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My OC: Rick Riess of the Montage

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Rock on: From the time he was 10 years old and asked for guitar lessons for his birthday, Riess has been a musician.

The son of a spy, born in Panama while his father was on assignment, who goes on to a career managing some of the world’s finest luxury properties – when you hear these details about Rick Riess, “glamorous” might be the word that pops to mind.

But in person, Riess, who took the reins as managing director of Montage Laguna Beach in August 2014, is more appropriately described as “welcoming” and “warm,” with more than a hint of an Alabama accent still flavoring his speech. True, he says, his dad was a spy, but really that meant he was an Army sergeant who spent his days in an office listening in to boring phone conversations. “James Bond stuff? No,” Riess says with a laugh. The family moved back to the South, where Riess was raised and went to college.

An illustrious career in the luxury hospitality industry? Why yes, that’s more than accurate. He’s spent 38 years in the industry, joining Montage from Georgia’s Sea Island, where he was managing director. Before that, Riess was president and CEO of the PlumpJack Group, where he oversaw resorts, wineries, restaurants, retail and real estate development. He began his career at Hyatt Hotels Corp., where he spent 18 years in management positions.

What his illustrious bio doesn’t tell you though, but what he’s happy to volunteer, is how he got his start in the business: “As a bellboy. I worked and went to college.”

Where I live: Laguna Beach. A five-minute walk from the front door of the hotel up the hill behind the shopping center.

Why I live here: My wife, Carrie, is from Southern California. There are a couple reasons we wanted to come here. Her family is here, and my daughter lives in LA and my son in Santa Barbara, so that’s the personal side. The professional side is that Alan Fuerstman, our founder and CEO, I have known for over 20 years. He and I, our beliefs are very parallel in the hospitality business, in the philanthropic area, in the level of quality and luxury we believe in. We have been talking for about eight years about working together. Last year Montage went from three properties to five properties, and we are launching a new brand next year called Pendry. Our first one will be in San Diego’s Gaslamp District, much more a lifestyle brand. So Alan called me and said, “It’s time. I need your help.” The company is something I believe in; they’re not just bottom-line driven. I’m in a point in my career because I need a job, I take a job because it’s what I want to do; it’s what I believe in. That’s why I’m here.
And I have to say, I got here a year and a half ago and am still waiting for winter.

My perfect day: I usually try to take Sundays off and spend with my wife. We get up, throw coffee in a thermos, grab the Sunday paper and our beach chairs. We come down to one of the beaches here right in front of the hotel, set up and read the Sunday paper, have our coffee and look at the Pacific Ocean. Perfect.

Sanctuary: It’s not a place, it’s an activity. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10. So about twice a month, I book time at Laguna Sound Studio, the little recording studio in downtown Laguna. I take kids – “kids” which are adults in their 20s and 30s! – who want to learn their musical skills. I work with them to help them play together. Sometimes people learn to play piano or guitar, but they just play by themselves. There is a dynamic of how to play with other people.

Fender or Les Paul?: Oooh. Both. I have two Les Pauls and three Fenders. My wife says I have a problem and need to go through a program because when people ask me how many guitars I have, I can’t answer the question. It’s north of a dozen and south of two dozen. There’s probably one or two guitars in my office right now that my wife doesn’t know about, because if I take them home she’ll go, “I told you not to buy another guitar!”

On your nightstand: I read a lot of nonfiction. I am a big Simon Sinek fan, and a big Malcolm Gladwell fan – “Blink” and “Outliers,” and what was the first one he did? About epidemics? “The Tipping Point.”  Right now I’m reading “Work Rules!,” the book by Laszlo Bock, the vice president of people operations for Google, about how they are innovating human resources.  I always have a book going.

Favorite dive: This is interesting. My wife started out in life as a clothing designer and then became a very talented interior designer, and she is very well put together. Most people who meet her would never in a million years know that she just loves dive bars. Now, I can’t classify this as a dive bar, because I think it’s too nice, but you will find us frequently in the Marine Room Tavern, and occasionally we might wander into the Dirty Bird … .

Red or white: Both. I don’t discriminate against any grape.

Clippers or Lakers: I grew up in the South, so I’m a football guy. I mean, when you grow up in the South and you are asked to list your priorities in life, the third thing on the list is religion and family, the second is whatever the second is, and the first is football. I’m a 49ers fan because I lived in the Bay Area.

Angels or Dodgers: I’m definitely going to be a Dodger fan, because that’s what my wife told me I had to be.

Best celebrity encounter: Of my entire life? Good or bad? Lemme see. A few years  ago I met Chuck Leavell, who did a show. I introduced him, and he played music from his entire career, including his time with the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. At the end of the show I went out to thank him and he said “Rick, I’ve got one more song to sing.” Even though I had not told anyone it was my birthday, he got the entire crowd to sing “Happy Birthday.” Unbelievable how he knew. And unbelievable to me that the piano player for the Rolling Stones sang me “Happy Birthday”!  

Favorite place outside of California: Montana. It’s one of the few places I completely disconnect.

Pet peeve: Waiting in lines and sitting in traffic.

Personal motto: I have three philosophies I live by: One is that everyone in their soul knows what is right and wrong. Always do the right thing.  Number two is always give 100 percent of your effort if you are going to do something. And three is treat people with dignity and respect no matter who they are. They are all human beings. I think sometimes people have a hard time with humility, but humility is a fantastic character trait.


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