Stuart Bowery, general manager of London's largest five-star hotel, Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott hotel, has been named the 2013 Hotelier of the Year, sponsored by Casna Group.
He shares with Janet Harmer the importance of connecting with staff, working with the wider industry and using his success to benefit others.
It's a mammoth task, but it comes as no surprise to those who know him well. This week, Bowery was named 2013 Hotelier of the Year in recognition as much for his success in steering the behemoth that is Grosvenor House as for his creation of a supportive, enthusiastic and motivated team.
General manager since 2011 at the capital's largest five-star hotel, both in terms of business from bedrooms and the extensive food and beverage operation, Bowery always leads by example, operating with honesty and integrity. As a result, he commands widespread respect from peers and colleagues alike.
The fact that he has significantly increased the employee engagement score at the hotel from 27% to 80% over the past two years speaks for itself. "Writing cards might seem a small thing, but for the employees who are a long way from home, it means a lot,"he says. "It brings a connection."
Bowery says there is no suggestion that morale at the hotel was low before his arrival. "What I have done is create constant communication and leadership. My approach is about being visible within the hotel during the key guest traffic times of breakfast, lunch and dinner, while liaising regularly with the employees – from shaking hands with the concierges and receptionists when I arrive in the morning to formal meetings throughout the day."
Bowery puts into practice and understands too well the maxim of J Willard Marriott, the founder of the company that manages Grosvenor House: "Take care of your employees and they'll take care of your customers."Hence, he ensures that the team regularly receives recognition through celebrations across all the Marriott hotels in London, as well as Grosvenor House, for continuous service – whether that is five or 35 years.
Round-the-clock training He has also established a strong training culture, led by dedicated training manager Mike Dalley, and personally oversees sessions which underpin the Marriott ethos. "Nobody is left out,"explains Bowery. "For staff who come in at 7am or finish at 10pm we ensure there is the opportunity to take part in training."
Pretty much the whole of Bowery's career has been spent within the fold of Marriott International, from working for Scott's Hotels at the start of his career, when the company's properties were rebranded from Holiday Inn to Marriott, to his current role at Grosvenor House, which since 2008 has fallen under the company's luxury brand of JW Marriott.
Marriott International, which invested £142m in restoring the hotel after taking over its management in 2004, has an agreement to operate the business – bought by the Indian-based conglomerate Sahara three years ago for £470m – until 2052.
While Bowery credits Marriott for helping equip him as a good leader, the judges were impressed that he has not allowed himself to be swamped by a strong corporate culture and has remained his own person. Always calm and considered, he successfully juggles daily pressures from a number of different partners – the asset managers of Sahara; his immediate boss, Ed Hubennette, vice-president UK & Ireland at Marriott International; and tenants such as Richard Corrigan, who runs one of the hotel's restaurants.
Bowery acknowledges two people who have had the greatest influence and inspiration upon his career. First, Alan Parker, the former chief executive of Whitbread, which operated the Marriott franchise in the UK from 1995 to 2005. "He successfully headed a complex portfolio of businesses with great vision and direction before going on to sell Marriott for £1.1b and consolidate the growth of Premier Inn,"explains Bowery.
Then there is Bill Marriott, the son of the founder of the hotel company, which operates more than 3,800 hotels across 18 brands worldwide. He continues to be involved with the group as executive chairman, although daily operations have passed to president and chief executive Arne Sorensen. "Bill is a man of integrity and simplicity who, like his father, wholeheartedly believes in investing in people,"says Bowery. "He takes great care and attention in the business, believes in equality, is commercially focused and is a stickler for detail."
On joining Grosvenor House – which originally opened in 1929 – two years ago, Bowery was tasked with maximising the potential of the property, as well as considering its investment plans. While there was a recognition that the hotel did not belong in the ultra-luxury set that comprises the Savoy, Claridge's and the Four Seasons, it was clear that, with its position on Park Lane, it was a destination where people want to be indulged.
"We are about approachable luxury; elegance without extravagance,"Bowery explains. "As well looking after our hotel guests, it is also important that we uphold the aspirations of people who come here for the many extraordinary events held in the Great Room and other venues. We want to offer an essence of London within a quintessential parkside English setting, alongside the assurance of the JW brand."
As a result of Bowery's review, a multimillion-pound refurbishment will get under way next month and continue through to 2017. Improvements of the Great Room, which can accommodate a maximum of 2,000 covers, are ongoing due to the phenomenal throughput of business. GA Design International is redesigning the suites and creating a new executive lounge on the ground floor. "In keeping with Grosvenor House's history, the aim is to reflect the authentic crafted finishes from the golden age of travel with the elegance and modernity of a luxury JW Marriott hotel,"says Bowery.
A mammoth task
As a property that comprises nearly 500 bedrooms and myriad function spaces, the hotel requires continual inspections to ensure it maintains its lustre. "Every Monday afternoon I write off a couple of hours so that I can walk around the building with Gordon Ormond, the director of engineering, to detect what needs to be repaired and painted,"says Bowery. "It is such a colossal building that one year after I arrived I was still finding rooms which I didn't previously know existed."
While running Grosvenor House is central to his life, fully supported by his wife Sarah, Bowery was also praised by the judges for his involvement in the industry, something which he began in his early career in Aberdeen as chairman of the local hoteliers' association and board member of the city's convention bureau.
Today, he is on the executive committee of the Master Innholders, a member of West One Hoteliers and a regional committee member of the British Hospitality Association, as well as a regular supporter of the Springboard charity. He is also a fellow of the Institute of Hospitality and a friend of the Academy of Culinary Arts.
"I get a great deal of enjoyment and pleasure working with my industry peer groups, networking and continually learning what is going on as the industry evolves,"he says. "At the same time it is important that I'm strongly representing my hotel and organisation."
On being told that he had been named the 31st Hotelier of the Year, Bowery was genuinely overwhelmed, but also considered how his achievement could help others. "I have so much respect for the past winners, I am absolutely delighted to receive the same recognition,"he says. "I hope I can now carry the baton forward and uphold the reputation of the accolade for the good of the industry."
What the sponsor says
Casna is delighted to support the Hotelier of the Year Award because it recognises and rewards excellence in the hotel industry.
Like ourselves, the award is all about redefining gold standards for the industry. That is why we originally chose to sponsor the award and why we are proud to continue sponsoring it.
We also enjoying seeing the hard work and success of our clients formally rewarded and sharing their enjoyment of the accolade.
Nick Appell, managing director, Casna Group
Stuart Bowery – Career highlights
1980-93 Training and development roles, Scott's Hotels After being fast-tracked through a graduate management programme, he was food and beverage manager in three hotels. Was appointed acting general manager at the Heathrow/Windsor Marriott during the hotel's rebranding from Holiday Inn.
1993-94 General manager, Beardmore hotel, Glasgow (four stars, 168 bedrooms) Opened the hotel under a management contract on behalf of the owner, Health Care International. Served the needs of patients and their families in an adjoining private hospital.
1994-98 General manager, Aberdeen Marriott hotel (four stars, 154 bedrooms, £6m annual turnover) Led the renovation of all guest rooms, conference and leisure facilities; achieved Most Improved Customer Satisfaction Score for Marriott UK; and held chairmanship of the local hoteliers' association.
1998-99 General manager – operations, Whitbread Hotel Company (Marriott Hotels) Oversaw the development of brand standards across 35 UK Marriott hotels; looked after the career development of the group's operation managers; and was responsible for The Brewery Conference and Events Centre.
1999-2003 General manager, London Marriott hotel, Regent's Park, London (four stars, 300 bedrooms, £14m annual turnover) Increased profit per room by 15% against competitor set; reduced labour turnover from 50% to 30%; and scored the highest general manager's staff rating in Marriott UK, with a satisfaction score of 94%.
2003-11 Cluster general manager, Marriott International, London (responsible for eight hotels with a combined turnover of £105m) and general manager of the London Marriott Hotel County Hall (five stars, 200 bedrooms, £20m annual turnover) Directed five hotel renovations involving a total investment of £20m; established the team that opened the Twickenham Marriott hotel; developed new revenue streams at County Hall; and named Marriott UK's General Manager of the Year.
2011-present General manager, Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, London (five stars, 494 bedrooms, £78m annual turnover) Developed £25m hotel investment plan to activate strategic review; delivered 15% sales ( £10m) and 19% profit growth; improved employee engagement, guest satisfaction and social media ratings; and won Marriott Europe Hotel of the Year 2013.
Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott hotel
Address Park Lane, London W1K 7TN
Tel 020 7499 6363
Bedrooms 494, including 74 suites
Meeting rooms 31 (5,660sq m)
Largest venue The Great Room at 250 events per annum, averaging 1,200 guests per event
Food and beverage JW Steakhouse with Bourbon Bar,the Park Lane Market, the Park Room with the Library, the Red Bar, Corrigan's of Mayfair
Turnover £78m (2012)
Annual room nights sold 160,000
Annual food and beverage covers 650,000
Average occupancy More than 80%
What the judges say
Stuart Bowery is the hoteliers' hotelier, an experienced and consummate professional who strictly adheres to all the basics of good hotelkeeping, including 'management by walking around'. He has the ability to develop winning teams who consistently deliver an exceptional experience to guests. He will be a popular winner of this coveted award and a great inspiration to young people on the career ladder.
Harry Murray, chairman, Lucknam Park hotel & spa, and 1986 Hotelier of the Year
Stuart typifies what makes a great hotelier: shop skills, integrity, humility and great leadership. He helps shatter the myth that you can't express your individuality when working for a big company. A very worthy winner.
Andrew McKenzie, managing director, the Vineyard Group, and 2008 Hotelier of the Year
Stuart is a first-class hotelier and his career is a shining example to all young hospitality professionals of what can be achieved through hard work and commitment to hotel management. An inspiration and support to many, Stuart's impact on Grosvenor House has been significant, improvement in employee engagement has been impressive, and the strong culture of hospitality and service is clear.
Simon Numphud, hotel services manager, AA Hotel Services
As a leader, Stuart is proactive, direct and pragmatic. He leads from the front and is a highly visible presence at the hotel. Stuart believes in getting to the point and is never afraid to address "the elephant in the room"to ensure that issues are challenged, debated and resolved.
Jonathan Raggett, managing director, Red Carnation Hotels, and 2009 Hotelier of the Year
Stuart is a consummate hotelier with traditional values of hospitality, putting equal importance on both guests and his team, resulting in high team morale and a profitable business. He also makes a valuable contribution to charitable causes outside his hotel.
Stuart Johnson, general manager, Brown's hotel, London, and 2012 Hotelier of the Year
There are five-star hotels, then there is the Grosvenor House. It is a beast of a hotel, that in the past has often proved hard to tame. Stuart Bowery has proved adept at taming it with a remarkable combination of flair and hard work, intuition and pragmatism, attention to detail and, above all, an ability to lead a team with both firmness and warmth.
Dominic Walsh, business reporter (leisure/drinks), The Times
Stuart Bowery is a particularly worthy winner of this prestigious award. His employee engagement is noteworthy and his overall contribution to many industry organisations is equally impressive. Stuart is highly respected and all the while remains approachable and humble."
John Stauss, regional vice-president and general manager, Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, and 2005 Hotelier of the Year
Stuart's quiet, amenable yet highly achieving management style has kept his feet on the ground whilst gaining the ever-growing respect of his team, guests, the industry and the community in which his hotel finds itself.
Stephen Carter, managing director, De Vere Cameron House, and 2011 Hotelier of the Year