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Dynamic duos: how mentoring can work wonders

26 August 2016 by
Dynamic duos: how mentoring can work wonders

Whether you work in the kitchen, reception, or behind the bar, a mentor can give you the support to shift your career up a gear. Rosalind Mullen looks at some of the best partnerships in the hotel sector

Check out some of the top performers in hospitality and most will have had a mentor in some guise or other. Chefs Angela Hartnett and Herbert Berger had, respectively, Gordon Ramsay and Michel Bourdin. Starwood's HR guru Sean Wheeler was mentored by former TGI Fridays boss Tony Hughes, and Lucknam Park chairman Harry Murray had past Claridge's general manager Ron Jones.

Why have a mentor? Murray nails it: "Mentoring is a powerful process in which a more skilled and experienced person serving as a role model advises and encourages a less skilled and less experienced person. The purpose is to help the mentee realise their full potential and achieve their career aspirations."

Mentoring can be done on an informal basis, but there are lots of programmes run on a free voluntary basis too (see panel). Most of these arrangements are between professionals in different companies and both mentor and mentee undergo training so they understand the ground rules. In many cases, there is also a "speed-dating" process to ensure both sides are well-matched. What is key is that there must be a high degree of trust, respect and confidentiality and a commitment from both sides.

To find out a bit more about this powerful relationship, The Caterer invited three professionals on both sides to talk about their experience in the hotel sector.

Stuart Johnson and Martin Newbould

The mentor

Stuart Johnson, general manager, Brown's Hotel, London, Rocco Forte Hotels

When it comes to mentoring, who better to approach than Stuart Johnson? One of his key achievements has been setting up the Savoy Society Mentoring Scheme (now the Hospitality Undergraduate Mentoring Scheme, run by Springboard) in 2009.

The Savoy scheme was one of the first structured mentoring programmes and it has since broadened out and, arguably, spawned other schemes (see panel). Johnson, meanwhile, has become a seasoned mentor himself, sharing his considerable experience. As well as managing five-AA- star hotels, such as Cliveden and Brown's, he has also spent two years as chairman of the Master Innholders and was named Hotelier of the Year in 2012.

Johnson says it is vital that mentors are in tune with their mentees. "When someone is 18 years old and they meet someone like ourselves, we forget how formidable we are," he explains.

Every mentee and mentor should undergo training and then be carefully matched in a process that culminates with a "speed-dating-style" event, advises Johnson.

Stuart Johnson

"It is important that both sides understand what they get out of it and what they need to put into it," he says. "Both parties are asked to commit on a formal basis for two years, but in reality it lasts a lot longer than that."

Johnson believes no problem is too small to be aired, from personal worries to personality clashes at work, or if there is a sense someone is not getting the opportunities they deserve.

"Mentees lead the meetings. Mentors are not there to tell the mentee what to do. They say ‘these are your options' and the mentee has to go away and decide on the best course of action," says Johnson.

Johnson also has his own mentors, proving how invaluable they can be throughout your career. "My mentors are strategic thinkers, but they don't work in the industry. I have had a number of people unofficially coach me throughout my career.

"It is hugely rewarding to be a mentor and to coach and grow talent. You also learn a lot and it makes us more open to new things. It is a two-way flow."

The mentee

Martin Newbould, general manager, Urban Villa, Brentford

Martin Newbould says one of the perks of being a St Julian Scholar through a scheme run by the Master Innholders is that he gains a mentor for two years. Stuart Johnson is his formal mentor from outside his workplace, although he has also benefitted from informal guidance from various employers.

At the time of this interview, the pair had just had their first meeting: "I am looking forward to benefiting from Stuart's experience and wisdom," says Newbould. "I hope to gain not just a mentor but a friend. Having that second opinion, an insight from a different point of view, will assist me in the future."

For Newbould, it is important that he is able to talk to his mentor openly: "Having a mentor who can listen and then observe will be incredibly useful. Being a leader can be a lonely place."

Martin Newbould

Newbould and Johnson's first meeting focused on finding out about each other. "It was a very open meeting," says Newbould, "and we covered a multitude of subjects, from Brexit and its impact to our own experiences within the industry. It was very much about finding common interests as well as understanding each other. I found it easy to talk to Stuart, as he was a good listener."

Newbould reckons it is important not to have preconceived ideas about each other. "Not knowing the individual means that you both have a blank canvas on which to build your relationship," he says.

Harry Murray and Kate Levin

The mentor

Harry Murray, chairman, Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa

Harry Murray chaired the Master Innholders mentoring committee from 2006 to 2011 and continues to be an inspirational mentor. In fact, his own stellar career is proof that the mentoring process works. "My unofficial mentor for more than 30 years was Ron Jones, former general manager of Claridge's before he retired in 1997. Ron was a consummate hotelier [1988 Hotelier of the Year] and from the beginning of my career I aspired to manage like him," says Murray.

"Linking the right mentor with a mentee is important and needs careful thought to ensure the relationship will work," says Murray. "Mentoring normally lasts for two years, but it can also last a lifetime."

"My first priority was to develop Kate's leadership skills following her appointment as general manager and to help her achieve her aspirations," explains Murray. "As the daughter of the owner, she was immediately under pressure to follow in her father's footsteps."

He adds: "Part of the role of a mentor is to be a good listener and act as a sounding board. You are also a confidant and available on the end of a phone as and when required. Prior to arrival, Kate agrees the agenda and prior to departure, we agree a plan."

Murray says Levin's progress as a successful general manager of a five-red-AA-star hotel during the past six years is clearly measurable. Not least, the Capital has just been awarded most improved score in the UK in the 2016 Hospitality Assured programme. In addition, Levin sits on the executive board of the St Julian Scholars and of the Savoy Educational Trust and in November will become chair of Pride of Britain.

"I must point out that Kate would still have been successful without my involvement, because she has the right attitude, passion and determination," says Murray.

Murray also has three other informal mentees, who he meets on a voluntary basis six to eight times a year, plus telephone discussions when required.

"Mentoring should be a win-win arrangement. As an experienced hotelier it is rewarding to share my experience, it also helps you to continually research changing trends in terms of global tourism, guests requirements, staff engagement and the ongoing development in technology," he says.

Harry Murray and Kate Levin

The mentee

Kate Levin, general manager, the Capital and the Levin, London

Harry Murray is Kate Levin's first and only mentor.

"Harry has become my voice of reason," she says. "I often know the answer, but the benefit of having a sounding board is amazing. He helps me look at the bigger picture and stretches me out of my comfort zone as a general manager so I can continue to grow."

An example of this is the fact he supported her to apply for a Master Innholders Scholarship. "Going to Cranfield and becoming a St Julian Scholar was a turning point for me and I never would have applied without his support," she says.

Levin says there are no downsides, although she does need to manage her time effectively to be ready for his weekly visits.

"We get on so well. The only downside I can think of - which is not my experience - is if one person in the partnership were not very committed."

Levin acknowledges there are lots of mentoring schemes, but adds: "If you are not part of one of these schemes, I would suggest being bold and approaching someone whom you admire in the industry."

What Levin appreciates is that Murray will listen and gently nudge rather than force his ideas. "Harry is amazing at pointing me in the right direction but letting me get there on my own," she says.

And what qualities should the mentee have? "As a mentee, you need to be able to listen, too. And also be brave to ask what feels like it might be a stupid question - Harry always tells me it is not. You need to be proactive, because the mentor is giving you a lot of advice and it is your responsibility to draw what you can from them. This relationship is 99% in your favour as a mentee and therefore it is our responsibility to be proactive."

Sean Wheeler and Charlotte Horler

The mentor

Sean Wheeler, director of people development, Project 1898 (the working name of the new hotel brand from Starwood Capital)

Sean Wheeler, who moved into his current role from HR director at the Dorchester Collection last year, has been mentoring for more than 25 years and sees it as his way to give back to the industry.

"I was blessed with my own mentor, Tony Hughes, managing director at TGI Fridays," explains Wheeler. "He is retired, but he still keeps in touch. We worked together in my 20s. He got me into HR. I was in operations before, but he said: 'you seem good with people, try HR'."

Wheeler's mentoring technique is honed through experience and through a two-day workshop he did with Bacchus, the Oxford Brookes University mentoring scheme, where he has mentored graduates for nearly 10 years. The Oxford Brookes programme is structured around CV preparation, interview techniques and making graduates work-ready. With 2016 Acorn Scholar Charlotte Horler, it is about helping her progress in her career. Every three weeks they schedule a meeting, alternating between telephone calls and face-to-face.

And it goes beyond that, too. Wheeler recently invited Horler to shadow him for a few days and to attend meetings with him at Project 1898.

Sean Wheeler

What he finds difficult as a mentor is the discipline of not being able to give the mentee the answers. "It is different from being a manager, where you are trying to find solutions. As a mentor, you are guiding them to find their answers. I have to sit on my hands. But it gives the mentee a deeper learning if they find their own solutions."

Wheeler reckons he benefits as much as the mentee - and the industry benefits more.

"It is a chance to open doors and create opportunities for the right person - maybe not now, but in the future," says Wheeler. "It also keeps me grounded. I am a baby boomer, so it helps me to understand the needs of Generation Y. But the principles of being a great leader are the same and I can help them to be good in their role."

And the relationship doesn't necessarily stop when the formal mentoring is over.

"I recently met up with an Oxford Brookes mentee, whom I had stopped mentoring eight years ago, but there is still a connection," says Wheeler.

The mentee

Charlotte Horler, operations manager, Billesley Manor, Warwickshire, part of the Hotel Collection

Sean Wheeler is Charlotte Horler's first mentor and the 2016 Acorn Scholar says the attention and dedication she has received from the process has exceeded her expectations.

"It is great to have a sounding board who is uninvolved in your day-to-day life and is willing to discuss all aspects of your working life - not just personal development," she says. "With Sean's experience and different exposures, he approaches things in ways I may not consider. I am learning so much from him already."

She appreciates that the relationship is based on mutual commitment and that Sean is giving up his time voluntarily.

"Both Sean and I are busy in our jobs, but he will always find time to spend with me. Likewise, I understand the benefits I will gain for both me and my company if I take the day out of the business to spend it with him."

But does the fact that Wheeler works in HR rather than operations mean he approaches problems differently?

Charlotte Horler

"Once I have achieved my goal to become a general manager, I would like to move into a people-based role, so Sean's experience in this is fantastic," says Horler. "He does have a different approach, but this is key because in hospitality we deal with so many different situations. And as Sean has been an operator previously, he is talented when it comes to translating HR into operations."

Wheeler has also helped Horler to raise her profile by taking her to Springboard events and the Cateys. "He will always introduce me to people he feels will benefit me," she says.

And all this has in turn helped Horler to mentor her own food and beverage apprentice.

"I think the key to mentoring, and something Sean does effortlessly, is to coach. I am getting much stronger at encouraging my apprentice to find the answers for herself and consequently I can see her improvements becoming a habit rather than an act," says Horler.

How to establish a successful mentoring relationship

  • Mentors and mentees should select one another through mutual trust and respect.
  • Confidentiality must be respected by both parties at all times.
  • Agree from the outset what both sides expect to receive.
  • Be prepared to speak openly and truthfully with one another.
  • Agree a timetable of action at the start and stick to it.

Mentoring schemes

The Hospitality Undergraduate Mentoring Scheme targets undergraduates entering their second year of a hospitality management course. The scheme is evolving to become the Hospitality Student Education Service. This will address the gap between workplace reality and academia by encouraging guest lecturers in the classroom, helping with projects and providing work-placements through Inspire. The idea is to provide mentors for university lecturers.


In the Women 1st Mentoring programme, both mentors and mentees complete a profiling questionnaire to match them with their ideal mentee/mentor. They also receive a day's training to prepare them to get the most out of their partnership.


The Master Innholders provides mentors for its St Julian Scholars.


The Bacchus Mentoring Programme Oxford Brookes University scheme was the first in the higher education sector to link postgraduate and final-year undergraduate students with senior industry figures.


The Institute of Hospitality runs the Mentor Me programme, which focuses on career growth and development for both experienced and new hospitality managers.


Members of the British Institute of Innkeeping are offered mentoring services.


Fast Forward 15 (FF15) is a one-year mentoring programme for 15 women in hospitality and associated industries and is in its second year.


The School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey launched a mentoring programme in 2015.


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