Patrick Dempsey: Pearls of Wisdom

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Hotel

Patrick Dempsey, managing director, Whitbread Hotels & Restaurants
Patrick Dempsey, managing director, Whitbread Hotels & Restaurants
Patrick Dempsey is a prime example of hard work paying off in the hospitality industry. Having started as a pot washer in a motorway service station, he climbed the ladder within Forte Hotels, going on to hold posts as chief executive of Macdonald Hotels and Restaurant Associates.

Now managing director of Whitbread Hotels & Restaurants, Patrick Dempsey is responsible for the UK's largest hotel group, Premier Inn.

I’m not one for jumping ship, ​if you enjoy where you work and they look after you, then you should stay with it. I do think if you work your way up through the business, and get involved in things like share save schemes and pension programmes; it can set you up for life.

When I was 16, I got a part-time job​ working my holidays at a motorway service station in Oxford. I started off washing pots and cleaning and then after a little way they thought I had a bit more potential and they let me fry eggs and cook bacon.

I did that for a couple of years during the holidays and one of the people working there eventually came over to me and asked if I wanted to do a graduate programme with them. So I went home to my dad and asked him, but he insisted that I finished college.

Because of that, there was a hotel college called the Shannon College of Hotel Management in Ireland. That was a great school; I did a four-year course, spending two years there and four years practical. When I graduated I joined Forte, back in 1980 as an assistant manager.

Forte was a great learning curve for me. ​I stayed there for 20 years, worked my way up, and ended up being the managing director of the group for the UK.

In 2000, we sold Forte and became part of Compass and then it got sold out. I stayed at Compass, I was chief executive of Restaurant Associates, which I set up in the UK.

And then I wanted to go back into hotels so after two years, I joined Macdonald Hotels as chief executive for about a year. I was then asked to join Marriott, which at the time was a part of Whitbread, so I did. And after about five months in the job we sold Marriott and I took on Premier Inn – that was about six and a half years ago.

Premier Inn recently opened its largest ever Premier Inn at Gatwick Airport, increasing the number of rooms the hotel chain offers to 50,000

We’ve got 50,000 rooms and Travelodge haven’t. ​I think customers really understand the difference between the two brands in terms of who’s biggest. It’s important that we are seen by the consumer as the best budget offering in the marketplace. We offer a money-back guarantee and our competitors don’t do that.

Six years ago, we were called Travel Inn. We had a similar product and a similar RevPAR. Today, we have a very different product, the bedrooms are very different. We’re outperforming, so it’s a good point in time.

In my best days,​ I was general manager of The Cumberland at one point and that was the favourite period of my career. It was a business that was making £11m when I took it over and when I left it was making £21m.

My OBE was just a recognition of what we’ve done here as a team at Whitbread. ​I think the standout has been Premier Inn. Six years ago, we had 24,000 rooms in the UK – it’s now 50,000. We’ve created massive employment for people, which I think is really important, and I think now is actually a pivotal moment for us.

Every time I’ve taken a job I’ve always been terrified of it.​ You’ve got to be out of your comfort zone. Opening hotels in the Middle East was quite an achievement, but a big challenge. I’ve now got hotels in the Middle East, hotels in India - it’s fantastic.

People like me should probably go into more schools and talk about careers. ​If you can take some kids who are not used to going to work and you can give them a job and show them that they really can make a difference and improve, that’s really important.

This year, we’ll take on about 800 16-24 year olds who have been either not in employment or out of work for 12 months or more. It won’t all go well but if the majority then go on to work in life. It’s a massive issue for us to tackle. We need to get the young kids into work and show them a different way of life.

You don’t have to be the brightest person in the world to work in hospitality;​ you’ve just got to be quite friendly. I don’t have either of those qualities but I managed to get through alright.

Work hard, network well and learn as much as you can. ​If you want to rise up the career ladder you have to take the opportunities when they come to you and you must be a little frightened every time you take them.

Of course, you have to work hard, but you’ve also got to be a bit lucky. I’ve always been a bit lucky; I’ve found myself in the right place at the right time.Those people that network well will end up finding themselves in the ‘right place at the right time’.

Enjoy the work. ​If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

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

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1 comment


Posted by Paul Whitelaw,

I went to school with Paddy Dempsey, great rugby player and a natural leader, I find it amazing that two guys in the same class are in direct competition with each other in two of the biggest companies serving the lower end of the accommodation market, at the same level. Grant Hearn and Paddy Dempsey...legends the pair of them!

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