From front-desker to regional head of the world’s largest hotel group, the chief executive of InterContinental Hotels Group Europe has enjoyed a rapid rise through the hospitality industry’s ranks. Here, she shares some of the wisdom she’s gleaned…
Travel isn’t exciting for everyone… My father was in the military and our family moved every three years. Even though I enjoyed having new experiences and knowing new people, it also taught me that it’s not the same for everyone. That’s helped me to have heightened sensitivity when welcoming guests, as well as in how I lead teams.
If you go over-and-above, you’ll be rewarded. I realised that in my first job – a paper round at 13. I decided I wanted to become the best newspaper girl ever. Every day, rain or shine, sick or healthy, I placed newspapers inside customers’ doors so they didn’t have to walk to the mailbox. That Christmas, my satchel was full of presents.
Never neglect your employees’ uniforms. My worst job was working in a grocery store. They made me wear a horrible, baby-blue polyester outfit and I spent most of the time thinking, ‘I hope nobody sees me in this’. When we opened InterContinental Westminster, getting the uniforms right was important as they play such a big role in the psyche of how staff feel about themselves and their jobs.
Rapid promotion is a blend of passion, hard work and being dutiful.
My first hotel job was working at the Ramada Inn, St Augustine, Florida. Since then, I’ve done everything – sales, front-desk work, and even hotel disco manager. If you love something, never want to let anybody down and work hard, you’ll rise up the ranks.
Get to know your employees. When working as a hotel inspector, the most important thing I learnt was that the difference between a good hotel and a great one was all down to the general manager. If we went into a laundry room and the GM didn’t know the team’s names, you could tell things would be less than fantastic when walking into the hotel.
You need to have an attractive personality. When people walk into an interview, are they going to be inspired by you? Or will they think, ‘holy cow, I can’t imagine working for this individual?’ People want to work for companies they like – I’m proud IHG is ranked third in the Sunday Times list of 25 Best Big Companies to Work For.
EQ is as important as IQ. In hotels, employees’ EQ [emotional quotient] – their ability to entertain, interface and communicate with people – is as critical as a formal degree. The best people I’ve hired have ‘life degrees’… We have dignitaries from all over the world stay at our hotels. It’s just as important to be able to present yourself to them, as it is to understand the financials.
Prioritising customers and employees makes decision-making easier. When you have a crisis, if you keep guests and employees in mind, everything else comes easily.
British companies need more pride. We’re very tough on ourselves, our industry, the weather, politics, our banking system – everything. We just challenge ourselves and never acknowledge how fabulous this country is. The rest of the world can’t think of a better place than London [but] we underestimate how much better we could be if we understood the greatness we have.
Going for a daily run is great for problem-solving. Wherever I am in the world, I get up at 4.45am and go for a run. Things that were so complicated the day before are usually sorted out on my jog. Afterwards, I’m like, ‘Jeez! What was the problem?’
‘Angela, do only those things you can do’ is the best advice I’ve received. Andy Cosslett [Fitness First chief executive] told me that. It helps me to prioritise – what are those things I have to do versus the things I can ask my team to do?
Don’t be alarmed by fawning employees. It helps you to see that they can provide incredible service. When I visit hotels, the fact that staff can show they know how to do it gives me great security. If I walk in and get horrific service experience, it concerns me. If they can’t get it right for company executives, what’s going on when I’m not here?
Balancing consistency and personalised service is a challenge. At Holiday Inn Express [owned by IHG], we deliver ‘friendly, efficient service’. But the service we deliver in the US would be over-the-top in the UK – we wouldn’t want people hugging you, going ‘how y’all doing? Welcome!’ If we implemented German-style service in the US, they’d think we were having a bad day. Getting the nuances right is so critical.
For more on InterContinental Hotels, visit www.ihg.com