Just after the Second World War my Mum & Dad with my Dad’s parents, brother & sister, pooled their resources to come up with enough money to buy the Derwent, a 28-bedroom guesthouse. In those early days guests had to bring their ration coupons with them and the whole family lived in cramped conditions in the basement. As a boy I can remember living in the basement like “The Borrowers” during the summer and the joy of moving upstairs when the last guests had departed in the autumn.
How did you get appointed a Managing Director of the hotel chain TLH Leisure Resort?
On leaving school I wanted an independent life. I chose Leeds University and studied Civil Engineering. I then worked as a site engineer for Taylor Woodrow around London until moving into their management service division. Only then it became obvious to me that I would rather be managing for myself in the family business rather than working for someone else, and so I came home. That’s when I really started to learn about business – working with my dad. When he suffered a stroke a few years later, I felt I could take over from him, having proved myself outside the family business.
How is TLH Leisure Resort different to other hotel chains?
We are unique in two specific ways. Firstly all the hotels are on one site and interlinked so guest have a choice of accommodation with shared facilities. The economies of scale have made it possible to develop outstanding leisure facilities & fantastic entertainment. Secondly we have used these facilities to build strong local sales, for instance with our Aztec complex and Alberts Bar. Our staffs are the strength behind our success delivering great customer service, which together with strong sales and marketing have enabled us to develop an all-year-round business. Working with four hotels has shown me the real power that can come from partnership when everyone pulls in the same direction.
How has TLH Leisure Resort contributed to the economy in Torbay?
In addition to the millions of pounds we spend with local businesses each year, I’m most proud of the local employment we provide, over 300 permanent jobs with extensive training & development. The majority of our management team have been promoted internally.
What future plans are there for TLH Leisure Resort?
One of my strong beliefs is that you have to continually reinvest. The last few years have been hard for all businesses, but last year we started on a major programme of upgrading some of our 430 bedrooms and we transformed Alberts. This year in January we are refurbishing our Toorak restaurant and in February the Jacuzzi area of Aztec. However the focus of our development isn’t just property, we are always working to strengthen sales & marketing and, of course, our people. At the height of the recession we introduced a customer service programme called “Stars”. Even as we were economising and reducing costs we were able to improve customer feedback. We are now working with the whole team looking at how we can make this even stronger.
What’s the future of tourism in Torbay?
During my earlier years in Torquay when I needed inspiration I would walk along Daddyhole Plain. From this vantage point I could never fail to see the potential of the English Riviera. However over the decades Torbay regularly failed to achieve that potential.
After battling against overseas holidays for most of my career I believe this next decade will be a period of growth for UK holidays. However the market is so competitive that we will only achieve growth ourselves if we fight for it. The last few years have been so encouraging with the English Rivera Tourism Company driving forward marketing of the Bay. In my 35 years in the trade I’ve never known a period like this when the industry has worked so well in partnership.
However, true to form, it looks like Torbay will kill the golden goose and cut back on destination marketing just at the moment when it is most necessary and at its most successful. Just how many awards does the ERTC have to win, to demonstrate its worth to the Bay?
Who has been your most significant mentor?
I’ve always been a great fan of Sir John Harvey-Jones and his view that you can’t stand still in business. The moment you do, everyone else will leave you behind. Also W. Edwards Deming and his ideas of continual improvement.
I’m also indebted to Tom Givens, a friend and management consultant. After I had developed my financial and marketing knowledge he showed me that a successful business depends on its people.
What major challenges have you faced?
The most important challenge for me has been to maintain a family life along with all the pressures from running a business. I just couldn’t have done this without the ongoing support of my wife Karen. My children have all left home now and one of my great pleasures is to be able to go climbing with them. During last year I climbed in North Wales with my daughter Charley and then in June I achieved a long held ambition reaching the summit of Mont Blanc with my youngest son Joe. Over this New Year holiday I climbed one of the classic Torbay cliff rotes “The Gates of Eden” with my eldest son Tom, which gave me a very different view of Daddyhole.
What significant awards have you or TLH Leisure Resort won?
The first Tourism award I received was back in 1980 for an off-peak marketing campaign which gave me the encouragement that we were developing the hotels in the right direction. Awards are an important to way inspire businesses.
I always feel proud of the awards TLH has achieved as it recognises the hard work that everyone puts in. TLH was the first Hotel Group in the UK to achieve the Investors in People award, which we’ve held for 21 years. We have held National Training Awards as well as Best Employer and Business Excellence Awards. I believe TLH national recognition has helped to show how professional our industry can be. It was very special for me at the end of last year to receive the “Outstanding Dedication to Tourism” award. It means a lot to me to have that recognition from the industry. At the start of 2014 we held our own TLH Oscars awards at our staff party to recognise our own stars.
Educated Leeds University
Engineer – Taylor Woodrow, London
1978 Joined TLH and purchased Victoria Hotel
1980’s Purchased Toorak Hotel and developed conference facilities
1990’s Purchased Carlton Hotel and developed Indoor Bowling Complex
2000’s Development of the Aztec Complex
I've worked at TLH for longer than I care to dwell on but have seen so many changes it's been like working for 3 or 4 different companies! I am now in Marketing and am involved in spreading the word about how great TLH is!