Small talk

Michael Warren on heading up Harbour Hotels, his Hotel du Vin experience and why no two days are the same in hospitality

Mike Warren, managing director at Harbour Hotels

Michael Warren spent 17 years at Hotel du Vin and Malmaison, helping with the development and expansion of the brand. He recently took on a managing director role at Harbour Hotels, and plans to use his wealth of experience to push the company forward.

Tell me a little bit about your career.

My very first position was at Schlosshotel Kronberg, near Frankfurt. I spent two and a half years there, working in front office, corporate & banqueting and food & beverage. After that I spent a further four years training at the Chewton Glen in Hampshire.

I spent six and a half years training, after which I joined Robin Hutson and Gerard Basset at the original Hotel du Vin in Winchester, back in 1997. I spent the best part of 17 years with Hotel du Vin and Malmaison, as a general manager, then as a regional director, and most recently as the COO at Hotel du Vin. That gave me fabulous experience, but also the learning curve of developing a brand and expanding it, taking it from seven to 14 hotels.

Why did the move to Harbour Hotels make sense for you?

After a lengthy and successful career with Hotel du Vin and Malmaison I just fancied a new challenge. Harbour Hotels is a niche business, relatively unknown within the industry, and my goal is to grow the awareness of our business and ultimately to develop a hotel brand.

What do you hope to achieve in your time at Harbour Hotels?

We’d like to reach ten properties over the next five years, and expand our presence to other markets in the UK – we’re looking at Bristol, Brighton, possibly the Norfolk coast.

We would also like to roll out our restaurant concept called The Jetty, currently only in our Christchurch and Salcombe hotels. We have a very talented and long-established chef patron there, Alex Aitken, and a bit like Hotel du Vin was very successful in rolling out the Bistro du Vin, I see a vision where each Harbour Hotel will have a Jetty restaurant.

There are also some fundamental building blocks to growing a brand. It may sound irrelevant, but we are looking at our own range of in-house toiletries using our locations in its composition, maybe with seaweed for example. We want to make them exclusive to us and exploit the resources and natural setting of our geographical locations.

We’re currently re-launching the websites for each of our hotels in phases to step up our branding. We’re working very hard at increasing our online presence.

We’re also looking at our spas. Three of our hotels already have them and all future hotels will have spas in them, so we’re looking at creating a separate Harbour range of spa products.

We’re currently sourcing our exclusive house wine, which again in itself sounds very straight-forward, but it’s the branding and the labelling that will go with the house wine that makes it.

How will you use your experience at Hotel du Vin and Malmaison to drive Harbour Hotels forward?

It’s just having worked through and getting the experience from managing a number of units, adding a number of units, the experience of openings, team building and retention, creating a culture of best practice and success – bringing a commercial background to the table.

What or who have has been your inspiration throughout your career?

Chewton Glen founder Martin Skan, but also Robin Hutson and Gerard Basset.

What do you love about working in hospitality?

The best part of hospitality is the fact that no two days are the same. When you’re working with people there’s always something to challenge you. It is undoubtedly an industry with endless opportunities for someone with potential and ambition.

What advice would you give to people starting out in the business?

Be patient. In this day and age everyone wants to be a sous-chef or a head chef before being trained properly. Devote sufficient time early in your career to training, preferably in well-established organisations. A good management apprenticeship cannot be beaten. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try to find a mentor.

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