Robert Cook: Pearls of Wisdom

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Hotel, Ryder cup, Hospitality industry

Robert Cook, chief executive of De Vere Hotels and De Vere Village Urban Resorts
Robert Cook, chief executive of De Vere Hotels and De Vere Village Urban Resorts
Robert Cook, chief executive of De Vere Village Urban Resorts and now De Vere Hotels, is the son of a hotelier and was born into the hospitality industry. A restaurant lover, Cook worked for IHG and in Monte Carlo before joining Malmaison, rising to chief executive and leading the company to many accolades.

In January, Cook was announced as the successor to Gary Davis at the De Vere Village Hotels brand.​ Since then Andrew Coppel, the chief executive of the De Vere Group, merged Cook's part of the company with the Hotels division and appointed the Scot to head up the new section while awarding him a place on the board.

The group is currently disposing of a number of its venues​ in order to develop a golf resort brand - a development golf-obsessive Cook clearly backs after he helped the company secure the management contract to The Belfry - the first investment outside the USA and mainland Europe for the owner of the world-famous Warwickshire golf course.

It has been an exceptionally busy first year but also very, very exciting and really enjoyable.

Taking on more responsibility wasn’t really discussed at the time of my appointment.​ My main role was to develop the De Vere Village brand but I introduced the owners of The Belfry to the business and that was a catalyst to my increased role.

Andrew Coppel and I have made it very clear to everyone that the disposals we are targeting are the non-golf assets.​ We see golf resorts as core to what we do. We are the leading UK operator and we have a very strong golf team with a great following.

Golf is my pastime. ​I get around the golf every Saturday. That is sacrosanct!

My first and foremost task is to reposition and expand the Village brand.​ We have announced Portsmouth and we are about to announce some very exciting news around our Scottish intentions – the three key cities are targets and we are very close to securing all of them.

In the hotels I tend to be involved with, you can get a very good F&B experience.​ We have got a really eclectic mix of fantastic eateries in the De Vere Hotels division and in Village now where we have launched two of our new Victory Chop House restaurants which are really successful.

We will be launching another branded restaurant concept early next year. ​It will launch in four or five properties where we don’t think the Victory Chop House is the right thing but where we might go for an easier eating concept.

I had a lot of success in my last business.​ The important thing is developing young talent and there are a lot of young people who came through the ranks below me who are doing great things like Sean Wheeler who is now HR director at The Dorchester, Alan Clark who is now financial director of The Rocco Forte Collection and the majority of the team at Puma Hotels.

Winning awards has been great.​ That is something we want to replicate in De Vere. We have got a fantastic, passionate group and we need to make sure we get some accolades and recognition.

My four years in Monte Carlo were very interesting.​ It was a sensitive unionised situation and you had to walk on egg shells but also develop a relationship with what was perceived to be a difficult union. In my time there we didn’t have one industrial dispute.

No matter which corner of the world you go to, you find British people doing very well in hospitality. 

I am a huge admirer of Nick Jones at the Soho House Group.​ What he is doing is very exciting and everything he seems to touch turns to gold.

Visible management is absolutely critical.​ We are in the hospitality industry - as managers we have got to be on the front foot and in front of the guests, all hours of the day and seven days a week.

I expect my people to treat it as a way of life too.

There is a swell of interest in hotel real estate.​ 

We have two management contracts across the whole group. ​We would definitely consider more – it is a good way of expanding your business, growing teams and growing earnings.

The heady days of being granted management contracts that were very weighted towards hotels are gone. ​We have all got to wake up to that. The model is aligned with the investor’s interests and the operator has got to perform.

I get annoyed people don’t look beyond the hospitality sector in London.​ ​Some of the best gems in the UK are outside the capital. I still maintain that the steak restaurant at the Champany Inn in Linlithgow is my favourite restaurant in the country.

I am a passionate global Scot.​ Putting independence aside, Scotland has got a very exciting few years ahead – the Ryder Cup, the Commonwealth Games, the World Gymnastics Championships, the 12,000-seat Hydro arena in Glasgow and you have got the Edinburgh Festival, the Fringe and the Military Tattoo every summer.

Aberdeen is just flying as a city.​ Outside London, Aberdeen is the most buoyant city in the UK.

I am very lucky.​ I have always said that hospitality is a way of life for me having been born and brought up in it.

I never considered doing anything else.​ The hotels business is what I do and it is what has rewarded me. As a young adult about to go into University I realised it was what I wanted to do and I have stuck with that.

Without hotels I would be a bit of a lost soul. ​In my time a lot of people have spoken to me about retail and other things but hotels are my passion.

The big challenge is controlling costs, particularly utilities.​ I am concerned about next year – I think food prices are going to go through the roof because of the bad harvest in Northern Europe and on the continent.

What will be, will be from Government.​ I am not going to influence them – I am not a big enough player; although I would like to see something happen with VAT. 

Stick to the knitting.​ Do the simple things well and stick to what you believe in, don’t try and be something you are not.

Related topics: People, Hotels, Pearls of Wisdom, Business

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