How I got to where I am now:
I'm what you would describe as a serial hotelier. I started working part-time in restaurants at 14 where I grew up in Aberdovey, Wales, so hotel and catering was something I'd done from an early age. When I was 16 I went to an agricultural college in Mid-Wales that happened to have a catering department and did my two years there.
After that I got the opportunity to work for De Vere hotels, taking a two-year trainee management job at the Dormy hotel in Ferndown, Dorset (which no longer exists) where I got paid a pittance, worked all the hours God sends and lived in rubbish accommodation, but I had a great time and made some very good friends there.
At the end of my two years I made contact with Salvatore Fernandez, who is now the managing director of Antal International, but at the time was manager of the St Leonards at Ringwood. He was being deployed by Lansbury Hotels (then part of Whitbread Group) to go into the Edgewarebury Hotel, which is now the Laura Ashley hotel, in Elstree to recruit a new management team. I got the job as assistant manager food and beverage, doing a couple of years there. It was my first movement into a proper management job.
I worked my way up through the group, going on to work as deputy manager at the Parkgate on the Wirral where I actually ended up being the last man standing when Alan Parker arrived as the new chief executive and Whitbread went about selling off the Lansbury Hotels estate. I was picked out by our then operations director to work for two years helping them sell-off hotels and hand them over to new buyers.
I then ended up getting a job at the Hollings Hall hotel in Shipley West Yorkshire and soon got approached to join Stakis Hotels, working as a deputy manager at its Northampton hotel. However, the big degree of escalation for me came when I had an opportunity to be hotel manager at what was then the Stakis Dunkeld Hotel & Resort in Perthshire where I went in under the wing of the general manager Dick Beech. I turned up at the Scottish resort where they did hunting and fishing in a shiny new company car and in what I thought was a flashy suit, but Dick took one look at me and said 'right cock, you'll be coming with me then' and we went into Perth to a gents' outfitters where he kitted me out with my country wear - my moleskins, boots, wellies and jackets and said 'don't ever come to work looking like a corporate manager, this is a resort'.
I remember that well and was fortunate enough to be working with Dick for a while, but it was also when Stakis Hotels was buying the Metropole Hotel Group and they pulled out some senior managers, one of which was Dick, to put in to their new properties. Dick went to work at the Blackpool Metropole for 12 months to be the integration manager, leaving me as hotel manager of what was Stakis' flagship property. That offered me lots of opportunities to raise my game and be more visible and led me to be offered the job of food and beverage director for Stakis where we were developing new restaurant and bar concepts across the portfolio. When Stakis was sold to Hilton in 2000 I continued in the job, doing new concepts across about 127 hotels and some of the leisure clubs also.
After doing this for a couple of years I was approached by Donald Macdonald of Macdonald Hotels who asked me to come and be his commercial director which I did for about five years, during which time I helped rebrand Barratt International Resorts as Macdonald Resorts.
Then, at a dinner with entrepreneur Haider Jaffer in April 2005 it all changed. I expressed some frustrations I was having in my job while he was looking to buy some hotels. Our discussion led to him throwing his cheque book across the table and tasking me with putting a management team together for a new company.
In September 2005 we bought three ex-Corus hotels for Haider with £18.5m and set up Legacy up as a hotel management services company that would operate in the three and four star unbranded arena. We've spent the last few years building up our reputation and now have a portfolio of 19 hotels.
My biggest achievement:
I set up Legacy Hotels and Resorts at a point when I was facing some personal adversity and when we were heading into a recession, so to be here 10 years down the line with the reputation we have and with the sort of projects we get involved with I'd say it was a major achievement. I know it sounds corny, but hopefully we have created a legacy with our business and will continue to grow and be as successful in the future.
My greatest challenge:
Balancing my family life with a career. I have got five children from two marriages and while I have a great relationship with all my children my hospitality career took my daddy days with my first three children and then, when my twins who are now seven and a half were born, I was setting up Legacy, so that to me has been a big challenge. It has also been challenging surviving in the hotel sector for the last few years. It was only really at the end of last year that we saw any kind of movement and markets coming back from the 2008 recession.
My top tips for working in hotels:
You have to be willing to get your jacket off, get stuck in and think on your feet. I think we have gone too far down the academic route when it comes to hotel management and I think we should be seeing more value in vocational qualifications. I learnt on the job, learning all aspects, like how to stock the bar and clean a toilet as well as interacting with the guests before I became a hotel manager and I think many hotel managers nowadays haven't got a clue how to do the basics. Saying that, it is tough to be a hotel manager today, there are a lot more aspects to the job that we didn't have 20 years ago.