Gaining inspiration: Iconic Luxury Hotels' thinking on running a business

10 December 2021 by
Gaining inspiration: Iconic Luxury Hotels' thinking on running a business

Iconic Luxury Hotels' conference heard stories from explorers and philanthropists that can be translated into the everyday heroics of running a hotel. Lisa Jenkins reports.

As Andrew Stembridge, executive director at Iconic Luxury Hotels said, gathering more than 50 of the Iconic group's managers for a 24-hour conference, including an evening soirée in the Kitchen at Chewton Glen, is no mean feat.

Senior managers from across the Iconic family were represented, including the newest addition, the Mayfair Townhouse in London, alongside colleagues from Cliveden House in Taplow, Berkshire; Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa in the New Forest in Hampshire; the Lygon Arms in Broadway, Worcestershire; and 11 Cadogan Gardens in Chelsea, London.

The theme for the conference focused on people and how to get the best from them, especially when operating under pressure.

"Never has the need to motivate and lead our people efficiently or effectively been greater than the present," Stembridge told his managers. "Ensuring that our hotels revolve around high-performing teams is ultimately down to you, our heads of department. The employment landscape is changing ever more rapidly, as are the expectations and priorities of our workforce."

A line-up of motivational keynote speakers included Rob and Paul Forkan (known as the Gandy Brothers) talking about their journey ‘from survival to success', and Manley Hopkinson, adventurer and winning skipper of the BT Global Challenge, the world's toughest yacht race, who spoke on ‘compassionate leadership'.

Craig Prentice, founder of recruitment company Mum, delivered, a heartfelt talk on ‘Mum, mental health and me' and entrepreneur Stefan Wissenbach spoke on the subject ‘time to engage'.

Iconic Hotels' HR director Anita Bower and talent development director John Hollywood wrapped up the day alongside conference facilitator and trainer Mary Jane Flanagan.

Rob and Paul Forkan talked about lessons learned outside of the classroom, travelling as young children and launching and growing the Gandy travel-inspired fashion brand together. The brothers lost both their parents during the Sri Lankan tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 and their business contributes to building campuses for underprivileged children around the world.

The brothers' ‘Don't just exist' ethos is at the forefront of everything they do. Paul said: "You have to maintain perspective and keep looking forward. Our experiences have taught us that, but you must keep evolving, too. Ask for help when you need to and if you want the respect of your teams, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in."

Rob added: "Don't be afraid to let people use their creativity – you don't have to have huge budgets to encourage people to get involved."

Hopkinson said when he was faced with a report of a hurricane during the BT Global Challenge, he had to motivate his team by "setting a positive future – and defining a team ambition." His advice for the managers was to always be aware of how you are imparting information: "It's not what you say that matters, it's how you are heard that resonates."

Ask for help when you need to and if you want the respect of your teams, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in

He reiterates Paul and Rob's mantra of getting stuck in. "How can you lead if you can't relate?" Another work practice shared by Hopkinson was how he managed his crew during the hurricane, where a third of the crew would be on duty, a third on standby and a third on rest, a concept that might be translated to hospitality.

Craig Prentice and Stefan Wissenbach both spoke about personal life experiences that had impacted their careers. Prentice's story of his mental health struggles led to the launch of Mum recruitment and the Walk for Calm event, a charity walk that united many hospitality workers during the pandemic.

Wissenbach spoke of his 25-year-old son, Oliver, who in 2019, while on a family holiday suffered from sudden adult death syndrome. Oliver wrote under the pseudonym of Sam Leaper, and his family have turned his musings into a book called The Little Book of Wisdom. The family has also set up the Magic Future Foundation, which raises funds to build schools overseas.

The seven Cs of leadership

Stefan Wissenbach has worked with Iconic Luxury Hotels on its engagement programme, Engagement Multiplier. His presentation was based on the seven ‘Cs' of leadership: Commitment, Courage, Capability, Confidence, Connected, Consistency and Caring. These form the basis for creating a sense of engagement and leadership within teams.

"It's important as a leader to have a defined purpose," said Wissenbach. "An engaged team equals an energetic team."

Iconic Luxury Hotels uses the Engagement Multiplier as a confidential online survey for the team, where staff rate engagement on their head of department, general manager, team members and guests. The surveys are completed three times a year alongside the use of a confidential suggestion box.

"In the spirit of ‘if you measure something you can improve it', we have been using Engagement Multiplier as a tool to help us track engagement in all of our hotels and also our central reservations office for nearly five years," explained Anita Bower.

"Understanding how our people feel at work has never been more important, and working closely alongside Stefan, we were inspired to create a team charter, which illustrates clearly to employees how we want them to feel, regardless of where they work in the business and how they feel about us an employer.

"Launching this new commitment at this year's Leadership Conference was powerful as it dovetailed perfectly with one of the key objectives, which is to give every member of our team a good boss," added Bower.

"Stefan's view is that in the backdrop of Covid and Brexit we need to be putting as much effort into retaining and attracting staff as we do guests, and to ensure that this philosophy is embedded, we also updated our ‘Purpose' by adding ‘to make every member of the team want to stay' to our existing Purpose, which is ‘to make every guest want to return'."

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