Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
HomeFeaturesMarcello Ventisei: Hospitality in his DNA

Marcello Ventisei: Hospitality in his DNA

I caught up with Marcello Ventisei at the Kimpton Blythswood Square, just weeks after his appointment as Cluster General Manager looking after not only the voco Grand Central which he took over last July, but now the Kimpton Blythswood Square too.

Marcello Ventisei has just been appointed Cluster General Manager for two iconic properties in the IHG portfolio Kimpton Blythswood Square and voco Grand Central. Susan Young joined him for a coffee to find out more.

I caught up with Marcello Ventisei at the Kimpton Blythswood Square, just weeks after his appointment as Cluster General Manager looking after not only the voco Grand Central which he took over last July, but now the Kimpton Blythswood Square too. Marcello who is a Glaswegian with Italian heritage is looking remarkably relaxed. But then he has been in hospitality for as long as he can remember.

Marcello tells me, “My background is very typically Scottish Italian. My Nonno immigrated to Scotland in the early 1920s and he set up catering businesses here in Glasgow. My
grandparents had typical ice cream cafes and chip shops. My dad carried on in hospitality
and became a chef to trade. He learned his skills at the The Berkeley at Charing cross. So
hospitality has always been in my DNA in one way or another.”

Growing up Marcello worked in the family businesses including the chip shop and he reckons that the life lessons he learned there have stood him in very good stead in hotels of all sizes.

He studied hotel management at Glasgow Caledonian, formerly the Queens College and
affectionately known as the Dough School, and reveals he originally wanted to be a chef. Indeed he is still keen on cooking. “Cooking is my happy place – I even have a pizza oven at home. Mind you that is probably not what the chefs who I have worked with would tell you.”

However, his father persuaded Marcello to study hotel management, with the view if he wanted to be a chef in the future, he could do so.

Marcello has never regretted the decision. “It’s funny because many of the people I met at Glasgow Caledonian, some 30 years ago, are still really good friends. I think that typifies this industry.”

A placement at the Grand Hotel in Brighton

As part of his placement with Queens College he got the opportunity to go work for De Vere at the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

Says Marcello, “The Grand really opened my eyes to what a large hotel could look and feel
like. It was the destination hotel on the south coast and hosted events such as the Tory Party Conference, the BBC conference and such like. I was able to experience what a hotel could deliver. I was only supposed to be there 9/10 months but managed to get an exemption and stay 14 months.

“One of the reasons I wanted to stay was because of the General Manager Richard Baker. He had taken the hotel over only six weeks before it was bombed and he was the youngest
General Manager of any 5-star hotel in the UK.

“He had a great influence on me. He knew his staff, had an entrepreneurial spirit and was the consummate host. He also made a point of thanking you for even small tasks. For instance he would tell me what a great job I had done cleaning the kitchen floor! But the reason I knew how to wash a floor was because my dad had made sure I got this right when I did it in the chip shop!

A calling for De Vere

“After graduating I was inspired to go back to De Vere and went down South and spent
eight years with them mainly at Mottram Hall Hotel. It was a magnet for huge events and
anything that was happening in the Northwest happened there.

“My GM there was Paul Clayton, who was similar to Richard when it came to entrepreneurial skills. He really engaged with his team and knew everyone in the hotel – he
knew them by name. He used to say, “If you are good enough, you are old enough.”

Although I was young he gave me a lot of responsibility and exposure to different areas of the hotel including the leisure side of the business. Spas and golf were all new to me.

“Mottram Hall operated and positioned itself as the North West’s leading luxury hotel at the time, and it was a great learning ground. It was a conversion property dating back to 1721 with relatively small rooms and limited public areas. However it ran at a very high occupancy across the year. Guest expectation was high and we had to learn to make the most of the spirit of hospitality. In addition, we operated a lot of bespoke marquee events for 450 people. I learned the importance of service, delivery, logistics and planning. I also realised how important it was to be flexible. We all had a ‘can do’ attitude.”

Marcello became a hotel manager at Mottram Hall when he was 26, and he also met his wife to be there. By the time he was 30 he was keen for a General Manager role but, to get that role he had to change company.

IHG impresses

He explains, “De Vere, at that point, had 24 hotels. It was a large and complex business with many seasoned GM’s, and it seemed unlikely that there would be a GM role anytime soon. By this time I had been there eight years. I then saw an advertisement for an IHG property.

“To get the role I had to do an assessment day at Heathrow. It was intense. I had never
experienced anything like it. We had to do exercises in numeracy, verbal reasoning, role
plays and all the time we were being observed. Afterwards my wife asked me how I had
got on. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but the experience had made me want to really work
for them.”

Luckily, he got the job and joined IHG as GM at The Holiday Inn York, which was beside the
Racecourse. Says Marcello, “When I arrived there it was described to me as ‘being on its
knees’. It was at the bottom of the IHG league table. But I managed to get some good people on board and within 18 months it was at the top of the IHG leagues.

“It was a most enjoyable time and then I was promoted to GM at the 300-bedroom Holiday Inn Glasgow Airport in 2004. That’s what brought me back to Scotland.”

He stayed there until 2008 before moving, albeit briefly, to the Westerwood Hotel, operated by Q Hotels. Says Marcello ruefully, “I only stayed three months. I just didn’t fit into the culture there. But everything happens for a reason and by December 2008 I had taken a
role at RBH (formerly BDL).

The saddest hotel I have ever seen

“RBH was culturally a brilliant fit. It was a great company which was expanding and buying independent hotels up and down the country. I took on the project of The Swallow in Dundee. I think it was the saddest hotel I have ever seen in my life, and I was given a budget and a timeline to turn it around.

“I have to say Dundee was a great place. The business people were very welcoming and
people had a passion and an affinity with the hotel. They were happy to see it being invested in. They had seen it slide and wanted to see it back on top.”

Fourteen months later it had been changed into a boutique hotel and renamed The Landmark. Marcello smiles, “It was a success story. On back of that I was approached to
come back to the central belt by Richard Grime MD of Paragon Hotels and take on the
GM role at the then The Roxburgh Hotel in Edinburgh. I had never worked with Richard, but he knew of me because of my time at IHG.

“I was there eight years. It’s now a Kimpton. But over my tenure I had three different owners – I took it from a Management contract at Macdonald Hotels, to a franchised
operation with Crowne Plaza. It was then sold to Starwood, then part of the Principal
Hayley Group. Over the period, with the three different owners, it was also reinvented – there were three different versions of the hotel. However, the spirit of hospitality was always at the root of everything that we did.”

MacDonald Hotels and back to RBH

Marcello then took a role as Cluster Manager with Macdonald Hotels. This was a regional role across the Central belt and his hotels included Houston House, Inchyra Grange and the
Holyrood Hotel. Eighteen months later he rejoined RBH as GM of the Doubletree. Marcello says, “It was a great hotel, and the Sky Bar was the very heartbeat of it. I worked with a lot of great people.”

He was also there when the pandemic broke out. The hotel closed and Marcello learned a few new skills. “I was handling every sales enquiry and l learned so much about our sales processes. Every email and every phone number came to me. Suddenly the owners of meeting and events agencies were having to phone you themselves. It was like going back 30 years talking to people on the phone about their events and finding solutions.”

He continues, “As soon as government restrictions allowed us to trade, we got our team back into the work environment as quickly as possible. We didn’t really struggle with resourcing – we had our key people back and we were in a good position and in Edinburgh business increased quickly.”

A return to Glasgow

Certainly there have been no shortage of opportunities for Marcello. He came back to Glasgow and joined voco Grand Central last July and now his remit has expanded to include
the Kimpton Blythswood. He has overall responsibility for the management of both city centre properties while working alongside the onsite teams.

Says Marcello, “I am a generalist and in my role that is a strength. I am genuinely passionate about hospitality – that is all I am interested in. I am always asking ‘how can we do it differently and would it be better for guests or better for people that work here – if we can make things better, we are doing a good job.

“I am also quite commercially driven. I attribute that having come from family business
background. I understand everything you do has a cost and that you have the opportunity
to improve how a business performs. But it is also necessary to have some fun in your culture and not take everything too seriously. For instance, recently it was National Pyjama Day – all the guys at Grand Central were all dressed up that day in their pyjamas. It was great fun.”

Glasgow City Council need to do more

However what was not fun was the news that Glasgow City Council was planning to
establish evening parking charges, although they have now delayed that, and hopefully it will not reappear.

Marcello comments, “It was a badly thought out policy. I signed the petition. Having worked in Edinburgh and now having come back to Glasgow I can see that Glasgow is behind Edinburgh when it comes to encouraging people into the city centre.

‘When it comes to street cleanliness, making streets feel safe, the amount of shops closed, coupled with the low emission zone – I don’t think Glasgow City Council is sending the right message to either Glaswegians or tourists.

“Edinburgh is cleaner and more welcoming and so is Dublin. They seem to have a strategy that invites people in, and they manage to keep the city cleaner even although it is hugely busy. Glasgow City Council need to do more.”

He continues, “I am still settling in and getting my head around this beautiful hotel. There is great momentum here with a multi-million investment in the newly refurbished Spa and that will be a big part of how we position this hotel going forward.

Be as flexible as possible

“I am lucky that the two hotels I now run, Kimpton Blythswood and voco Grand Central, are owned by a real estate investment trust based in France. They are committed to investing in these properties and hotels like these need that. But I want to bring some of my personality to the hotel too. I don’t like stuffiness. My ethos is to be as flexible as possible and allow a guest to feel at home. For instance, if a guest is staying here and wants breakfast at 2.30pm – they can have breakfast.”

It is obvious that hospitality runs in Marcello’s veins but what is also obvious is his enthusiasm for promoting hospitality as a career. “I think it’s important that we all try to encourage young people into our industry and help them see the range of careers beyond the front-line operations. It’s often clear that many young people are unaware of the careers we can offer in Sales, Finance, HR and Engineering. And of course, the fact that if you want to travel you can go as far as you want and you get an insight into many other industries. . When you start to tell them about the potential of hospitality and what we offer you can see the lights come on.”

“However it is like anything the more you put in, the more you get out. We also get to work in great buildings. Who wouldn’t want to work in the Blythswood? It’s a fabulous building and it is a privilege to work in hotels like this. There’s no comparison when you compare it
to working in an office from 9am – 5pm.”

In January Marcello also got the opportunity to go to Cornell in the USA, on a HIT Scholarship. It was an experience he relished. “Cornell was amazing. It is difficult to fully
articulate how good it was. You feel inspired by just being there. We were challenged each
day – and encourage to think about how you operate different parts of your business. It
forces you to step back and look at what you do strategically.

“There were people there from across the world and from all different types of hotels. One had a 32-bedroom hotel in Montenegro while there were two executives there from The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas which has 7,000 rooms but everyone had the same challenges and the same things they were trying to achieve.”

Few vacancies and improving labour market

He continues, “It made me realise that Hospitality in the UK and particularly Scotland is actually in quite a good place compared to the US and Europe. It makes you step back and
appreciate the skill sets we have here – we do have great people.

“We have very few vacancies – we have a combination of people with some good length of service – and people who are relatively new. I certainly think the labour market is improving.

“This industry is all about human connections and building relationships and I think it is important to maintain them. However, that becomes more challenging as we automate things like sales. I suppose on the flip side if you spend more time automating certain
things you can spend more time building relationships with your own staff and your own
community and being more physically present with guests.

“There are challenges in hospitality, but I think we are going in the right direction and
making people realise you can have a good work/life balance in hospitality too.

“Unfortunately some people still base their perceptions on what hospitality was like 20
years ago – but the industry has moved on. We look after our people, we don’t put barriers in the way of people progressing, and if you are good enough, and put in enough effort,
the opportunities are abundant.”

Most admired

I asked Marcello who he most admired, first of all from a guest point of view. He didn’t hesitate. “Sir Alex Ferguson. He was a frequent guest at Mottram Hall and I got to know him well. I even played a football match with him with the back of house staff – we lost. He was genuinely very humble and very giving with his time. I liked that.”

As to who he admired most in the industry, he said, “That person is Andrew Mackay the
founder of the Caithness Collection. I met Andy on day one of university. He followed a similar path to me working for De Vere and Marriott but took a risk and came away from
corporate employment to buy a hotel in Wick – The Norseman Hotel.

“He has taken all his professionalism, everything he has learned, and has taken it and rewritten it in the north. He now runs three hotels and is so professional with a really structured approach to his hotel. He engages with the community and is a big supporter of apprenticeships. Andy is always working to bring on youth and he has done it on his own. He has achieved all this with no head office and no management team. He has passion and vision. I take my hat off to him. Heis a great source of inspiration.”

When Marcello put up the post on LinkedIn regarding his new role a lot of people congratulated him. Marcello says, “It was overwhelming and some of them I had not seen for 20 years, but I have been fortunate enough to work with them and get to know them.”

I am sure they would agree Marcello, is also inspirational.

 

- Advertisment -

Most Popular