Cateys 2020: Manager of the Year Award – David Connell, South Lodge

22 November 2020
Cateys 2020: Manager of the Year Award – David Connell, South Lodge

Sponsored by Franke Coffee Systems

David Connell, general manager of South Lodge in West Sussex, was described by our panel of judges as an "inspirational role model" and "champion" of the hospitality industry.

His seven years at South Lodge have seen him achieve numerous accolades for the property, including a two-AA-rosette rating for the Camellia restaurant and most recently, the Best New Spa at the Good Spa Guide awards.

He joined the 89-bedroom South Lodge – one of four country hotel and spas within the Exclusive Collection – in 2013, after working in a number of other managerial roles in the group.

One of his biggest achievements has been executing a £14.5m build of the Spa at South Lodge, which opened in November 2019 to industry-wide praise. Connell recruited some 60 new staff members, a number through internal promotion. Together they worked hard to differentiate the spa from its competition, ensuring it met a specific area of the fitness market with a significant retail offering.

The spa was built to be as eco-conscious as possible and Connell pushed for the use of bio-mass boilers at the spa, which turn wasted materials into energy to heat the building and an all-natural outside swimming pool. He also made the decision to avoid the use of chemicals in the filtering and cleaning system to help protect the surrounding wildlife of South Lodge.

Connell has spearheaded a number of sustainable business initiatives in the wider hotel, working closely with the Botanica restaurant head chef Jonathan Spiers to develop a plant-based menu, including the best-selling ‘wasted' burger, made from juice pulp. He tries to embed this environmental attitude into all areas of the business, while supporting ideas from staff, including a suggestion from housekeeping to collect in-room coffee capsules for recycling, as well as water bottle tops which are sent to France to create wheelchairs.

Connell sees his own successes as an overall effort of everyone he manages. From the beginning he acknowledged the importance of bringing people along on the spa build journey. He provided hotel staff with a first-hand look at the new spa and organising the opportunity to lay a brick helped to include the entire team in the development.

The South Lodge team respect his open-minded attitude to making changes and amending policy, while empowering staff to make decisions. This attitude pays off in staff retention, the last financial year saw a record low turnover rate of 27.6%.

Connell is a Master Innholder, St Julian Scholar, industry mentor and a firm believer that hospitality is a ‘people business'.

As one of our judges concluded: "David deserves this recognition in a year when he has made such a significant impact on the business, which I am sure has not yet reached its full potential… an outstanding winner."

What the judges said

"Congratulations to David; a great servant to our industry who expertly runs a high quality country house hotel. David is a quiet achiever who has grown the business while effortlessly navigating through the challenges along the way." – Justin Pinchbeck

"He is a very active champion of our industry and I know how much his teams look up to him." – David Taylor

The shortlist

  • David Connell, South Lodge, West Sussex
  • Marc Frankl, Amadeus
  • Viviane Lissarre, Brasserie Bar Co

The judges

  • Andi Hirons, people director, the Grand Brighton
  • Zoe Jenkins, general manager, Coworth Park
  • Philip Newman-Hall, hospitality consultant
  • Chantelle Nicholson, chef-owner, Tredwells and All's Well
  • Anne Pierce, former chief executive, Springboard
  • Justin Pinchbeck, general manager, Sheraton Grand London Park Lane hotel
  • David Taylor, chief operating officer, the Lore Group
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