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Doing things differently has always stood Robin Hutson in good stead. It stems from having his finger on the pulse of what hotel guests want at any given time. The result has been the creation of two unique hotel brands and an individual property that have punched above their weight in their performance, and a profile that stands him out as an influential trendsetter and, simply, the most successful independent hotelier in the UK.
Hutson's first foray as an entrepreneur came alongside business partner, the late Gerard Basset, where at Hotel du Vin they created a group of mid-market outlets with personality, offering a relaxed attitude to what had previously been regarded as the stuffiness of wine service. And more recently he has taken that approach a step further with the laidback luxury of Lime Wood in the New Forest and at the Pig collection of seven properties, where the rustic, chic designs have been a widespread hit with critics and customers alike.
Success at each of the businesses has been swift, with occupancies consistently over 90%. Hence, it is no surprise that each brand has resulted in a raft of attempts to replicate the style.
Hutson's start in the industry does not necessarily point to someone who was to be such a creative tour de force. After messing up his O-levels and enrolling on a course in hotel and catering, Hutson took his first job as commis waiter at London's Claridge's hotel in 1975. Stints followed at the Berkeley and Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, before heading off to the Elbow Beach Resort in Bermuda.
Hutson returned to the UK to take up his first general manager post at Chewton Glen in New Milton, Hampshire, giving him a valuable insight into the operation of a country hotel, and was where he met sommelier Basset.
After opening the first Hotel du Vin in Winchester in 1994, the partners went on to build up a group of six hotels over 10 years before selling for "an offer they couldn't refuse" to investment company MWB.
Hutson, who was named Hotelier of the Year in 2003, went on to become chairman of Soho House for four years before returning to open Lime Wood in 2009 on behalf of its owner, Jim Ratcliffe, followed two years later by the launch of the first hotel in the Pig litter in Brockenhurst, Hampshire. Now there are Pig hotels across the south of England, with an eighth set to open next year in West Sussex.
Hutson has frequently declared: "What we do is not technically difficult, it's just a case of paying attention to a million details." And boy, does he and his wife Judy, who has created the interiors, do detail. They forensically focus on every element – from selecting the right, often quirky property to scouring the country for furniture, furnishings and artefacts.
Even Hutson's approach to creating a team is different from the norm, having established the Budding Entrepreneurs scheme, which is aimed at appealing to young people who eventually want to become their own boss.
Since lockdown, Hutson has held frequent meetings with government ministers, stressing the enormous benefit to the country's coffers in keeping hospitality open, and campaigns rigorously against the 10pm curfew and in favour of a minister for hospitality.
The impact that Hutson has had during his 45-year career on the hotel sector cannot be underestimated. Always acting with integrity, he continues to inspire countless others, taps into the zeitgeist like no other hotelier, and is a determined campaigner who wants a fairer deal for the industry – all which have propelled him to being named the undisputed winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
There is no shortlist for the Lifetime Achievement Award
The editorial team of The Caterer, with nominations from all the Cateys' judging panels