Meet Robert Richardson FIH, a passionate hospitality professional and Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality. Robert recently received the Judges’ Special Achievement Award at the Institute of Hospitality Awards 2018. As General Manager of The Grand, Folkestone, Robert shares his career story and thoughts on the challenges he is currently facing.
How many years have you worked in the hospitality industry?
All of my working life. I started out as a hotel restaurant “Saturday boy” for Forte Posthouse prior to the brand being sold to Holiday Inn. Following that I progressed to being trained as a chef before switching skill sets and moving toward hotel & business management which led me to being part of some outstanding management teams for Ramada Jarvis, IHG and Hilton hotels.
Where are you currently working and what is your role?
I’m the General Manager of The Grand, Folkestone. We’re an award-winning Visit England four-star Edwardian venue on the South Coast of England (King Edward VII was a regular guest and Agatha Christie wrote a good portion of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ here). We have an inventory of bespoke suites, beautiful sea facing gardens, two bars and restaurants and over 10,000 square feet of Conference and Events space over five rooms.
As General Manager I directly manage seven department heads and oversee all aspects of the business from revenue management to service delivery and everything in-between.
What attracted you to a career in hospitality?
The variety; every day is never the same regardless of what your role is. It’s why I’ve worked my way up the career ladder and never left the industry.
What’s been your most memorable day in the industry – good or bad?
When I started out on my career I had academic experience but none in the world of work. Hiring an unproven and unexperienced young man and supporting and developing him within the highly competitive corporate hotel environment was never going to be an easy ask. Fortunately for me my first General Manager took the decision that my lack of (any form of) experience was in no way a barrier to my joining my first hotel. Day one on the job, my first job, was the strangest and most memorable day I’ve in the industry. Everything just looked so big!
What’s been your career highlight?
Keeping in mind the spirit of how I began my career journey I have been hugely active in putting local people on the path to employment within our industry with focus on training and developing them. In 2014 Esther McVey MP, Minister of State for Employment visited us to launch some DWP short films based around our own in-house efforts in respect of bringing people into employment within our industry. It was a privilege to host this and show that our efforts, without the benefit and resource that being part of a large group affords, were successful. I am fortunate that during my time at The Grand we have received several awards for our efforts as an employer of excellence.
What’s been a highlight in your current role?
As a new General Manager leading my team to achieve an increase on our Visit England Star Rating, from 3 to 4 stars, within my first 12 weeks in post is a source of pride. We’ve since become the recipient of the Visit England Gold Award for Exceptional Quality of Accommodation and Customer Service for the last two years.
Who has inspired you the most during your career?
Always exclusively people I have worked with. My current team is so passionate about driving our business forward I cannot fail but to be inspired working with them. I am also lucky to work quite closely as an Enterprise Adviser, via the careers & enterprise company, for a local school and the drive and commitment shown by my partners there is remarkable and constantly challenging me to do better. Basically, it’s not an entitlement to work with people of such talent and enthusiasm but an opportunity that should be respected and embraced. I am in an enviable position to work with inspiring people both within and without The Grand.
What do you think it takes to succeed in hospitality?
Enthusiasm. I sincerely believe that with the right mentor you can train any skill but you can’t train someone to get out of bed with a smile at 5am on a freezing cold day and perform to the standard which you need them to. This industry is an eclectic one, diverse with so many industries under one roof and one that offers so many opportunities to trade persons, chefs, accountants, front of house personnel and so on, but for me it always starts with an enthusiastic candidate and a good mentor.
Why did you join Institute of Hospitality and how has it helped your career?
Until my current role I have always worked for multinationals with significant resource. The Institute has enabled me to have the best of both worlds, access to first class training opportunities and a huge network whilst managing a stand alone property. With no small amount of pride, I have led my team and the business to becoming an Award-winning employer within the county and the resources afforded to me by the Institute have been an invaluable part of that.