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There's little doubt that Robert Cook has hotels in his blood. The chief executive officer of the Malmaison and Hotel de Vin brands spent the first 18 years of his life living in room 114 of the Swallow Palace hotel in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, and from there his fate was sealed.
Following his father's footsteps into hotel management, Cook completed a three-year graduate trainee programme with Holiday Inn in London, and went on to develop an impressive career with Columbus, InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, and the Edinburgh Balmoral hotel.
It was in 1997 that Cook joined Ken McCulloch's boutique hotel chain Malmaison, opening the Newcastle site as general manager. He became operations director soon after but left the company in 2000 to work again with McCulloch and David Coulthard to open the Columbus hotel in Monte Carlo.
He rejoined Malmaison as chief executive officer in 2004, overseeing the purchase of Hotel du Vin for the estate later that year. It is this that has proved to be one of his greatest challenges, ensuring the smooth union of Hotel du Vin and Malmaison, without compromising the style and nature of each brand.
Cook has maintained each brand's identity, with Malmaison positioned as a contemporary city hotel, while Hotel du Vin is aimed largely at cathedral towns and cities. Since then, Cook has opened Malmaisons in Belfast, Oxford and will open in Liverpool later this year. There are plans to open in Reading, Dublin, London's West End, Paris and New York.
In the second half of 2004, Malmaison boosted its turnover by 42% to £21.5m to produce an Ebitda of £6.4m, up from £3.8m. Hotel du Vin contributed an Ebitda of £1.7m for its three months of ownership.
Cook's resounding success in creating the biggest and most dynamic lifestyle hotel group in the UK while maintaining two very different brands was applauded by the judges.
"He has to manage two very different sets of investors and
brands," said Jane Sunley, "but he's got it right and excelled in everything he has done."
Judges also commented on his management style, his passionate and exuberant nature and continuous "hands-on" approach to business. Cook believes in investing in his employees and has also made significant investments into systems that ensure the aspirations of his people are managed and met. The company has robust succession plans, training and employee consultation and feedback as a result.
Linda Halliday said: "He has a huge job to do, but he also gives an awful lot back. He's brilliant at spotting talent and retaining staff."
Andy Kemp agreed: "What he has done is fantastic. It's a huge job to merge the brands, but he has always kept his focus on service and not just the bottom line. He thinks about the floor all the time, yet has maintained profit growth."
BOXTEXT: The shortlist
\* Robert Cook, chief executive, Malmaison Brand and Hotel du Vin
\* Theresa Maw, general manager, London Marriott Park Lane
\* Debbie Taylor, general manager, the Balmoral
Linda Halliday, human resources director, BaxterStorey
Ricci Obertelli, global development director, the Dorchester Group
Ronan Sayburn, group sommelier, Gordon Ramsay Group
Jane Sunley, managing director, learnpurple
Claire Thompson, director of human resources, Claridge's, London