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Manager of the Year

08 July 2004
Manager of the Year

Sponsored by Dudson Group

Christopher Cowdray

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When a hotel is a national icon and has been showered with awards, it's easy sometimes to overlook the leadership that got it Ð and kept it Ð there. And it's certainly the case that in six years at the helm of one of London's most famous hotels, the 2004 Manager of the Year has steered the property to a raft of award recognition.
When Christopher Cowdray took over as general manager of Claridge's in 1998, its past had been glorious, but it was beginning to fray - both metaphorically and physically - around the edges.
By the time he left just two months ago to take up a new challenge at the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>

Dorchester, he had steadied the ship spectacularly. And during his time at the Claridge's helm, it won an array of gongs to display in its black-and-white art deco corridors. In the last 12 months alone it has netted the RAC Gold Ribbon 2003 in that organisation's Dining Awards; a Gold Award in the Large Hotel of the Year category at the Safeway Excellence in England Awards for Tourism 2003; and, not least of course, last year's Catey for Group Hotel of the Year. Cowdray has built up a working environment at Claridge's in which his team feels valued. With his go-ahead, human resources manager Sara Edwards established quarterly staff meetings, monthly birthday parties for team members, annual awards such as Brick of the Year and Health and Safety Champion, leadership programmes for all levels of management, and a learning centre at the hotel. And as recently as March, he sent Edwards off to the USA's Centre for Creative Leadership to search out best practice across the pond. "If you're talking about people skills, that's where he's turned it around completely," commented Reynolds. The judges were impressed, too, by Cowdray's inventiveness in tracking down the best staff to recruit for his team Ð even going so far as to establish a link between Claridge's and Belgrade University. Financially, too, Cowdray's record stands up. Between 2001 and 2002, profit rose by 44%, and turnover increased from £31.16m to £36.75m. In 2002, Cowdray oversaw the establishment of Gordon Ramsay's fine-dining operation at the hotel. "He seems to have managed the transition with the older guests, and to have kept the Claridge's brand separate," one judge noted. Cowdray's influence isn't limited to the hospitality industry. Yes, he's a former chairman of organisations like the West One group of hoteliers, a member of the British Hospitality Association, a Master Innholder. But he's also a governor on the board of the English National Ballet and chairman of the Bond Street Association. All in all, a tough act to follow.
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