Daniel Pedreschi not only runs a complex collection of properties, he also prioritises team development. It's a magic combination that propelled the vice-president of UK operations for PPHE Hotel Group to the 2021 Hotelier of the Year title. Janet Harmer reports
In his role as vice-president of operations for a portfolio of 10 UK hotels with nearly 3,700 bedrooms combined, you would imagine – amid hospitality's recruitment crisis – that appointing new staff is the top priority for Daniel Pedreschi. But while he puts it on his list of top five worries for the coming year, his main focus is looking after his existing staff, closely followed by breathing life back into a solid customer-centric service culture.
After the past traumatic 20 months, Pedreschi believes it has never been more important to nurture his team and show sincere commitment to their true value. The creation of a personal and caring environment for staff is far easier for a small establishment than an organisation with a pre-Covid head count of 2,200. It is, though, something that Pedreschi has become well known for prioritising since joining PPHE Hotel Group 12 years ago. An impressive and heartfelt commitment to the team during the pandemic helped the company carry off the Best Employer Award at the Cateys 2021. Now, Pedreschi has been recognised in his own right as Hotelier of the Year 2021, the 38th individual to receive the prestigious award.
Laundry room to boardroom
Pedreschi says he is deeply honoured by the accolade, and the message he wants to share as a result of his success is the importance of looking after your team. It is something that has been ingrained in him since he did a hotel management and business studies degree at Dublin College of Catering (now Technical University Dublin). Following his first summer placement as a waiter and then in the laundry of the Ann Arbor Inn at the University of Michigan in the US, he joined the 833-bedroom London Tara (now the Copthorne Tara Hotel London Kensington) for his second placement as a room attendant.
So impressed was Pedreschi by the supportive environment at the Tara, which at the time was led by the general manager he refers to as "the magnificent Eoin Dillon", that he was determined to return to the hotel for postgraduate training following his college course. At the time, the hotel didn't offer such training and had no budget to do so. Undeterred, Pedreschi wrote his own programme and offered to join on an entry-level rate. He was duly signed up and appointed duty manager after completing the training.
"The Tara was magnificent groundwork in running a high-volume hotel," Pedreschi says. "When I was there Eoin Dillon won Hotelier of the Year . He made it perfectly clear that he had won it on behalf of the team. The level of energy, passion and pride among the staff that he had won was enormous." Dillon, who died in 1997 at the age of 68, has had a huge influence on Pedreschi.
Take Pedreschi's enthusiasm ensuring equal opportunities for team members with disabilities. "That comes from Eoin," he says. "The Tara had rooms for people with disabilities, which at the time were like something from a different planet. "
Pedreschi says there have been many success stories involving staff with disabilities, including one team member who joined the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge prior to its opening in 2010 and has gone on to become a team leader in the guest services team where he trains all the new recruits. "He is a great inspiration," says Pedreschi.
Alongside Dillon, Pedreschi cites two inspirational operators he worked alongside at Grosvenor House hotel during two separate stints (as banqueting manager 1994-95, and as director of F&B operations and then F&B director 2000-2003): director of conference and banqueting Andrew Coy and general manager Paolo Bisconi.
"Andrew taught me everything about service and attention to detail. Paolo showed me how to face a crisis, as a result of going through 9/11, by focusing on doing the best job possible rather than becoming overwhelmed by external events – I've drawn on it a lot over the past year."
PPHE Hotel Group is, at heart, an entrepreneurial operation
Having worked in many departments across a myriad of hotels and catering companies, including Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Café Royal and Somerset House, Pedreschi was well-placed to join the pre-opening team of the colossal 1,019-bedroom Park Plaza Westminster Bridge as hotel manager in 2009. Two years later he was promoted to general manager, a role he held for seven years before taking on the additional responsibility of overseeing all UK properties within PPHE Hotel Group. In 2019 he was promoted to his current position.
For someone so focused on team building, overseeing the lockdown-enforced depletion of a 2,200-strong UK workforce to 1,450 has been a huge blow. But every step of the way, he has ensured employees made redundant were fully supported throughout the process with CV workshops and an assurance that everyone who left would be given first right of refusal when the company began to re-employ staff. Through PPHE's close relationship with Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals, 75 team members were taken on by the NHS at the start of the pandemic in support roles, such as catering, cleaning, security and engineering. Some 45 of them have since been kept on as full-time NHS staff. Another 140 staff were deployed to work at two vaccination centres.
Further support was given to the NHS by setting up a laundry service for staff at Guy's and St Thomas'. Altogether some 140,000 uniforms were cleaned, while bedrooms at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge were provided for doctors and nursing staff.
Following the reopening of hospitality as Covid restrictions eased, PPHE Hotel Group, which includes properties in Croatia as well as its 10 UK hotels, has reported total revenue of £75.7m for July to September 2021, up 142.2% on the same period in 2020, and 62.5% of the figure achieved July-September 2019. Occupancy stood at 54.3%, compared with 86.7% for the same three-month period in 2019; average room rate was £116.30 (2019: £134.10) and revenue per available room was £63.10 (2019: £116.10).
As bookings started to flow in (five banquets for more than 1,000 guests are booked for November at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, giving the hotel 70% of its usual bookings for the month), Pedreschi was concerned that the skills would not be in place in the brigade.
"I set out to see if we could secure any of the quarantine hotel contracts and we managed to sign up our Victoria and Waterloo properties. At the same time our other London hotels provided a bubble for players and officials during the Wimbledon tennis championships. We turned Park Plaza Westminster Bridge into a central production unit and produced 9,500 meals a day – 3,600 for the Wimbledon guests and the rest for the quarantine hotels. It gave us a massive head start to ensure that we were fully fit for banqueting again."
Thinking ahead has certainly served PPHE well during the pandemic. Pedreschi highlights the move to insourcing of housekeeping four years ago as one of the best decisions ever taken by the company. At a time when many central London hotels are having to put a cap on the number of bedrooms they are able to fill, having an in-house housekeeping team has been a business lifesaver.
"It goes back to looking after your team. Taking on direct responsibility for the housekeeper has provided us with a massive connection to the team. We were able to continue with their training during furlough, and we've now got more capability to clean bedrooms than is demanded."
However, there is some challenge in recruiting staff for the food and beverage and spa departments. As a result, some of the restaurants and treatment rooms across the 10 UK hotels are yet to reopen. "We will open everything when we have everybody we need and the teams are fully trained so that we are able to deliver the full customer experience," says Pedreschi. "We can't suffer the reputational risk of offering a sub-par guest journey."
Pedreschi believes the company has previously been too passive in encouraging career progression for staff in junior and mid-level roles. "Over a period of time there was a risk that a team member would move elsewhere because we hadn't made it attractive for them to stay," he explains. "Now we are curating careers. Together with James Golding, director of people and culture, I am looking at how we can move people on, and all general managers are being measured on retention success as a KPI."
Meanwhile, every aspect of PPHE's training programmes, from the welcome induction to apprenticeships and graduate programmes, has been revised to ensure results that will benefit both the individuals concerned and the company. "Key to this is identifying the managers and leaders who have an affinity and desire to teach and train," says Pedreschi. "Previously we spread out the trainees among the hotels, but that doesn't always work. It is much better that they are in the right managed environment where they will be supported and inspired."
I have a great team of dynamic and independent-thinking general managers and directors, and my style is to instil in them the confidence to be brave
Encouraging his management team to take on the kind of motivational role he has personally adopted is central to Pedreschi's style. "PPHE Hotel Group is, at heart, an entrepreneurial operation," he says. "My role is to support the teams as they develop their own business units. I have a great team of dynamic and independent-thinking general managers and directors, and my style is to instil in them the confidence to be brave and to constantly challenge me, challenge how we operate, and most importantly to challenge themselves.
"We could never have manoeuvred through the last 18 months if they all didn't fight so hard for their individual teams and hotels. We have a very flat leadership structure in PPHE Hotel Group and they can enjoy the independence of a small company, while having the resources of a much larger company to support them."
The supportive role Pedreschi has so successfully adopted extends far beyond the workplace. He is a former chairman of the East One General Managers Association and the London committee of Hospitality Action, a one-time member of British Hospitality Association (now UKHospitality), and formed part of the organising committee for a past Master Innholders general managers' conference.
So what does he do to relax? It will come as no surprise to anyone that relaxation for Pedreschi, who is married to Sinai, director of sales at the Mandrake hotel, and father to Aoife, 20, and Luke, 15, involves motivating others. For 11 years he has coached children's rugby at Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club and he is a qualified watch leader with the Jubilee Sailing Trust, a charity that supports young people, including those with impairments and health conditions, as crew members on tall ships. "It is wonderful to see how someone who has never sailed before go on to steer a three-masted ship on their own with full confidence after only 11 days at sea."
Pedreschi's passion in identifying potential and encouraging people to fulfil it is palpable. PPHE recognises that this is his strength and, despite his move into a regional role, has allowed him to continue steering colleagues towards making the best of themselves. Having such a champion of people is just what the sector needs. As the newly appointed Hotelier of the Year, expect to hear a lot more from Pedreschi on this subject in the year to come.
PPHE Group portfolio
- Park Plaza County Hall London (399 bedrooms)
- Park Plaza London Park Royal (212 bedrooms)
- Park Plaza London Riverbank (645 bedrooms)
- Park Plaza London Victoria (299 bedrooms)
- Park Plaza London Waterloo (494 bedrooms)
- Park Plaza London Westminster Bridge (1,019 bedrooms)
- Holmes Hotel London (118 bedrooms)
- Park Plaza Cardiff (129 bedrooms)
- Park Plaza Leeds (187 bedrooms)
- Park Plaza Nottingham (178 bedrooms)
- Art'otel London Battersea Power Station, 164 bedrooms (due to open 2022)
- Art'otel London Hoxton, 343 bedrooms (due to open 2024)
- Site for 465-bedroom hotel adjacent to Park Plaza London Park Royal, planning permission granted, aiming to open 2025
- Site for 186-bedroom hotel close to Park Plaza London Waterloo, planning application submitted, aiming to open 2024
Twelve of the past 37 winners of the Hotelier of the Year award made up the judging panel that elected Daniel Pedreschi to follow in their footsteps as this year's recipient of the accolade. They included Harry Murray (1986 winner), Gordon Campbell Gray (2002), Richard Ball (2006), Andrew McKenzie (2008), Jonathan Raggett (2009), Andrew Stembridge (2010), Stuart Johnson (2012), Stuart Bowery (2013), Danny Pecorelli (2014), Craig Bancroft (2016), Sue Williams (2017) and Sally Beck (2019).
Murray led the praise for Pedreschi, describing him as "an inspirational leader who is leading the way on how to address the serious staffing crisis", while Campbell Gray said Pedreschi's "motivational and leadership skills are just what our industry needs during these unprecedented and difficult times".
McKenzie said the 2021 winner possessed the "rare but valuable skill" of "running a huge empire like it was a small intimate hotel".
Pedreschi was described as "unassuming and kind" (Bowery), "an outstanding candidate that is at the apex of his career and hugely respected" (Bancroft), and "a shining beacon" (Williams).
Summing up, Stembridge said: "Daniel's relentless dedication to valuing and developing his team, in such a pioneering manner, undoubtedly sets the benchmark. With hospitality staring down the lens at the greatest staffing crisis of our lifetimes, Daniel is an exemplar and role model who will lead the charge in helping to promote our incredible industry as a career of choice."
What the sponsor says
"We are extremely proud to sponsor the Hotelier of the Year award, as it highlights the excellent work taking place in today's hospitality industry. Being successful at this level takes a huge amount of hard work, 24-hour commitment and a total dedication to exceeding excellence. These are standards and ethics that we share at Casna.
"As we emerge from the pandemic, never has it been more important to recognise those individuals at the top of the industry that help drive the business forward and inspire future generations to consider hotelkeeping as a career of choice.
"The Hotelier of the Year award is an accolade of the highest honour that we are delighted to be associated with."
Nick Appell, managing director, Casna Group