Charles Prew is CEO of Barceló Hotels UK, which operates 21 four-star hotels. He was recently one of six recipients - alongside Raymond Blanc, John Cousins, Michael Gray, Francis Green and Nick Vadis - of an honorary professorship from Thames Valley University, from where he graduated, when it was Ealing College, in 1968. He spoke to Janet Harmer.
Caterer What does it mean to have received an honorary professorship?
Charles Prew As someone who suffers from dyslexia and had great difficulty getting into college, the honorary professorship means an awful lot. It is not something I ever imagined would happen when I started working in the industry as a kitchen porter at the age of 13.
Caterer How important has your time at college been to your career?
CP Over the years, it has had a huge impact. I completed a four-year Hotel & Catering Institute sandwich course and I am still drawing on the skills I learnt then. A significant part of the course was spent on cooking skills, which enables me to go into any of our kitchens and be able to talk to the chefs on their level. Ealing College, and now Thames Valley University, has always been very progressive and that has taught me to think outside the box.
Caterer How important is it for hospitality staff to have academic qualifications?
CP Two of the best operators within Barceló's team - a general manager and an operations director - did not go on to higher education. I think what is important is that we have a good mix of people - some who have had the discipline of higher education and are good thinkers, as well as good operators.
Caterer How important is training within Barceló Hotels UK?
CP It is vital. I don't think we can ever do enough, especially in terms of dealing with our customers and guests. While health and hygiene, food and beverage, and sales and marketing training is essential, our customer service-focused programmes - some which we do in-house and some with People 1st - are so important in helping encourage our customers to come back time and time again. We also have a Barceló's Chef's Academy which took on its second group of 15 apprentices last September, and a programme called Women 1st, which involves women within Barceló being partnered with mentors in other hospitality and leisure companies to encourage them to progress to board level.
Caterer What are the current plans for Barceló?
CP We intend to increase the size of the company to around 50 hotels in the UK and are looking at London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Glasgow as key locations. We aim to lease properties with around 200 bedrooms at the four or five-star level, and run them on a management contract basis. We are also constantly refurbishing our properties and have just completed a £500,000 makeover of the Barceló Combe Grove Manor House in Bath.