Following this year's AA rating announcements, 14-strong country house hotel group Hand Picked Hotels has doubled its three-rosette-rated properties from three to six. Founder and chief executive Julia Hands talks to Emily Manson
Caterer How does it feel to get all these rosettes?JH I'm extremely pleased and very proud. We've invested a lot in the fabric of the properties and they are now in a good physical condition. The staff have also been trained in our manner of service and the two things have now come together. We are trying to achieve a home from home and a natural environment for guests.
Caterer You were a solicitor originally. Why did you change?JH I finished law in 1996 after working as a solicitor for 12 years and just felt it was time for a change of direction. I bought the hotels in 1999 and initially they were managed by a third party as I had no previous experience in hotels. But it's just an appealing industry with so many different aspects to it.
Caterer You have four children. How do you juggle looking after them and running the hotel group?JH I have very good support at home and I'm also lucky that the office is only three minutes from home, which helps. I'm also naturally quite an organised and efficient worker so I use my time carefully and it works most of the time.
Caterer How can the industry become more attractive to women?JH It's tricky as it's a 24/7 industry and it's not easy to compartmentalise your life and switch off when you leave work. It is very consuming but we need to make sure we plug the benefits of the industry too. Hotels change over time and the industry is constantly evolving, which is stimulating and endlessly challenging.
Caterer What's your unique selling point?JH The family-owned aspect singles us out. Because there are no shareholders to placate, the general managers have greater scope to maintain each property's individuality. Obviously we have checks and balances but we also recognise that the people best placed to run the businesses are the managers. If they feel like entrepreneurs running their own business, then they'll have pride in their hotels and that in turn inspires success.
Caterer What do the next five years hold?JH We want to build on what we have, while keeping the standards we've already achieved. With service delivery there are always improvements that can be made. We also want to exploit the development potential of the existing hotels and add another four properties to the group. But I don't want more than 20, as the business might lose its family feel.
Caterer Do you have a favourite property?JH It's rather like children - they're all so different and I like them all for different reasons. We don't have a flagship property and we have no intention of changing that.