel Matutes Foundation, which operates mainly in Ibiza. “We also support other actions such as equipping a school in Jamaica or a road-building project in Brazil.”

The most important thing Matutes took from IE was not skills but people. “Half of the company studied at IE,” he states. “In Spain you finish your undergraduate degree with discipline and the capacity to work, but without much idea of what it is to manage a business. For that reason, many of the decisions I took were based on intuition.” That changed when he studied at IE: “The case-study method is curious because throughout your life you come across many situations that remind you of cases you saw in class. It gives you a wealth of experience and confidence, even though you haven’t experienced those situations yourself.”

At a personal level, IE gave Matutes great friends. “It’s easy to get along because there are people with concerns similar to yours.” And it also made an incredibly valuable contribution to his life: “my wife, who not only makes me happy, but has given me four children.”

Interview by Isabel Garzo