Breadsall Priory: Meet the GM of Breadsall Priory, A Marriott Hotel and Country Club

GM of Breadsall Priory, Nicholas Dumbell, explains to why it’s important to relinquish some control and let your team learn.

Meet the GM:

  • Name: Nicholas Dumbell
  • Property: Breadsall Priory, A Marriott Hotel and Country Club
  • Number of rooms: 112 How did you begin your career as a hotelier?

Dumbell: After completing my A-Levels in the UK I was like most 18 year olds without a clear vision of my career path. I decided to travel and was able to get a place on the Beachcomber management training scheme in Mauritius.

My first day on the job was interesting to say the least – I reported for duty and was promptly tasked with preparing two cases (over 200) lettuces for lunch. It wasn’t the glitzy beach bar job I was expecting, but I descended to the bowels of the hotel and set about the task with gusto.

About half way through I’d found my rhythm, but unfortunately the chef had also found something in my work. After thrusting the offending bug towards me riding on a verbal volley, he continued to make his views on the importance of attention to detail quite clear. Although the ringing in my ears was more than a little uncomfortable, the sentiments behind the shouting chimed with my own values and I now pass them on to anyone working for me – although in slightly different language and tone.

The nine months I spent at the Royal Palm and Trou aux Biches convinced me that this was the industry for me. I went to the US to read for a Hotel Management degree at Cornell and the rest, as they say, is history. How would you describe your style of management?

Dumbell: I like to get involved, but I also like my managers to feel they have control. I’ve been known to stand in for the pot washer – on my first day as restaurant supervisor at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Airport – complete with marigolds! It showed the team I was happy to muck-in when needed and taught me how earning respect early is a key to effective management.

On the other hand, I think it’s essential that senior managers feel in control of the teams and budgets they are responsible for. As a GM, nothing gives me more pleasure than helping to develop talent. That doesn’t happen without relinquishing some control and letting people learn. What achievements are you most proud of at your current property?

Dumbell: It was fantastic to have won ‘Best UK Leisure Club with under 1,000 Members’ in last year’s FIA awards, and the ‘Customer Service’ and ‘Best Young Chef’ gongs in Derbyshire & Peak District Excel awards in recent years. It’s also very satisfying to be chosen as the venue to host cultural events – like the Secretary of State’s recent conference for tourism leaders and the visit of a group of international journalists covering the Olympics and looking for life outside London.

But what really fills me up is seeing the associates of Breadsall Priory embrace my own values regarding guest engagement. I love walking through the hotel and hearing people explaining the history of the Priory, or the story behind the story behind the building of the Priory Golf Course. That’s what makes me really proud. What keeps you awake at night?

Dumbell: Occupancy and the bottom line. The same as any other GM. The unique worries I have centre on finding ways to keep Breadsall Priory competitive while maintaining its commitment to quality and dedication to its heritage. Having such a wonderful old property comes at a cost, and it’s finding ways to manage those costs while maintaining our position in the regional market that keeps me up at night. How is the market changing in your sector and region?

Dumbell: Everything is becoming last minute and experience driven. Whether it’s leisure or business travel, people don’t seem to be planning as far in advance, which makes our forecasting more difficult and subjective, but at the same time they want much more than just a bed and a meal. Tourists want to feel a sense they are getting something special from the hotel, and event organisers want to add social and leisure aspects for their delegates. Thankfully we have a great combination of grandeur in the building, facilities with the leisure club, restaurants, golf courses and conferencing, and customer focus from the associates. Taking away one or two of these aspects would leave us exposed, so I have great sympathy for those hoteliers working without these assets.

Nicholas Dumbell’s top three pieces of advice for hoteliers:

  1. Spend time in the lobby during busy times. It will provide you with invaluable feedback from both guests and your own team.
  2. Focus on what makes your hotel different. Don’t just dwell on fixing your weaknesses, but ensure you maximise your strengths to give guests the best experience possible.
  3. Nurture key client relationships. Ensuring repeat bookers are friends as well as customers will not only retain the revenue, but also give you a buffer if rogue team members allow your standards to temporarily drop.

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