Meet James McComas MIH, an internationally experienced hospitality professional and Member of the Institute of Hospitality. James has over a decade of experience helping resorts, country houses and town centre properties to generate revenue and enhance profit.
You are currently working as general manager at Hotel Du Vin, where else have you worked in your career so far?
I spent all my school holidays doing part time work in hotels and restaurants around Shaftesbury in Dorset, from my GCSEs. Deciding to study hospitality at University (Surrey), I continued taking full time work alongside my studies, but my first real full time hotel role was on placement at the Vail Cascade Resort, in Colorado.
As soon as I graduated, I went to New Zealand with Accor, and worked at the Novotel Queenstown as F&B Supervisor. I was made Bar Manager to relaunch the new bar concept after refurbishment. I was there for a year, and then moved on to the Mecure Picton Marlborough Sounds where I spent just over 3 years, finishing as Restaurant and Bars Manager; where I also met my wife. We moved back to the UK in June 2011, and I moved through Conference Operations, Front of House and Operations Management at Eynsham Hall until August 2013 when I joined Malmaison Reading as Deputy GM. I spent 18 months there, then 18 months at Malmaison Birmingham before starting with Hotel du Vin as GM in Tunbridge Wells in September 2016.
What attracted you to a career in hospitality?
A few things. The opportunity to travel was high up there, but I also love to learn, and the ever changing environment creates an amazing opportunity for that; coupled with the knowledge that you are, in part, the creator of other peoples’ memories.
Did you always plan to work in hospitality when you were growing up? If not, what did you want to do?
The only other career option was the military. I grew up on army bases and it was the natural choice for a long time until I discovered hospitality.
Tell us three personality traits you need to succeed in hospitality.
Passion, empathy and integrity.
You do a lot of work to promote hospitality as an industry, tell us more about the work you do and why this is something you are so passionate about?
I’m very lucky to have found a career I love; but there was no guarantee it would happen. Going through school, none of my teachers (least of all the careers advisor), knew anything about the opportunities available. My parents were massively supportive, but it’s very clear that that is not necessarily the norm. You only have to listen to the way waiters and waitresses get spoken to or about by some people, and with a lack of education and support combined, it doesn’t take much to see why we’re struggling to secure a pipeline of people wanting careers in the industry.
To try and combat these scenarios, I aim to get in front of as many people as possible. I’ve done some work with local schools to try and educate students and teachers about the opportunities available, presenting to students, attending skillsfests, careers fairs etc; and I always meet the parents of any work experience applicant before they start so I know that they’re bought into giving their child the best opportunity of finding a career aspiration that is supported.
I’m fascinated by the other avenues we have to look at for recruitment as well, be it homelessness schemes; prisoner release training (I have done some work with Fred Siriex’s brain child The Right Course); and ex-forces personnel looking to return to civilian life.
As an industry, what do you think we can do more of to promote hospitality as an exciting career choice for young people?
We need to unite and have more operators to be on the same page. Celebrating the successes of our teams’ people and shouting from the roof tops where they’ve come from. We’re still very polarised as an industry, with success outside the premium markets rarely making it beyond the sector, let alone into the public domain.
What is the biggest challenge the hospitality industry is facing as we head to 2019?
That’s a big question – the ever increasing cost of living, even quicker increase in the cost of food, Brexit, recruitment, diversification of other industries…depending on where your operation sits in the market, where it sits geographically and what style offering you go for will determine which is the most challenging. If I had to pick just one, it would be public perception. We’re still very much perceived as a long hours for low pay stop gap for people while they figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.
You’ve already worked with some fantastic people, who has inspired you the most during your career so far?
There are so many! It goes without saying that every GM I’ve worked with has inspired me in some way, and being able to meet and connect with the men and women shaping the industry through things like the Institute of Hospitality, Master Innholders and St Julian’s Scholars has been hugely inspirational.
Stefan Kracke, my GM in Picton was fundamental in shaping the way I run my property now, and Shaun Bowles at Eynsham Hall showed me the value of tenacity to name a couple.
You joined the Institute of Hospitality almost four years ago, which elements of the membership do you enjoy most?
I enjoy the education side of the Institute a lot. The constant and varied Webinars and the new regional courses are especially valuable.
What advice would you give to someone considering joining IoH as part of their career development in 2019?
The Institute is part investment, part guidance system. You’ll only ever get out of it what you put in, so the worst thing you can do is be passive. If you invest a bit of time to attend the networking events, take some webinars and look for advice it will show you what you need to do to get where you want to go…and you’ll make some amazing contacts and friends along the way.