There is a new boss at the helm of Glasgow’s biggest 5 star hotel, Susan Young reports.
Calum Ross is a familiar face at Hilton UK having worked for the company for more than eight years. Now he has a fresh role as General Manager of the Hilton Glasgow. – a job which Calum describes as the “best job in the business”.
Explains Calum, “For the last two years I have been supporting Hilton UK & Ireland’s Operational Excellence agenda, as Director of Operations Management. Originally I divided my energy between this role and supporting hotels in both Scotland and Ireland in an Area General Manager position – but building the platform for operational excellence became a full time commitment. It’s been a fantastic couple of years but I didn’t want to be away from customer contact and day to day leadership for much longer and the ‘heavy lifting’ set up phase for our Operational Excellence agenda is done. The opportunity at Hilton Glasgow was a great fit for me and the timing was perfect.
“It is the perfect marriage for me at the moment. The vast majority of my time is going to be invested in providing leadership for the team here, but I will also continue to lead the operational excellence agenda for the Hilton UK and Ireland, so I get the best of both worlds.”
His appointment comes as the Hilton Glasgow gets set to celebrate its 25th year with a host of celebrations and charitable events planned. But Calum’s first priority is to get to know the hotel and his team.
On his new job
He told me, “I think this is absolutely the best job in the world. Over the last few years, despite having an office at the Grosvenor Hilton, most of my time has been spent travelling. Being back working with people on a day-to day-basis is massively stimulating.
“When you are in a regional director role or ‘above property’ role the relationships that you need to develop, in order to be effective in your job, are very different. When you are seeking to provide leadership for a much broader and wider team the relationships are more meaningful. We laugh together and cry together and hopefully have fun together… working with the same team of people every single day means that you have a special and strong relationship with them.”
He continues, “As the new boss I have a short period now where I can observe what is happening in the hotel before people start to look to me for guidance. I can watch what is going on and not appear to be judgmental, because I am just learning.
“I like to assimilate all the information in my head, and build trust quickly with my team because I can be a fiend when it comes to re-designing process. I’m always thinking there must be a better way of doing this, we must be able to do that quicker. I can’t help it!
“However I won’t be going in like a bull in a china shop. That would be very disorienting. The team here is doing lots of things incredibly well, my job is to help these guys become really great at what they do. The move from good to great is not about me, but it is about the team. I want them to see it and want it. “
Certainly Calum has been ‘living the dream’ since he has been a boy. He tells me, “I was really lucky in that I always knew that I wanted to work in hospitality. I joined Stakis Hotels in 1984 after graduating from what is now Napier University in Hospitality Management.
He stayed with Stakis until he joined Jarvis Hotels in 1991 and was there for 17 years before joining Hilton as Area General Manager with responsibility for five hotels.
Says Calum, “In my day if you wanted to get on and were willing to accept responsibility and accountability, you put your hand up and there was a good chance you got the job. And you were allowed to make mistakes, and yes, things could go wrong but we learned. Nowadays we don’t really allow people to do that.
“We don’t allow young people to make the mistakes we made because the stakes are too high. For nearly every branded hotel these days we have an owner, a brand and a management company and we all want to be seen to be doing a great job.”
Calum himself credits some management techniques he learned years ago as being key to how he manages today. He says, “I went on a course a number of years ago that Marriott ran – it was a Franklin Covey event called 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – for me it was a game-changer. The penny dropped that there was a way of getting things done that was better than my then approach. I was lucky to go on the course. Today I still abide by the things I learned. I still use it, or I hope I do because I would hate not to practice what I preach.”
Brexit and the labour market
The issue of Brexit and the uncertainty that its bringing to the labour market is high on Calum’s agenda. He says, “We are really focussed on improving our staff retention because we will struggle to continue as a service based industry if we can’t improve retention rates. I think that the development and retention of our people is more important now than it ever has been.
“Over the next few years it’s currently unclear where a proportion of our roles will be filled from. It is possible that Eastern European nationals, who have provided a rich source of talented and committed individuals won’t be there. As a company we are doing what we can to brief government on how important access to European labour is to hospitality and how important hospitality is to the economy.
We still appear to have an issue with the image of hospitality as a career choice in UK and Ireland. I’m not sure we are seen as a fun industry to be in, we continue to struggle to fill a range of roles with ‘local’ people.
Calum explains, “It is all very well the government introducing an apprentice levy. I get the fact that they want to incentivise employers to create ‘learning led’ access to as many jobs as possible, but you need people applying for them.
“In this hotel every team member will be concentrating on giving each guest a great experience and delivering a good time. It’s pretty straightforward: hospitality is hospitality
“You have to enjoy your job and the people that get, on work hard and generally are gifted communicators and are socially mature. If you are a good communicator and match that ability with hard work, hospitality can be a great career.”
“It is particularly competitive in Glasgow right now but the average room rate for this city is not as high as it should be. I’ve not been in the ‘day to day’ for some time but it certainly doesn’t feel like average rates have moved much over the last few years.
“Somebody will have a go at me for that statement. But we are a low-rated city and we often lag behind Manchester and Liverpool in pricing terms. Edinburgh is a different scenario. It is our capital city, the rates look to have built fairly steadily – certainly over peak periods.”
Calum comments, “I believe it is really important for the whole of Scotland that Glasgow continues as a city to develop the value of the Scottish Exhibition Campus. The value it brings to the whole country is fabulous. We can’t just focus on entertainment – the convention business that has been built up over many many years is just as important. Glasgow has always been pretty good about having a long term vision, about how they should develop.”
“When it comes to Glasgow and Edinburgh it is not one or another, they are both complementary cities and they both have something quite different to offer. In fairness, I’ve always thought the leisure guest in Edinburgh and Glasgow was a very different individual. Having run hotels in Edinburgh the guest was always a little bit more mature, and they were in Edinburgh for a culture based experience – history /art etc. . In Glasgow the leisure customer is younger. They are much more about the here and now, entertainment, retail and having a good time, rather than soaking up the historical heritage. They are both fantastic cities that should thrive together.”
Says Calum, “There are changes coming now and it is very exciting. For instance this time next year we will have full digital key capability. That means on my iPhone or your android depending whether I am a member of Hilton Honours (loyalty program), I will be able to select my room, check -in and be issued a digital key as soon as the room selected becomes available.
“I could arrive, park my car under the building, walk to a lift, be taken to my floor, approach my room and have my door opened without any human interaction at all! I won’t even need an invoice. In fact we already do that. We deliver your invoice to your phone while you are asleep. You can check that invoice and, if it’s ok, you can leave in the morning.
“We are also piloting guest communication via text right now – it is how most young people communicate – they are more comfortable communicating by text rather than voice.”
“There is a tsunami of data out there, we probably have more data than we know what to do with. It can become a distraction.
“How do we make our business a compelling proposition and make it easy for our guests to buy?
“I believe we should focus on the important things and not become paralysed by data that’s provided on everything else. You end up not fixing anything – it’s that law of diminishing returns – the more you try to focus on the less you are going to get achieved.”
“Most business hates uncertainty. So the more uncertainty that is created, the more difficult it is for all of us to plan. We’ve just been through an independence referendum and Brexit. Both votes created passionate conflict but it didn’t feel that pleasant to me. We are going to have two years of uncertainty and now we will have further uncertainty because we don’t know where the debate on further constitutional change will take us.
“I’m not an expert but in terms of the inbound international visitor to Scotland it still appears that the main gateway and hub is London and in particular London Heathrow. People are coming into London – it is currently booming, the weakness of the pound makes it incredibly attractive as a destination. And we are benefitting too. The weakness of the pound makes us a fantastic short break destination. You will hear the term ‘staycation’ used a lot in the next few months. Most of our customers come from regional UK followed by Ireland, and then a clutch of EU countries. We do attract Americans because we are an American brand, but not nearly as many as they do in London.”
The Hilton Glasgow’s USP
“We get a disproportionate number of people who come here to enjoy themselves. Our ballroom is a fantastic space. We are at our best when we have a big event on. I don’t think our banqueting food can be matched. We still have a full pastry team and a butcher on the premises! Our culinary leaders enjoy being creative and they are pretty expert at executing a plan!”
Brands v Independents
“Brands become brands because they offer consistency and safety –if they were a flavour they’d be vanilla. Brands have been built on that. What makes the Hilton Glasgow exciting is the people – they provide the colour and the theatre. They are the flavour.
“I utterly admire the work that Steven Leckie and his team (Crieff Hydro etc.) do -and all the other Scottish independents. We need more independent hoteliers. These guys have a risk-taking mentality and they continually push the guest experience. What they will find more difficult is the technology based innovation .The level of resource required is a big factor in developing capability to do digital key and things like that. There is a place for everybody when it comes to development and innovation.”
The Jewel in Scotland’s crown
“We still have a real jewel in the crown in Scotland. For me our gift to the international hotel business is Gleneagles. The service they deliver to people is truly special, and the new owners are still investing. It is truly world class. Gleneagles is a national treasure. It’s a place that is a truly international standalone brand. We should celebrate it.”
“I would love to have a way of delivering learning more effectively. How can I put a 2 minute video on mobile device that explains the job in hand – something that makes it a game, a competition. How I can I make learning time shorter? How can I make it more fun, how can I send staff out there making them feel great about themselves and great about looking after the customer. If I can do that I’ll have won a watch.”
“Our 25th celebrations will include a Foundation Ball in September and embrace our new #HeartofGlasgowHilton which will see us giving giving £25K to charity. ”