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Rooms to grow: Robin Hutson on his Budding Entrepreneurs training scheme at the Pig hotels

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Rooms to grow: Robin Hutson on his Budding Entrepreneurs training scheme at the Pig hotels

Employees at the Lime Wood Group and the Pig hotels are given access to the behind-the-scenes processes of the business in its management training scheme, Budding Entrepreneurs. Janet Harmer meets the trainees at the company’s newest property – the Pig at Bridge Place in Kent

It is the perennial problem of every expanding hospitality company. Where do you go to recruit the key members of staff required to drive your business forward?

This was one of the key concerns of Robin Hutson as he contemplated the expansion of the Home Grown Hotels’ collection of Pig properties, back in 2012.

It was a year after the successful launch of the first Pig in the heart of the New Forest, near Brockenhurst, Hampshire. The then new concept – serving fresh produce from the kitchen garden within a relaxed environment and featuring cosy, shabby-chic interiors designed by Hutson’s wife Judy – was an instant hit with critics and guests alike.

Hutson had tapped into the zeitgeist – highlighted by occupancy levels swiftly topping 90% and a restaurant full at every lunch and dinner service. There was no question that this was a brand that was going to expand.

The Pig at Bridge Place bar and lounge
The Pig at Bridge Place bar and lounge

As well as searching for the right properties to fit the specific Pig requirements – characterful buildings within striking distance of an attractive market town or city, or within a stunning rural environment – it was vital that Hutson could recruit the enthusiastic team he required to provide the seamless, confident service offered in the first hotel. In addition, there was the staffing of sister hotels within the Lime Wood Group – the luxury, 33-bedroom Lime Wood hotel in Lyndhurst, Hampshire, and 38-bedroom Portetta in the French Alps – to consider.

Hutson knew he needed to devise a management training scheme, but he wanted to create something different from those which existed at other companies.

“I was frustrated that we were losing good people who were going on to more senior positions elsewhere,” he says. “Our object was to keep a good person, who would have ordinarily stayed for two years, for five to six years, by keeping life interesting and moving them up the ranks. So many young people in the industry I spoke to told me that their ultimate ambition was to open their own pub or coffee shop – basically they wanted to become entrepreneurs, rather than rise up the career ladder of a hotel in the traditional way.”

z Budding Entrepreneurs The PigLeading on from such conversations, Hutson launched the Budding Entrepreneurs (BE) scheme, aimed at developing future managers across the Home Grown Hotels portfolio, which now numbers six Pig properties, as well as Lime Wood and Portetta. The idea is that, as well as providing the company with multi-skilled, reliable and committed managers, able to step into management roles as the group expanded, the skills the trainees learned along the way would also stand them in good stead for eventually being able to run businesses of their own.

What makes the programme stand out from competitor schemes is the access the trainees have to Hutson and other key members of the team, including director David Elton and operations director Tom Ross. At the same time, trainees are invited into what in many other companies would be regarded as off-limits for trainees: strategic planning and financial meetings – even meetings with the bank.

“We wouldn’t necessarily expose them to something that is super-sensitive, but it is good for them to be introduced to the many elements we get involved in as entrepreneurs,” explains Hutson, who personally approves everyone who joins the scheme. “I believe in being open – we have nothing to hide.”

Further broadening of the horizons is gained via stages at hotels outside the company and attendance at industry events, such as award ceremonies, conferences and restaurant openings.

The Pig, Bridge Place,
The Pig, Bridge Place,

A litter of piglets

Seven years on from its launch, the scheme has provided the group with six key members of staff for its latest opening, the 29-bedroom Pig at Bridge Place near Canterbury, Kent (see panel opposite). Out of a total of 832 staff within Home Grown Hotels and Lime Wood Group, 49 have been through the BE programme, with a further nine being interviewed for the programme in July. The Pig at Bridge Place employs a total team of 93. In addition, the new hotel has four chefs within its brigade of 18 (plus six kitchen porters) who have trained through the company’s Chef Apprentice academy, with three new apprentices set to join.

Guy Freedman, hotel director of the Pig at Bridge Place, said that having the six BEs on board for the opening of the hotel last month was invaluable: “They are all die-hard Pig staff who know the DNA of the brand and its goals through and through,” he explains. “Each of them have been through several departments of the hotel, so they are ready to jump in and help out wherever they may be required.

“Ultimately, each one of them has a strength and depth of knowledge and understanding of the Pig that makes them the greatest allies when speaking to guests.”

The Pig at Bridge Place
The Pig at Bridge Place

As far as Hutson is concerned, the only requirement for entry is having the right attitude. “I don’t care whether someone has no GCSEs or a double degree,” he explains. There is no age limit on joining the scheme either.

The Pig at Bridge Place Hop Picker Hut Bath“The length of time it takes depends at what age the BE starts – someone who is 17 will take longer to build up experience, whereas someone who is 22 or 23 and has come out of university could be ready for promotion much more quickly. The idea is to move everyone into a managerial position and the scheme is tailored to every individual to enable them to achieve that,” Hutson says.

With the average cost of a new recruit standing at around £5,000, a figure that is significantly higher in supervisory or management roles, the company is able to drive down costs by fishing from an ever-increasing talent pool. There are currently no vacancies in management roles across the group.

But the BE scheme is much more than a cost-saving exercise. Creating an ever-expanding group of highly motivated individuals ensures that as new hotels open, the consistency of confident, intelligent and friendly service which has become essential to the ethos of the brand, can be assured for the future.

The Budding Entrepreneur training scheme stages

Mandatory placements
For a minimum of nine months, across three departments: reception, housekeeping, restaurant and beverage; plus three to six months in one or more of the following: kitchen garden, wine, accounts, HR and training, marketing, events, interior design, food preparation. Stages outside the company are optional.

Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) Level 2 Award in Team Leadership
A two-year modular course, with attendance at six to nine training courses run by an external provider. Option to continue to certificate level.

Workplace certification
All Budding Entrepreneurs become personal licence holders, first aiders and fire marshals, and take health and safety, food safety and Wine & Spirit Education Trust qualifications.

BE gatherings
Twice a year, individuals, pairs or groups deliver a presentation to company directors and board members on a variety of topics, such as PR and marketing, wine, artisan food, cost controls and revenue streams.

The Pig at Bridge Place restaurant
The Pig at Bridge Place restaurant

The Budding Entrepreneurs at the Pig at Bridge Place

Jamie Banner, 33

Jamie Banner deputy general manager the pig at bridge place

Position Deputy general manager

Career progression Since joining the Lime Wood Group in 2013, Banner has had a meteoric rise up the career ladder, propelled by his three years on the training scheme as one of the original BEs. Roles have included receptionist at Lime Wood, bar manager and reception manager at the Pig in Brockenhurst and hotel manager at the Pig in the Wall in Southampton, before arriving in his current role at Bridge. The deputy general position involves overseeing all departments at the hotel and is primarily front facing, interacting with guests, particularly in reception and the bar.

Thoughts on the BE scheme “It has given me an understanding of everything about the business, with totally hands-on experience, as well as providing me with all the in-depth training, such as health and safety, licensing, WSET, etc, to prepare me for my current role.”

Best bits of the BE training “Spending time with my mentors, including Robin, Kenneth [Speirs, hotel director, Lime Wood], Tom [Ross, group operations director, Home Grown Hotels] and Jorge [Gertrudes, hotel director, the Pig].”

Ultimate ambition “To become hotel director of one of the Pigs.”

Pia Foulser junior sommelier the pig at bridge placePia Foulser, 23

Position Junior sommelier

Career progression Six months after joining the Pig near Bath, Foulser was invited for an interview with Hutson to join the BE programme. She says she didn’t do well at school and previously left Bournemouth University after studying retail management for a year, unsure as to where her future lay. Working at the Pig convinced her that hospitality was her calling, encouraged by the “family atmosphere” of the business and the opportunity to be allowed to express her bubbly personality. After spending time as a restaurant supervisor at the Pig in the New Forest, she is now working her final training rotation as a junior sommelier.

Thoughts on the BE scheme “Working in different departments helps you understand which one you want to work in. I decided I wanted to be in food and beverage.”

Best bits of the BE training “Being given the skills I need to make decisions myself and being able to work closely with the management team, including Robin. That wouldn’t happen at Marks & Spencer!”

Ultimate ambition “I’d like to own a restaurant with about six bedrooms.”

Lydia Rigby, 26

Lydia Rigby bar manager the pig at bridge place

Position Bar manager

Career progression Rigby never had a long-term plan to work in hospitality. She initially joined the Pig in Brockenhurst while studying for a master’s degree in accounting and management at the University of Southampton, after completing a first degree in chemistry. But she swiftly discovered a passion for hotels that she hadn’t found in pharmaceuticals and after a spell abroad travelling, she returned to the Pig full-time, joining the BE scheme in 2015. Prior to coming to Bridge to take up her first management position, she spent six months on a sabbatical as a floor manager at Soho House in Amsterdam.

Thoughts on the BE scheme “The training has given my career structure and exposed me to different areas of the business. It has provided me with the confidence to lead from the front and train the new bar team in the Pig style of service, which is relaxed, professional and tailored to every guest.”

Best bits of the BE training “Being invited to award ceremonies and taking part in the debrief of the company’s Smoked & Uncut music festivals has introduced me to great ideas.”

Ultimate ambition “For the moment, it is onwards and upwards at the Pig. Then I eventually want somewhere of my own.”

Ellie Edwards, 21

Ellie Edwards senior receptionist the pig at bridge place

Position Senior receptionist

Career progression After what she describes as “a not very good education” and a brief stint on a course in theatrical make-up and hair, Edwards joined the Pig in Brockenhurst on reception in 2016. Six months later, she was invited to join the BE scheme and last year she undertook a six-month placement as duty manager at the Pig in the Wall, providing her with an experience that dramatically grew her confidence. Edwards moved to Bridge prior to the opening of the new hotel.

Thoughts on the BE scheme “It has been challenging at times, but it has provided a clear career path for me. The opportunity has made me very proud to work for the Pig.”

Best bits of the BE training “I’ve enjoyed so many experiences that would never otherwise have come my way. One of the most interesting was attending a black tie dinner for hospitality students at Oxford Brookes University. It made me realise that my on-the-job training was more valuable than going to university. The students had studied there for three years but had no practical experience of working in hospitality.”

Ultimate ambition “To become a hotel director like Guy [Freedman].”

Freya Morton, 27

Freya Morton reception manager the pig at bridge place

Position Reception manager

Career progression On graduating from Bournemouth University with a degree in international hospitality management, Morton joined the Pig as a commis waitress. She had been introduced to the Pig via a careers fair and was fascinated by the group’s philosophy of serving food from within a 25-mile radius. She went on to work tat the Raw & Cured café in the spa at Lime Wood and at reception at Pig on the Beach. She completed a season in Portetta before undertaking a six-month sabbatical at the Stafford London hotel, where she improved her cocktail knowledge in the American bar.

Thoughts on the BE scheme “The projects we have undertaken have been really useful in improving my knowledge on subjects like allergens, menu design and guest feedback, and have helped me overcome my nerves in public speaking, which in turn has given me more confidence when speaking with guests.”

Best bits of the BE training “I have always been a self-starter, but the training has given me the tools to think ahead and be more proactive rather than reactive. I now have a greater understanding of why we do certain things in order to heighten the service for guests, such as ensuring they have the time of the dinner booking they want on arrival at the hotel.”

Ultimate ambition “I’d love to run my own bed and breakfast by the sea.”

Luis Davila, 21

Luis Davila restaurant supervisor the pig at bridge place

Position Restaurant supervisor

Career progression Having been brought up in a hospitality family – his parents owned a pub – Davila was exposed to a hospitality career from an early age. He joined the Pig near Bath on a part-time basis while studying in the sixth form at school. He moved to full time on leaving school and soon after joined the BE scheme, working his way through the restaurant, kitchen and bar. After a spell at the Pig at Combe, where he enjoyed a summer supervisory kitchen role in the Folly in the grounds, he moved to Portetta for five months, where he was involved in a busy restaurant operation, serving up to 350 Sunday lunches. Davila arrived at Bridge to prepare for the opening of the latest Pig.

Thoughts on the BE scheme “It is a very inclusive and transparent scheme. We get to fully understand the ethos behind the Pig, which stems from the ingredients, and are exposed to the way the business is run, including the revenue we make.”

Best bits of the BE training “Being involved in the Pig takeover at the Cateys. It was a great experience and such good fun – something I will never forget.”

Ultimate ambition “To become a hotel director with the Pig or somewhere else.”

Latest openings: the Pig at Bridge Place, the Angel hotel, Flamboree and more >>

Business profile: The Pig hotels >>

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