Name; Claire Steven
Job Title; General Manager
Company; Oulton Hall Hotel
Hey Claire, thanks for being one of our Leeds Hotseats!
Please tell us a little bit about your career journey – what led you into the hospitality/events industry?
When I was at school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was convinced I didn’t want to work behind a desk in an office. I was quite good at cooking and toyed with the idea of being a chef, but I wanted more interaction with people. I then got a part time job in a hotel when I was in my last year at school and I absolutely loved it!
The hotel I was in, Dalmahoy Hotel, Golf & Country Club as it was known then. was a luxury resort property similar to Oulton Hall, so I got to meet lots of interesting people and learn the art of hospitality. From there I went to the Scottish Hotel School which was then part of Strathclyde University Business School for four years. During that time I worked in a number of hotels in Glasgow and did a placement at The Stafford Hotel in St James’, London but then came back to Dalmahoy and progressed from a supervisor in the event operations team through to food and beverage manager.
I then journeyed south to Manchester to join as sister property and then came back to Edinburgh and worked with Macdonald Hotel and a private independent group. Afterwhcih I moved to Nottingham to run the Nottingham Belfry Hotel, a large events and corporate hotel before arriving in Leeds at Oulton Hall in June 2015.
You’re now at Oulton Hall, please tell us about your role, the company and the type of projects you work on day-to day?
What I love about working in a resort property is that every day is different and I get to work on many different projects at once. A lot of what I do is looking at business strategy, how our business is pacing and are there any gaps and how we can work with our sales and marketing teams to plug those gaps.
I also work with our operations team to see how we can continually evolve our product and service; this also involves researching what our competition are doing and out of work I like to “hotel shop” as I call it, browsing the interenet for new ideas and visiting new and interesting hotels and restaurants for ideas.
What’s your favourite thing about the role that you do?
Its very interactive; you meet so many interesting colleagues and guests and it’s a pleasure to see a team member blossom or to see an event that has been two years in the planning all come together and the guests walk away delighted.
What would you say motivates you everyday?
The drive to succeed. I’m very competitive and I want us to be the very best that we can be.
What’s been your career highlight so far?
I don’t think I can single out any one specific moment but willing Rising Star General Manager of the Year in Scotland in 2008 was definitely something I was very proud of but delivering the best financial or service performance a hotel has ever achieved in a month or a year is also something I’ve helped teams to achieve on a number of occasions and this is when you know that you have built a great team and that everyone is working together to achieve a common goal.
Throughout your career have you drawn inspiration from anyone in particular? (male or female)
One of my very first bosses told me “what gets measured gets done!” and I use this phrase to this day. If people know what they are aiming towards then they are more likely to achieve it.
Are there any emerging trends with the industry (events or hospitality) you think we’ll see more off over the next few years?
Guests don’t want a cookie cutter approach any longer, everyone from wedding couples to conference organisers or even those coming for afternoon tea all want something bespoke and different so we have to individualise guests’ experiences.
We also need to continue to focus on social media and create instagrammable moments as if we make it look fantastic, our guests will want to take a picture of it, tag us and boast about it.
I think the general public are beginning to see through “influencers” but they still have a great hold on what sells in terms of brands, but I think this dynamic will change in the next couple of years.
What do you find most challenging about working in the events industry?
Finding great talent. There is no doubt that the industry as a whole for many is seen as a back up option and trying to encourage people to come in to the industry is an ongoing challenge, but there are so many people, that once in it, get the bug and develop very quickly in to senior roles. For those that have the hospitality passion, it is a very rewarding career.
Do you ever feel pressures of being a female within a fairly male dominated line of work?
I have to say, I’ve not felt that for a very long time. Many years back when I was a restaurant manager I remember a guest approaching me and my (male) supervisor and this guest assumed the male supervisor was in charge.
I’m fortunate to have been surrounded by many great female bosses and colleagues in my career that it’s never been a discussion point.
What advice would you give to young women who are looking to get into the industry?
Do it! It’s exciting, entertaining, enthralling and sometimes exceptionally hard work but I really can’t think about any other career that would be so rewarding. When I speak to friends out-with the industry they find what I do truly fascinating in comparison to their 9 – 5 boring day jobs.
If you could invite any 5 people to dinner, (alive or that have passed), who would they be and why would you invite them?
Robert De Niro – because I think he’s one of the best actors of all time
Billy Connolly – because he’s just the funniest person alive!
Michelle Obama – to learn how she helped lead a country with such grace and diplomacy.
Sir David Attenborough – to talk to him about the amazing places he has travelled to.
My Grandad – for the few years I knew him, he seemed to be a very wise man, and I’d like to have known him as an adult to hear some of his stories and learn lessons in life from him.
Claire, Thank you so much for being in the hotseat!