How I started:
I wasn’t a very academically gifted child. I started my A-levels but wasn’t too sure what to do with them, so I told my parents I wanted to give them up and go and do a diploma in hotel catering. They reluctantly agreed; they were probably worried I wanted to be a waitress for the rest of my life
I was like a duck to water, I really took to the business. One thing I love about this industry is that you don’t have to get a degree to work in it, and to move up. Even from that age I had an aspiration to be a general manager.
I started working as a chambermaid, cleaning 16 rooms a day – I don’t think I’ve ever worked so physically hard! I probably wasn’t the best chambermaid ever, but I learnt a lot from cleaning a room, and even today when I go around my hotel checking rooms I know how a maid has to operate to do a good job.
I was a chambermaid with the Holiday Inn for seven months, then I joined their in-house trainee programme for two-and-a-half years. I did every ground-floor job during that time, and also had the chance to get some great supervisory experience.
I had my first managerial position in another Holiday Inn, but soon left and became banqueting operations manager at the London Metropole. After a few years I did my first opening as conferencing banqueting manager for the Scandic Crown hotel in Victoria – and moved on and up from there.
What I’ve learnt:
Having mentors is fundamental. Wherever I’ve gone in my career I’ve always tried to work with a mentor or coach, someone you can discuss the challenges of the industry and the job to help you weigh up pros and cons.
Sometimes I learnt as much from the people that didn’t do their jobs so well as I did from the really inspirational leaders. I just tucked certain things away over the years.
One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that you never stop learning, there’s always more to learn and you can always be better. Also, I’ve learnt not to judge too quickly.
My biggest challenge:
One of my biggest challenges was when I was general manager at Le Méridien Piccadilly Hotel & Café Royal. The company was under intense pressure and they needed to sell the Méridien brand. We went through quite a long period of negotiations, and we spent about 18 months doing a deal with Starwood.
It was a very chaotic time, trying to run a hotel and keep the team focused when the head office was in chaos and the future was uncertain. It was quite a difficult environment to work within, and there were certainly several months when I didn’t jump out of bed and feel passionate about going to work, but I couldn’t let that show.
But what I did learn is that you can share your worries with your executive team, you don’t have to be a super hero when times are tough. I needed them to understand it was a really pressurised time.
My biggest achievement:
Opening the Brooklands Hotel in Weybridge was probably one of my biggest achievements. I was working for an independent company; I had a blank sheet of paper and I had to make it happen.
Every new hotel opening is very different to the other. It’s like giving birth in some respect – you start with the plans on a piece of paper and you see the whole thing build up like a massive jigsaw from nothing.
With international companies, there’s a lot of regional and front line support, but to embark on this opening without any of that was quite scary.
On balancing work and home life:
Finding a work-life balance is all about discipline – it’s very easy in this job to get sucked in and to make yourself think you’re indispensible, but nobody is.
You have to have a plan. People you spend time with outside of work must get the best of you, just as you give the best of yourself to people at work. Just as you can’t turn up to a meeting and say you’re too tired to do the meeting properly, in the same time you can’t moan to your family and friends about how tired you are.
When we spend time with our loved ones it’ important to make the most of those times.
On women in hospitality:
I truly believe there are the same opportunities for women in this industry as there are for men. I was very determined to be a general manager, and I don’t think I’ve ever been discriminated against at any point in my career.
If you’re really determined you will get there. It can be a challenge, particularly for women who want to have a family as well; but it isn’t impossible to achieve. But I do think a lot of women choose not to do that.
I just love being a general manager. I don’t want to become an operations director or regional director, I just want to carry on running bigger and better hotels and building a team around me.
The team part becomes less important if you step up into a head office role, and for me the team is one of the best parts of the job; I don’t want to lose that contact.