Samantha Rieu scooped the General Manager of the Future award, presented in conjunction with the Master Innholders, at the Independent Hotel Show last month. The hotel operations manager at the five-red-AA-star, 87-bedroom Dukes London hotel tells Janet Harmer why, as a working mother, she wants to be a role model for future generations
What was your reaction on being named General Manager of the Future?
I was thrilled and delighted to receive the award, especially as this recognition of my potential comes from the Master Innholders. It is a true honour to be acknowledged by such a prestigious institution. It is clearly impossible to know why I was successful among such a strong group of nominees – all of whom are future rising stars. But this has certainly given me the confidence and pride to share with others that you can be a successful hospitality professional as well as a mum. I want to thank my team. Together we have achieved so much over the past two years and our journey continues.
What inspired you to enter the hospitality industry?
I've always had a foot in hospitality. I recall being six years old behind the bar in a little coffee shop in our apartment block, helping with coffee and orange juice. There was not much health and safety regulation back then.
My father was in the army and we often had to attend events where I always admired the maître d'. I also admired the character of actor Héctor Elizondo in Pretty Woman as the general manager of the Beverly Hills hotel: his composure, his care for guests, his attention to detail and his overall presence. So, during my studies, I also undertook a number of casual catering jobs.
Where did you study?
At the age of 15 I was accepted at the Lycée Hôtelier Alexandre Dumas in Strasbourg. I finished studying at 21 with a master's degree in hospitality management at EM Strasbourg Business School. I then joined Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, US, as a management trainee in food and beverage.
How has the early part of your career in food and beverage helped your progression into general management?
My career happened to be F&B-driven, but during my studies I did many internships in various departments, from reception to housekeeping. My goal was to gain as much knowledge as possible across the various roles. The great thing about hospitality is that there are millions of career options and paths – and all on an international scale. All general managers have different career paths: some are from F&B, some from room division, marketing or finance. Nothing is definite.
I think this would be my main message to the future generation of hoteliers: as long as you remain passionate, sincere, approachable, commercially minded, open to change, have a range of skills (without being an expert in everything), have a strong sense of customer service, work hard and love problem- solving, any path can lead to a general manager position.
How would you sum up your current role as hotel operations manager at Dukes London?
I report to the general manager, Paul Skinner, and I mainly look after operations, including reception, concierge, guest relations, housekeeping and maintenance. We have come up with new ideas to drive extra revenues: we have created various F&B concepts that have increased our revenue by 15% year-on-year and put in place a better strategy to drive occupancy and average rate. We have also partnered with various suppliers, local shops, charities and guest chefs.
We have focused on training our team and recognising them for their hard work and dedication. Through team training, we have gained more than 100 positions on TripAdvisor.
What is your ambition?
I hope to become a general manager in the next year and within five to 10 years I aim to be general manager of one of the top 10 five-star hotels in London.
But what is even more important – especially as a mother – is to become a role model for the future generation entering hospitality. It is a challenging but fun industry with many possibilities. It teaches you important life skills, such as problem solving and empathy, and I hope more people will consider hospitality as a career path.
With so many more hotels opening in the coming year, there is a real opportunity for people to join the industry. I am currently mentoring two people and hope to mentor more in the future, as well as helping organisations to promote our industry
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