The director of sales at the Grand Hôtel Stockholm tells Janet Harmer how important it is to learn the local language and why Stockholm is now home
After university, your whole career has involved working overseas. Why is that?
While studying at university I had the idea to start a destination management company in South Africa and fortunately managed to convince my business partner that it was a great idea. I was just 22.
Why did you choose to live and work in Stockholm?
I am a ‘love refugee'. My wife is from Stockholm and after six years in South Africa I was looking for a change. When I arrived, I studied for a year and spent four months learning the language before I started to work.
Can you describe the style and setting of the Grand Hôtel?
The Grand Hôtel is an independently owned, classic, deluxe hotel with 278 bedrooms and it is a destination in itself. In Scandinavia it is an icon and many Swedes have some kind of connection to the hotel. It was built in 1874 and is situated on the water's edge across from the Royal Palace and the Old Town. The Cadier bar and Veranda restaurant are very popular with locals, and give a great atmosphere to the hotel.
We also have three restaurants, headed by renowned chef Mathias Dahlgren, including Matbaren, which has one Michelin star, Matsalen [two Michelin stars] and Matbordet, a communal table concept. The property is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.
How many staff are employed at the Grand Hôtel?
We have around 500 staff made up of many nationalities, including one other Brit. However, he is an Arsenal supporter, so many will understand that it is difficult to talk to him.
What are the key challenges of working in Stockholm?
What do you like about living and working in the city and more generally Sweden?
It's relatively clean and green with water everywhere. There is something Unique about being able to sunbathe on the beach in the city during the summer and then skate on the ice during the winter. Rush hour traffic is nothing, public transport is great and the city is compact so it is easy to get around. Stockholm is also continually updating itself with new infrastructure, and it has a great art, culture and restaurant scene.
I have some dislikes, but I am a guest in Sweden and so until/if I become a citizen, I find it hard to complain.
Is there a British expat community within the hospitality industry in Stockholm?
There are certainly more expats working in Stockholm than, say, 10 years ago, when all you heard were Swedish voices. However, the hotel industry is still dominated by Swedes, primarily due to the language.
What languages do you speak?
I studied Spanish at university and also studied French, but today I can hardly speak those languages at all. So now I speak English and Swedish. Languages have certainly helped - not only with my career, but with assimilating into a country and its culture.
How has your family adapted to moving to different countries?
I have a wife and two teenage daughters and they have been with me during the moves. It takes time for everyone to get settled, finding somewhere to live and a job, getting the right schools and starting from scratch with a network of friends. It has been hard for my wife and I, but the children were younger and much more flexible.
Would you ever return to the UK?
You never know, but I very much doubt it. I have no siblings, although my parents still live in the UK. I now consider Stockholm home and Sweden is almost the perfect land.
2012- present Director of sales, Grand Hôtel Stockholm
2011-2012 Director of sales Sweden, First Hotels, Stockholm
2009-2011 Hotel manager, Sheraton Brussels
2007-2009 Complex director of sales and marketing, Starwood Hotels, Brussels
2002-2007 Director of sales and marketing, Sheraton Stockholm
1995-2001 Managing director, Wedgewood South Africa, Cape Town
1992-1995 BA Hons, Business and tourism management, University of North London
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