David Connell: Career Profile

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Exclusive hotels, Chef, General manager

David Connell, general manager, South Lodge hotel
David Connell, general manager, South Lodge hotel
David Connell is a prime example of good old-fashioned hard work paying off. Having worked at various restaurants and hotels in the UK and France, he joined luxury hotel group Exclusive Hotels over 10 years ago, recently taking up the position of general manager at South Lodge in West Sussex.

How I got to where I am now?

I left school to become an engineer. While I was doing my apprenticeship engineer course I was working part-time for my uncle, who owns his own restaurant. And I fell in love with it from there.

I gave up the career in engineering and moved into hospitality, with my first job coming as a waiter at a little place in Worcester called Fownes Hotel in 1989. I then decided I would go and work in the south of France for six months before coming back to the UK and taking a role as house manager of a restaurant with rooms back in Worcester.

I went from there to the Bank House hotel and country club in Worcester as restaurant manager, then onto the Runnymede Hotel is Surrey as restaurant supervisor and then four years later I ventured into London, as assistant manager of the Oxo Tower.

I got a bit bored with that to be honest, I found it very easy. That’s when I joined Pennyhill Park 11 years ago as restaurant manager. Progression came quite quickly and after seven-and-a-half years I was asked to be the interim general manager at the Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe.

A vacancy then came up for a general manager position at Lainston House Hotel, which I took. I spent a little under three years there and then I was approached to take on South Lodge.

My greatest achievement:

Lainston-House
Connell's first permanent managerial position came at Lainston House Hotel in Hampshire

I suppose it was that first general management job. Being offered a permanent position at Lainston House was a big deal for me and what we’ve done there will always be quite special for me, we took the property from four star to five star and made it really profitable.

My biggest challenge:

There’s no major hurdle that really stands out. Progression has come quite naturally for me; I’ve never had to really chase anything. So luckily there haven’t really been any major obstacles.

Why I love hotels:

It’s the variation; the people, staff and guests. Every day is different. What I enjoy the most working for Exclusive Hotels is the autonomy we’re given to steer and to change the way we do things. It’s a very open-minded ownership - if you come up with an idea and want to change the way something is done, more often than not you’re going to get the opportunity to make that change.

What I don’t like:

Nowadays it’s very difficult to find great people with the right attitude who are prepared to work hard to succeed. When I joined the industry, you were fully prepared to do 18-hour days without batting an eyelid and doing breakfast, lunch and dinner every day was the norm. I’m not saying that was the right way of working but finding people with that motivation to work hard is very difficult these days.

I think it’s a cultural change. Because we’re now working in a far more multinational industry, the mentality is very different. It’s not that it’s a bad thing, it’s right to have a work-life balance, but there’s almost an expectation from people coming into this industry that they will immediately get paid £20,000 - £25,000 a year.

But there are some good organisations out there like Springboard who are doing some really good things to help encourage people into this industry and I think that’s really important.

Choosing hotels over restaurants…

I didn’t plan it. Because of the background that I had I’ve never pigeon-holed myself, I was prepared to help wherever’s required. Our job in this industry is very simple: make sure every guest leaves happy. I’ve always maintained that ethos, whatever my role.

‘Spa and rooms’ isn’t too different to ‘food and beverage’ – both are about managing people, managing teams, identifying challenges and overcoming them.

Climbing the hospitality ladder…

South-Lodge
He is now the general manager of South Lodge Hotel near Horsham in West Sussex

I don’t think you have to jump ship. The day I get bored is the day I write my resignation letter. Could I be earning more money if I’d left Exclusive Hotels and went to work for another hotel group? Possibly.  Could I have progressed quicker? Possibly. Would I have been any happier? Possibly not.

People can progress very quickly but that doesn’t mean they will be successful. I’ve seen it time and time again - every commis chef thinks they’re a chef de partie, every chef de partie thinks they’re a sous chef – but they don’t have that all-round experience and development that you get if you just stick it out at a job and keep your head down for a bit.

My top tips for people entering the industry:

Talent will always get noticed. Be prepared to work hard. Be consistent; throw yourself into it as much as you can. Make sure people notice you without being cocky about it. And ultimately ust make sure you get great feedback from your customers. By making them happy.

What’s next…

At South Lodge the product is fantastic but the financial climate is still pretty tough, so it’s certainly a challenge. We want to get this place to a position where it’s financially performing very well, we’re also looking at adding a spa but that’s going to take a few years to do.

The five-year plan for me will be to continue work at South Lodge. Thereafter, who knows what could happen - I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to plan too much in my career and long may that continue.

Related topics: Business, People, Hotels, Career Profile

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