Philip Newman Hall is the director and general manager of Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire.
From walking into the Wish Tower hotel in Eastbourne as a "cocky 15-year-old" and asking for a job as a waiter, to heading up one of our most iconic hotels, Philip Newman-Hall's career has been quite a journey.
"I hated school, so hospitality was love at first sight. For the first time, I realised I could be good at something," he recalls. "The Wish Tower offered me a City & Guilds block-release traineeship. Suddenly, I went from being at the bottom of the class to being at the top of it."
Newman-Hall believes that the more facets you can add to your career, the better. Whether by luck or judgement - he reckons it's a mixture of the two - he has been able to broaden his skill set in each new phase of his own career.
At the Wish Tower, he learnt the importance of paying attention to detail - or, as he puts it, "getting things right the first time". At the Forte-run Whatley Hall, Banbury, he benefited from the systems, methods and training of a large chain. And at the George at Stamford, Lincolnshire, he gained precious experience of working in a property with a renowned food and beverage operation.
"The George's managing director, Ivo Vannocci, taught me you could say ‘yes' to anything and you could exceed customers' expectations," he remembers.
Four years at Virgin Hotels' Crathorne Hall followed. The North Yorkshire hotel was in danger of being downgraded from four- to three-star status. On Newman-Hall's watch, the property underwent a major refurbishment project that eventually saw it named AA Hotel of the Year. "It was a great learning curve," he says. "We reroofed the building while it was still full of guests!"
This work earned him the role of operations director for Virgin and the chance to manage a portfolio of general managers. But Newman-Hall missed being customer-facing, where he says you should always: "Try to read body language so you know what a guest wants before they know they want it."
Enter Raymond Blanc. Newman-Hall had no Michelin or five-star experience, but an unorthodox interview process, which saw him vetted by several team members as well as Blanc himself, secured him the job of general manager of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, in 1999.
Five happy years followed, but by 2004, he felt ready for a fresh challenge in the sphere of hotel consultancy.
And then came a call from Blanc earlier this year, to lure him back to Le Manoir. "I wasn't expecting it, but I didn't have to think about it. It felt like the right time to come back. The question at Le Manoir is always, ‘what's the next project?' There's constant enthusiasm and revival."
HIGHS… Seeing Crathorne Hall win AA Hotel of the Year was a high, even though I'd already left it. Another was Carl Newbury, a chef at Le Manoir, winning Young Chef of the Year. He needed the belief that he could do it, so we had to encourage him into entering. And the most recent was the call from Raymond Blanc.
LOWS… The mistake of taking a job at Bovey Castle. That was the first time I'd not gone with my gut feeling. We weren't suited to each other and I left after six weeks. Sometimes you make a career mistake. There's nothing wrong with walking away from something if it's not right.
Family Married with no children but has a mad cat called Cabbage
Favourite holiday La Residencia, Deia, Mallorca. The minute you get there, you go "aaahhh"
Drives A Mazda 6 Sport - I used to have an RX8 but my mother couldn't get into it
Motto The standards you set are the standards you get
1974 Named assistant manager of the Wish Tower hotel, Eastbourne, aged just 18
1985 Became general manager of Spa hotel, Tunbridge Wells, at the age of 29
1991 Saw Crathorne Hall win AA Hotel of the Year on the back of his refurb
1999 Became general manager of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Never drop your standards - in fact increase them in those things that touch your guests. This is not the time to start taking things out of rooms but to start looking after your guests better than ever.