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The Hot Scots Power 40: Norman Springford, Apex Hotels

21 February 2013
The Hot Scots Power 40: Norman Springford, Apex Hotels

Ranking: 15

Norman Springford - Snapshot

Norman Springford is the founder and chairman of Apex Hotels. The company is 100% owned by the family, but is run by an executive team under the leadership of managing director Angela Vickers. The Apex board comprises eight directors, including five family members.

Apex Hotels employs more than 700 staff, 70 of whom are based at head office in Edinburgh where a centralized business model has been adopted in Accounting, HR, IT, Sales & Reservations, Marketing and Procurement. Each hotel's general manager reports into the group operations director, Yousif Al-Wagga.

The company recently reported an increase in turnover of 2.4% to nearly £42m. Accounts for the year to 30 April 2012 show EBITDA of £10.7m and fixed assets of £286m. The company has utilised senior debt facilities of £122m.
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Average room rate achieved during the 12-month period was £108.70, compared with £107.06 during the previous year, while occupancy increased to 80.43% (up from 70.77% in 2011) and the total number of rooms sold was 290,480, against 279,791 in 2011.

Norman Springford - Career guide

Norman Springford started out working for the Inland Revenue, but became a self-employed accountant in 1970, staying in practice until 1991. Over the years, he gained extensive experience in business start-ups and management accounting support.

In addition, he ran a number of business enterprises, mainly in the hospitality and catering industry. He acquired his first pub in 1971 and built up a portfolio of 25 units in the Edinburgh and surrounding area before selling them in 1997. The portfolio also included a hotel, sports club and bingo business.

During the mid-1980s, he owned and operated Britain's largest theatre, the 3,124-seat Edinburgh Playhouse. The business involved the promotion of classical, pop and a varied concert programme including a Royal Gala.

In 1995, he bought the derelict Heriot-Watt University Mountbatten building in the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh and spent 10 months and £6m developing it into the city's first budget-style hotel. It opened in May 1996 with 120 bedrooms but by 1998 Springford had decided to target a different market. Following a refurbishment, it evolved into a contemporary 171-bedroom four-star hotel now known as the Apex International.

The following year, the 66-bedroom Apex European opened in the Haymarket area of Edinburgh and a hotel chain was born, with more openings in 2002 and 2009 in Edinburgh and in Dundee in 2003. London hotels opened in 2005, 2009 and 2012.

Springford has been widely recognized for his rejuvenation of the Scottish hotel scene. Among the many awards garnered by Apex, he has been personally awarded Scottish Hotelier of the Year at the 2006 Scottish Hotels of the Year Awards and in 2012, he scooped the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) Scotland.

Norman Springford - What we think

Norman Springford's vision has without doubt helped to raise the quality of hotels in Edinburgh since his launch of the Apex in 1996. Its trademark is to provide cutting edge design within a contemporary setting using natural materials to create a relaxed, stylish environment.

Although his attention to customer service and quality meant his first hotel quickly evolved from budget to four-star, the Apex brand still represents value for money. The company also has a reputation for recruiting staff for a positive attitude as well as professional skills, and its development programmes earned it the Innovation and Training award 2010 at the CIS Catering in Scotland Excellence Awards.

Other recent awards include the TripAdvisor 2012 Travellers Choice Award for Apex Waterloo Place, Edinburgh.
Springford's energetic support of the tourism industry in Scotland came to fruition last year, when the company helped launch an initiative to invest in the new wave of hospitality talent in Scotland. Working alongside Queen Margaret University (QMU) in Edinburgh, it has developed a programme whereby QMU students on the BA (Hons) International Hospitality & Tourism Management Degree will be offered an enhanced level of practical experience within Apex.

The first group of 32 students took three practical units in October 2012 at the Apex European Hotel in Haymarket across front of house, food & beverage and housekeeping. The students will also be offered part-time employment at Apex. As a sign of its ongoing commitment, Apex has recruited Lynn Abernethy, formerly of Sodexo, to co-ordinate the initiative.

It's clear that Springford has taken his company beyond being simply a commercial venture and has raised it to become an industry benchmark. This is borne out by Trevor Laffin, head of division of business, enterprise and management at QMU, who comments: "[This initiative] demonstrates commitment by Apex to helping young people develop their careers in hospitality and a joint vision between QMU and Apex to develop highly skilled, effective and flexible workforce for the future of the Scottish hospitality industry."

Apex Hotels website >>

Business grows by 2.4% >>

HIT Lifetime achievement award >>

Scottish Hotelier of the year award >>

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