60 second interview

01 April 2005
60 second interview

You have to work hard in the hospitality business and I've always been prepared to do that. Currently, I work 60-70 hours a week. But it's not just hard work that leads to success - it's having common-sense principles, keeping things simple, maybe having a bit of luck. Most of all, though, success in this business will always be about understanding your customers. I eat in our restaurants quite a lot, usually alone. I always take the unpopular table in the middle, but there I can listen to what customers are saying around me. That's very important; to know what your customers think.

The person who first made a big impression on me was someone called Meinhard Huck, a hotel manager with the old Holiday Inn company when I knew him [now managing director of Swisstel]. He knew that customer satisfaction meant everything. When I worked for Holiday Inn, we introduced a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. If a customer wasn't totally happy with everything, they got their money back.

I also learnt a lot from Philip Cropley and Paul Smith, who launched Discovery Inns, where I worked, and later Lionheart Inns. They taught me the importance of building a team and how to complete a deal.

I always wanted to succeed young and aimed to become a hotel general manager as fast as I could. After leaving college, I worked for Ladbroke Hotels and was general manager of its hotel in Wick, Scotland, by the time I was 22. I suppose that was one of the first highpoints of my career.

There haven't really been any low points, except maybe when I've built something up and then had to let go of it for business reasons. That can be hard sometimes. I also get frustrated that the industry is still seen by many people as unskilled. I have friends who are professionals in other fields and they say that when they retire they'd like to open a pub, as if it's something anyone can do as a hobby. I say, when I retire, I'm thinking of becoming a bank manager.

What I like about this business is the variety. You're always doing something different; every day is different. Some weeks you might have to work late or get up early. But it's never the same and it's always great fun. My philosophy is "enjoy it and have fun". I also think you should treat people the way you would like to be treated. It sounds trite, but it's a good rule.

If I had my time again, I would try to get the work-life balance right. It's very important that your family supports you in this industry. We live in Wolverhampton but most of the restaurants in the group are around London, so I'm away a lot of the time. Although I started young in this business, the advice I would give to someone starting now would be to get grass-roots experience early on. If you've done the late shift or dealt with difficult customers, you'll find it helps when you become a manager and see your staff dealing with the same problems.

What do I want to be doing in 10 years' time? More of the same. I love it.
Interview by Forbes Mutch

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