As he reaches 50, Vineyard Group MD Andrew McKenzie reflects on the essence of hospitality, growth of bureaucracy and rise of the career hotelier
My first experience of hospitality was working as a hall porter in the Royal hotel in Bridge of Allan, Scotland, aged 13, for an hourly rate that's less than a 2nd class stamp today.
I learnt very quickly what hospitality was all about - if you look after people they give you money. I used to earn twice my wages in tips. A simple message which still pays dividends if you are a hall porter or the CEO of an international hotel chain.
Hotel keeping is not a complicated business, but that doesn't make it easy either. Another life lesson I learnt at the Royal hotel was, it's not making mistakes that defines you - we all do it - it's what you do to turn them around. Dropping a wedding cake in a full ballroom however, was a challenge to turn around!
Running an independent hotel is a far harder way to make a living than it was in the 1970s. Owners and managers spend much more time on administration and finance issues leaving them less time to spend with their customers and staff - surely that's not progress? The amount of form filling and backside covering that even small businesses have to endure is frightening - it may be keeping some people in a job, but it is not making small hospitality businesses more profitable.
The growth of the corporate hotel company in the last 35 years has turned working in hotels from a job to a career, which has meant the industry has been able to attract some fantastic, intelligent young people. But despite the improved conditions, we still have some work to do to be the career opportunity we want to be seen as.
The biggest single change I've noticed is the relationships between owners or managers and their staff. My first task in the morning at the Royal hotel was answering the bell from the GM's office, knocking, entering then collecting the still warm shoes from under the table, where he had kicked them off whilst reading his Glasgow Herald. I cleaned and returned them without him raising his eyes off the newspaper. Thankfully, that's unthinkable in this day and age.
The bright staff we employ today need to be convinced they are doing their job for a reason, and a boss has to command their respect rather than demand it. A leader's job today is to motivate and encourage their teams to perform to the best of their ability - and to convince everyone to buy into a common vision.
I must admit that on day one at the Royal hotel I didn't imagine I would still be in the industry aged 50. Not every day is a joy but most are - I don't know many of my friends in other sectors who can say the same. Next update: aged 70!