Stephen Carter, chairman of De Vere Cameron House on Loch Lomond, has been named the 2011 Hotelier of the Year, sponsored by the Casna Group. He tells Janet Harmer why his success is the result of creating a harmonious and enthusiastic team of staff around him
Stephen Carter's response on hearing that he had been named the 2011 Hotelier of the Year was typical of a man who is totally self-effacing about his long record of success.
"Why me?" he said. Despite the fact that he has a solid 40-year track record encompassing rapid progress through several of the UK's major hotel chains and a string of impressive successes at the five-star level, combined with a history of accolades as long as your arm, Carter is genuinely surprised that he has joined the elite club of the country's leading hoteliers.
Rarely during our conversation did Carter dwell on his extensive achievements - which include being awarded the Manager of the Year Catey in 2005, an OBE in 2007 for services to the hospitality industry, and the Fellowship for Outstanding Industry Contribution at the 2011 Scottish Hotel Awards. Instead, he is keener to promote the staff he has worked with in the past and those he works with now at De Vere Cameron House on Loch Lomond, which he has steered through a major refurbishment in recent years to become one of Scotland's leading hotel resorts.
In fact, when asked who has most inspired him in his career, he points to two hoteliers who have worked for him in the past: Graham Nesbitt, the former executive chef at St Andrew's Bay who went on to be his general manager at Cameron House before moving to his current role as general manager of Mere Golf Resort and Spa in Cheshire; and Simon Morpuss, his deputy at the Caledonian hotel and now general manager at the Mint Hotel Westminster.
He also points to the likes of Robert Cook, chief executive of Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, and Douglas Wardle, operations director at Hand Picked Hotels, who both worked for him when he was general manager of the Moat House International, Glasgow, as being great motivators.
"My inspiration definitely comes from the people I work with," Carter explains, "I try to employ team members who challenge me and push me forward."
Certainly it was his ability in building and developing a strong team of more than 500 staff at Cameron House, as well as his constant support for initiatives within the industry to boost the careers of young people and budding leaders, which particularly impressed the panel of judges for the Hotelier of the Year.
Carter, who grew up as the youngest of four siblings in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and studied hotel administration at the University of Surrey in Guildford, took over the helm at Cameron House in 2008 at a turbulent time. The hotel was in the midst of a £50m refurbishment, but there was dissatisfaction amongst the staff, culminating in the departure of two general managers within a year.
"It was a tricky time and I came in to pour oil on troubled waters," he says. "I settled and motivated the team by constantly engaging and talking with them, and standing shoulder to shoulder with them on the shop floor. It was important that both myself and the entire management team were highly visibly at all times. As a result, we created a vision for the team to ensure everyone was enthusiastic about what was going to be a superlative product."
Carter believes in employing as many local people as possible, with around 90% of the staff coming from within a 30-mile radius of the hotel. "When people come to Scotland, they want to be looked after by Scots," he says.
Building a highly motivated team of indigenous staff, supplemented by extensive training opportunities, is, Carter believes, the reason for Cameron House's dramatic change in fortunes. The figures speak for themselves - occupancies of nearly 90% in 2010 and 2011 in a challenging economic climate and an annual turnover which has more than doubled since 2008 to £25m today.
Since the recession, the focus has increasingly been on attracting leisure guests from within the UK, with that market increasing from 60% of business before the economic downturn to the current figure of 85%. Activities at the resort are constantly being enhanced: seaplane trips on Loch Lomond, for instance, have recently been added to the likes of quad biking and falconry; for the less active, the extensive treatments available in the Carrick Spa are a big attraction.
There are now also four restaurants within the resort - Martin Wishart on Loch Lomond (newly awarded a Michelin star), Cameron Grill for Scottish food, Boat House serving pizza and pasta, and the Claret Jug which aims to serve the best burgers and fries - along with the Great Scots Bar.
Although Cameron House constantly remains Carter's focus, he also interacts with the local community through the resort's support for charities such as the Tullochan Trust, which provides opportunities for youngsters from difficult backgrounds, the Carers of West Dunbartonshire and the Variety Club Scotland, as well as being actively involved in supporting the wider hospitality industry.
Carter is a board member of VisitScotland, has been chairman of the Hospitality Industry Trust for Scotland for 11 years and is a founding director of the International Leadership School, launched earlier this year in conjunction with the Strathclyde Business School, Cornell University in New York and Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland.
Carter points to the need to properly train staff and improve the quality of leadership as being the key challenges facing the hospitality industry. It is clear that there can be few individuals who are working as hard as he is to ensure both challenges are being met.
STEPHEN CARTER - CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
1971 On graduating from the University of Surrey with a BSc in hotel administration, Carter began his career as a trainee manager with Thistle at the Golden Lion hotel in Stirling.
1977-1989 A 12-year stint with Holiday Inns International included a spell at the Holiday Inn Aberdeen, where he met his future wife, Morny, the personnel manager at the hotel. He was also general manager at one of the group's largest properties in Europe at the time, the 330-bedroom Holiday Inn Birmingham.
1989-1990 As area director of Stakis hotels, Carter looked after the development and profitability of 13 hotels in Scotland.
1990-1994 Keen to get back to running an individual hotel, he became general manager of the Moat House International, Glasgow. During his tenure the hotel won the Caithness Glass Taste of Scotland Hotel of the Year award
1994-1998 As general manager of the Caledonian hotel in Edinburgh, Carter enjoyed his first foray into the world of five-star hotels. He succeeded in restoring the hotel to its former position as one of Scotland's leading hotels by overseeing a £6m refurbishment and in doing so increased year-on-year operating profit by 24%, 29% and 30% in three successive years.
1998-2000 As operations director at Cliveden in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, Carter's role was to expand the Cliveden brand on behalf of the then American owner, Destination Hotels and Resorts, into Europe. Unfortunately, the economic climate at the time led to the expansion being abandoned.
2000-2006 Carter oversaw the development and opening of the new five-star, 209-bedroom St Andrews Bay Golf Resort & Spa, at a cost of £58m. Soon after the launch, he had to deal with the effects of 9/11 and the foot-and-mouth disaster and went on to successfully refocus the hotel's business and marketing plans. His achievements included the development of a programme for recruiting staff new to the hotel industry and sending them to the sister property in the USA for training, as well as a plethora of awards including Scottish Hotel of the Year at the Scottish Hotels of the Year Awards 2005 and Resort of the Year at the Scottish Golf Tourism Awards 2006. He won the Manager of the Year award at the 2005 Cateys.
2006-2008 Joined De Vere Hotels and Resorts as operations director to assist in the restructuring of its collection of 18 four- and five-star hotels following the group's acquisition by the Alternative Hotel Group.
2008-present Appointed managing director (now chairman) of De Vere Cameron House on Loch Lomond. Carter joined part-way through the £50m refurbishment and expansion of the resort which today incorporates 128 bedrooms and 115 time-share lodges, the Carrick spa with 17 treatment rooms, and a PGA championship golf course. Annual turnover, since 2008, has risen from £12m to the current £25m. Cameron House was named the Group Hotel of the Year at the 2010 Cateys.
WhAT THE JUDGES Said
During the past 35 years Stephen Carter has made an outstanding contribution to the hospitality industry. He is renowned for team building and the empowerment and development of his people to deliver the highest standards. I am delighted that Stephen's leadership skills and passion for hospitality have been recognised with this coveted award.
Harry Murray, chairman, Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa, and 1986 Hotelier of the Year
Stephen is a consummate hotelier, and an inspiring professional at his craft.
Richard Ball, managing director, Calcot Manor, and 2006 Hotelier of the Year
I think the reason Stephen Carter has not won this award before is that everyone assumed he already had! He was an icon in Scottish hotelkeeping when I worked there over 20 years ago and he still is today. He is unstinting in his dedication to developing young, local people, which is a harder route to take than finding overseas staff already trained. West of Scotland accents dominate Cameron House. Stephen gives of his time freely and is a mentor for many of today's up-and-coming hotel professionals.
Andrew McKenzie, managing director, the Vineyard Group, and 2008 Hotelier of the Year
"Stephen is a very worthy winner of Hotelier of the Year. He possesses an abundance of charisma and charm and has run some very fine properties throughout his career. He empowers and supports his staff and is a fantastic ambassador for the hospitality industry."
Jonathan Raggett, managing director, Red Carnation Hotels, and 2009 Hotelier of the Year
"Stephen is one of the most generous hoteliers on the planet - he's thoroughly old-fashioned in his approach to hospitality, but perfectly modern when it comes to nurturing his team. He has been quietly doing marvellous things in Scotland for ever and hence this worthy recognition is long overdue."
Andrew Stembridge, managing director, Chewton Glen, and 2010 Hotelier of the Year
"Stephen's achievements and impact on the hospitality industry are an inspiration to us all. He is an outstanding hotelier, totally dedicated, passionate about people and their development. His enthusiasm and commitment have touched and motivated so many within the industry."
Simon Numphud, Hotel Services Manager, AA Hotel Services
I voted for Stephen in recognition of a career dedicated to mentoring and development of others, but more importantly for his recent involvement in the creation of the University of Strathclyde's International Leadership School, which will surely make Glasgow an international centre for postgraduate hospitality studies.
Sally Shalam, hotel critic, The Guardian
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