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Laura Sharpe, general manager of Firmdale's 91-bedroom Ham Yard hotel in London, was described by our panel of judges as "an outstanding winner", who is "instrumental" in the success of her hotel and developing the next generation of talent.
Sharpe joined Firmdale as duty manager of the Soho hotel in 2007 and worked at five of the group's London properties before being promoted to general manager of Ham Yard, its largest hotel, in 2016. She oversees a team of 380 and an annual turnover of £35m.
One of the most successful initiatives that Sharpe has spearheaded was the Hot Gin Roof pop-up in collaboration with gin company Sipsmith last year; it was a sell-out with a 4,000-person waiting list, generating additional revenue from ticket sales of £32,500.
She introduced sommeliers into the Ham Yard restaurant, which has resulted in wine sales increasing by 20%, and pioneered the Live Well Series, which launched last year, recognising the consumer interest in wellness. The series saw the hotel partner with fitness brands to provide classes and talks aimed at bringing new potential customers to Ham Yard.
Sharpe has been instrumental in developing and setting rate strategies for the rooms revenues and works in collaboration with the food and beverage management team to set and agree targets and strategies. Overall hotel revenue for 2017/2018 is up 7.7% on budget and 11% on last year, and the revenue split continues to be almost even between accommodation and F&B, with an F&B revenue increase of more than £1.1m year-on-year, an incredible achievement in such a saturated area of London.
She empowers her team to be autonomous and creative and to suggest new ideas and incentives, which has resulted in almost no change to her key management team since the opening of Ham Yard in 2014, and two of her deputies being promoted to general managers in sister properties.
Of her team, 73.2% say they love what they do and 66.6% see themselves having a future career at Firmdale. In 2017, its annual employee retention was 67.6%. On top of this, 23.3% are still there three and a half years after opening and 23% have been promoted within Ham Yard or Firmdale Hotels in the past year; statistics echoed by winning awards such as the 2017 Restaurant Team of the Year at the Hotel Cateys.
The hotel has also taken part in charitable initiatives, such as Soho Food Feast, raising money to allow the local Soho Parish School to re-fit its playground, as well as putting on afternoon teas for Contact the Elderly and Dreams Come True for terminally ill children. And when Sharpe is not at the hotel, she's running marathons and training to swim the English Channel for charity in September.
Numerous glowing testimonials from her colleagues talk of a supportive, driven and curious leader constantly seeking to improve. As one of our judges summarised: "Laura will continue to enjoy further success and make an impact for years to come… watch this space."
What the judges said
"An inspiration to our industry. Highly driven, creative, people-orientated and a brilliant businesswoman."
"An outstanding entry demonstrating excellence with strong evidence of engagement with her team, embracing industry initiatives to great effect, and instigating innovative and financially successful ideas. Her energy and inspiration shone through in a very tough competition."
Gareth Banner The Ned, London
John Keating Fairmont St Andrews
Andrè Mannini M Restaurants, London
Adam Rowledge Georgian House, London
Laura Sharpe Ham Yard Hotel, London
Andrew Foulkes Hotel general manager, Emily Estate and Hadspen House
Zoe Jenkins General manager, Coworth Park
Philip Newman-Hall Hotel consultant
Chantelle Nicholson Chef-patron, Tredwells, Marcus Wareing Restaurants
Anne Pierce Chief executive, the Springboard Charity
Justin Pinchbeck General manager, Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
David Taylor UK vice-president of operations, IHG
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