Francis Guildea is the general manager of Adnams Hotels.
Francis Guildea's hospitality career began when at 17 he left his home in Dublin to join the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick airport as a waiter. It was here, with an inspirational manager and a company committed to investing in its staff, that he became truly enamoured with the industry.
Guildea gained experience at the Royal Berkshire Hotel at Ascot before moving to Hiltons in Portsmouth and Glasgow, the latter of which he helped to launch.
Following the birth of a new baby brother, he returned home to Dublin for a spell before returning to the UK to work first for Shire Inns and then Stakis Hotels, which was ultimately bought by Hilton.
Every career move was part of a carefully considered route to the top of the hotel ladder, with Guildea's ultimate aim to be a hotel general manager. This came when, aged 29, he joined the Heritage Hotels venue, the Swan at Lavenham in Norfolk. However a change in ownership led him to join the Swan at Southwold, part of the Adnams Hotel group, a year later.
Since then, Guildea's hotel portfolio has grown and he is now also responsible for six properties at Adnams.
HIGHS… During his tenure at the Swan at Lavenham, Guildea was asked by reception to give a tour of the hotel to a couple interested in its potential as a wedding venue.
"As I walked them around, I remember thinking that the bride-to-be was very pretty and looked an awful lot like Claudia Schiffer," he explains. "When they decided to book for all their wedding accommodation, she gave me her name and I was gobsmacked to find out it actually was Claudia Schiffer. Suddenly I became very self-conscious."
Within two years of joining the team as general manager, the Swan at Southwold was named East of England Small Hotel of the Year, which he describes as a terrific endorsement for the team. "I was hugely proud when we won that award. We've won quite a few since then, but that was the first time I've won an external award for one of the properties in which I've been involved," he says.
But Guildea's proudest moment came this year when the Swan Hotel in Southwold was elevated from three star to four star status by the AA. The promotion was a particular achievement, Guildea says, because it wasn't driven by a million pound refurbishment but by service standards and food quality.
He adds: "It's been operating for around 350 years, in some form or other, so I am immensely proud of the team for being able to effect that change."
LOWS… One of Guildea's most stressful and testing days came at The Hilton at Portsmouth, when the hotel was playing host to two golden wedding anniversary parties on the same day. Both parties delivered their celebration cakes to the hotel the day before.
"One was bought from Marks and Spencer and the other had been lovingly crafted by an aunt over a period of months," he explains. "But somehow the labels identifying them were mixed up while in storage."
While one party was very pleased with their extra special homemade cake, the other was definitely not.
"The best I could do was hold my hands up and try to make up for it in a myriad of ways," says Guildea.
In a bid to maximise the commerciality of a large function room at the Hilton in Norwich, Guildea devised a plan to run Coca-Cola parties on Sunday afternoons. Aimed at 10 to 16-year olds, a fee of £5 gave access to the afternoon discos and unlimited Coca-Cola.
"The first event was a huge success. The local press wrote a double page piece saying how wonderful we were," explains Guildea. "But the second week went slightly wrong."
The 14 to 16-year olds began sneaking in bottles of vodka and a follow up newspaper story carried the headline "Children run amok in Hilton Norwich".
However Guildea says it was another learning experience and a very real reminder to be aware of every possibility. "You'll never dot every ‘i' or cross every ‘t' but you have to try," he adds.
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