August's Star of the Month is Mark Frances, general manager of De Vere's Belton Woods hotel in Lincolnshire, where over the past 18 months he has turned the property's fortunes around. Nominated by his entire team, he spoke to Helen Gilbert
Caterer Why did you nominate Mark?
Belton Woods team In 2007 the hotel wasn't doing very well and was put up for sale in October. Mark Frances took over as general manager and vowed to swing the fortunes of the hotel around. A budget was submitted for 2008, and everyone in the group laughed at him. So he just worked harder, putting in phenomenal hours and developing a young and inexperienced management team into a powerful unit. He refocused the business, led us into new markets, and changed the focus of the sales team to fit new economic challenges. He even got on the phones and contacted clients to convert sales. Mark's passion and understanding meant he saw opportunity around every corner and drove us to make the most of it. By February 2008, Belton Woods had surpassed all budgeted expectations and was taken off the market. Mark truly deserves to win this award.
Caterer How do you feel winning this award?
Mark Frances I'm in total shock. I had no idea that I had been nominated so it's really exciting. They're such a nice team of staff and it has been a tough year for them, so this is really good.
Caterer What did you do to turn the hotel's fortunes around?
MF I put in a young, strong team and we changed the focus of the hotel. We introduced new markets, targeting families and sports groups, and stopped worrying about corporate travellers. We broadened the conference market and introduced fun activities, such as hot-air ballooning and quad biking.
Caterer What's the key thing to being a good general manager?
MF Have an open-book policy. Everybody talks to me, from floor cleaners in the kitchen to senior managers. There's no hierarchy, but open communication all the time and no hidden agenda. Also, considering the current economic climate, being commercially astute is extremely important.
Caterer How do you retain staff?
MF We meet regularly, sit and have a cup of coffee and chat. I put in a young team of people who, before, didn't have career growth, and now the world has opened up to them. Sometimes hotels get stuck into a rut of recruiting people from outside. I encourage youngsters to use their initiative, and promote from the inside. I've allowed new ideas to grow. There are also the perks of being on a big estate. Everyone can play golf and use the gym and leisure facilities.
Caterer How will you spend the £500 prize money?
MF I'll take my team out for a night on the town - they deserve a treat.
To nominate someone for this award, visit www.caterersearch.com/starofthemonth