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How does an upscale hotel General Manager spend their day? I find out

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What is it like being General Manager of an upscale London hotel? To find out, I spent some time earlier this month with Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry. As well as being Hyatt’s Area Vice President for UK & Ireland, Arnaud is also General Manager at Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill.

Arnaud had originally agreed to give me a ‘hard hat’ tour of Park Hyatt London River Thames, currently under construction at Nine Elms. This is covered in a separate article today.

We expanded the remit and I ended up spending six hours with Arnaud. Before we drove down to the Park Hyatt site, I sat in on a couple of meetings and got a feel for what his role entails.

what does a hotel general manager do

Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill (website here), for those who don’t know London hotels very well, is a five star property overlooking grassy Portman Square. It is almost directly behind Selfridges and has the relatively new Nobu Hotel London Portman Square (previously a Radisson) as a neighbour.

The ‘Churchill’ name was not chosen at random. The hotel opened in 1970 and Winston Churchill had only died in 1965. The original developer was a huge admirer and the family was, and apparently remains, involved in the hotel. Something I never knew, despite previous visits, is that there are Churchill paintings and other memorabilia scattered around the building. The terrace of The Churchill Bar & Terrace features a life-size bronze sculpture of Sir Winston.

By the time I arrived at 11.30am Arnaud had already been working for four hours. As I quickly found out, the management offices are (not unexpectedly) less glamorous than the public areas of the hotel. Everyone is based in a large, open-plan converted car park under the hotel: there is even an active loading bay just a few feet from Arnaud’s office.

(We agreed that I wouldn’t photograph anything during the day, so this article uses PR imagery.)

You realise a couple of things very quickly. The first is that this is not the job for you if you are not a people person. Arnaud appears to know everyone who works in the hotel and that’s no small feat in a 440 room property. Guests also stopped him to say Hi during our walks and at lunch. Whatever is going on, you need to put on a positive smile and greet every team member and guest you pass.

Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry Hyatt Regency The Churchill

Being General Manager of The Churchill is only part of Arnaud’s role, as he also oversees all other Hyatt properties in the UK and Ireland.

This list has expanded rapidly in recent years and includes SCHLOSS Roxburghe in Scotland (reviewed here), Hyatt Place London City East (reviewed here), Hyatt Centric The Liberties Dublin (reviewed here), Great Scotland Yard in London (reviewed here) and two upcoming openings in Leeds, amongst others. There is also the long awaited Park Hyatt in London which I cover in Part 2.

The first meeting I sat in on was Arnaud’s weekly catch-up with Dawn Turner who heads up Hyatt’s HR function in the UK. Dawn has worked for Hyatt for 30 years and in HR for over 25 of them.

The nature of the international hotel brands means that the HR function looks a little different to other industries. Where Hyatt manages a hotel, only a handful of top employees will actually work for the brand whilst the majority will be employed by the property owner. You also have franchised properties – usually limited service – where none of the staff work for the brand.

Despite this you need to build a common culture and help people move between properties to develop their career. In a franchised hotel, you are building a Hyatt culture alongside the culture of the hotel management company. These can be multinational groups themselves – Aimbridge Hospitality, for example, now manages over 1,500 hotels globally.

What was interesting was the amount of time that the team is spending on broadening opportunities for different groups. There was discussion about a current partnership with TENT, an organisation focusing on improving the lives and livelihoods of refugees which Hyatt is working with.

In the UK Hyatt works with The Prince’s Trust (soon to be The King’s Trust) to get underprivileged 16-24 year olds into work. On a very local level, the hotel is also involved in community initiatives including the Marylebone Project which supports homeless women.

Churchill Bar Hyatt Regency hotel London

We moved on to The Churchill Bar & Terrace. By a happy coincidence, I happened to be there when the team was introducing new cocktails to the front desk, concierge and sale teams.

Amazingly, tucked away in a room in the basement, The Churchill Bar & Terrace is experimenting with making its own tonic water using distilled rainwater from the hotel. Four different tonics are available, each with a different theme (Caribbean, Middle East etc) and they will be launching in The Churchill Bar later this month.

(If you are a cigar smoker, it turns out that The Churchill Bar & Terrace also has an impressive collection – perhaps unsurprising given the name – along with an outdoor terrace on which to enjoy them, alongside Sir Winston’s life sized statue.)

Thirty minutes later, back in the basement, it was time for the weekly revenue management meeting for The Churchill. This brought together around 10 people from different parts of the business to look at current and future trading.

Upscale hotels in London are very much at the mercy of events. The Farnborough Air Show in July was clearly, from the discussions, a big deal, as well as the upcoming intergovernmental forum at Blenheim Palace. I was surprised how much discussion revolved around contacts with the various foreign embassies in London.

Other key topics included the impacts of Ramadan and the Paris Olympics – it seems that some visitors are choosing to come to the UK first. The meeting also looked at the impact of the management change at The Biltmore in Grosvenor Square, which had left Hilton on the day I was there.

With the revenue management meeting complete, Arnaud and I hopped into his car and we headed across London to take a look at progress on Park Hyatt London River Thames. You can read this article here.

What I took away from my time at The Churchill was a new level of respect for the complexities of the General Manager role and how your ability to relate to employees of all levels is key to success. It is the embodiment of the philosophy of ‘management by walking around’.


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Comments (70)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • ZW says:

    I love love love every single comment and all the replies of this post!

  • NorthLondonLiberal says:

    In a previous life I helped acquire hotels from IHG for private equity firms when IHG decided to focus on hotel management and divest its real estate assets. Before the sale I would shadow the hotel GM for a week to get to know the business and to try to find out what was being swept under the rug.

    What I learned was that the GMs worked insanely hard, the underside of the rug was mostly spotless, and I was being paid more as a graduate than the GM was with 25+ years industry experience.

    Seems like not much has changed. Great article!

  • The other Kevin says:

    Can’t believe no-one has asked whether he is related to the ‘other’ Saint-Exupéry ?

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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