How I got to where I am now:
I wanted pocket money when I was at school, but my dad refused to give me any and told me to get a job, so I started doing little jobs in hospitality and did that all the way through school.
Engineering was something that I wanted to do as an undergraduate, but as I'd been working in all these places I realised hospitality was where I wanted to be. When I finished university an opportunity came up to run the Dome cafe bar in Nottingham so I did that for a while. I then did stints in London and Nottingham, saving money before deciding to cash in my chips and go off to New York. I went with $300 in my pocket and just walked around the city asking about jobs when I got there.
I was in New York for a year and a half, working at Bagatelle's on the Lower East Side and Doc Watson's on the Upper East Side before getting a job at Boxer's, the bar where the film Cocktail was filmed.
I left New York for Australia, via New Zealand where I spent four months. In Australia I joined an agency and did functions while also doing some temp accountancy and travelled back to the UK after a year via the South Pacific.
Back at home I did some accountancy work again, but was bored after a fortnight, so my family said 'you like hospitality, why don't you go back to that' so I went to London with my CV and landed a job as chef de rang at Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden.
From there I went to Asia de Cuba - it was round the corner from where I worked and I'd been there and was amazed by it, so I asked for a job and got one. I started as a waiter and worked my way up to assistant manager. I was there for a year and a half when I got a phone call from an agency looking for a manager for Hakkasan.
I went to Hakkasan and from there got a job at Alan Yau's new restaurant Yauatcha when it opened in 2004 as restaurant manager. I was there for three years and then heard about Sake No Hana. I asked who was managing the opening and they gave the responsibility to me, so I stopped at Yauatcha, spent a few months at head office getting everything ready for the Sake No Hana launch and opened the restaurant as general manager. It was very complicated, but I really enjoyed it. I was there for a year before going on to study for my MBA.
While I was at Yauatcha I'd been to an open day for business school and been impressed by it. My family is academic - my dad was a headmaster - so I've always seen the importance of qualifications. I applied to do a Masters in Business Administration to see if I'd get in and they accepted me, so in September 2008 I left Sake No Hana to do the year's course.
When I finished I got a job opening the former Roundhouse in Camden as it was being rebranded as Made in Camden, then did a couple of routine bits before Grand Imperial spotted me.
Grand Imperial wanted someone to take hold of the reins. I had to go to a number of interviews and write a business case before I got the job.
My biggest challenge:
Writing my thesis at Business School. I'm rubbish at writing so it was really tough. It was about financing in the hospitality industry. It's a dream for a lot of people to open a restaurant, but they don't think about the fact you need a lot of money to do it - it's not like setting up a consultancy where all you need is a desk and a computer.
Leaving everything and setting off travelling was also a challenge, but it was a hugely worthwhile experience.
My biggest achievement:
Being there for the opening of Yauatcha and Sake No Hana - it was hard work, but they were exciting projects.
Also getting my Masters was a major achievement. It was really challenging, hard work and cost £28k, so it's not something everyone can do, but I was so pleased with it and it's been so useful. When you go and speak to future employers you can demonstrate a real understanding of the whole business. Not many people can do that.
My top tip for success in the industry:
Work in as many different sectors of the industry while you're young, because there's such diversity within 'hospitality'. How hotels operate compared to high street restaurants is very different. Restaurants may suit people who like to work more 'by the skin of their teeth' whereas hotels are more process orientated.
Getting into hotels at a higher level when you haven't had any experience in them is also very difficult.