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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Back in the K Club again

It was great to be back at the K Club. Neither @Supergreybeard nor I could recall precisely the last time we were there but it was definitely during the Ovation years in the early – mid noughties, before the roar of the Celtic Tiger was silenced by the cruel years of recession and austerity. It was certainly before the K Club started to appear, somewhat poignantly, on bus shelters in the Dublin area offering wedding packages at discount rates. I recall thinking at the time how akin this was to a dignified, aristocratic family, fallen on hard times, pawning the family silver in order to survive. But survive it did and the now impressively expanded K Club is decidedly  back in the saddle again, quickly regaining its enviable position as the finest, full service upscale golf resort in Ireland and beyond.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 17.26.09It’s survival, undoubtedly, is down to the dogged, inspirational leadership of its General Manager, Michael Davern, of the eponymous Tipperary family. The Davern family has contributed no fewer than 3 genuine thought leaders to the hospitality industry in Ireland – following a stellar career at Sheen Falls Lodge, the Killarney Park Hotel and the Heritage, Donagh has forsaken the corridors of hospitality from the groves of academia while Bryan is GM at the Dean, Dublin’s new hipster hotel which brings the edginess of Brooklyn and Shoreditch to Harcourt Street. Michael, meanwhile, having successfully steered the K Club through tempest, storm and fury is now featured in Conor Kenny’s brand new book Dancing at the Fountain, the launch of which drew us back to the K Club on Wednesday night last.

Dancing at the Fountain

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 16.30.40Like Conor’s first book , Sales Tales, Dancing at the Fountain is published by Oak Tree Press, Ireland’s specialist in business publications.  On Wednesday we picked up a copy of the hardback edition which has a striking cover, a stylised version of a “Do not disturb” sign hanging from the gleaming  handle of a contemporary-style mahogany guest room door. It conveys a strong sense of positive anticipation, of excitement, the kind we feel when we unlock our guest room door for the first time to discover the delights of what lies within. And within the covers of this great book there are many delights.

Written for hoteliers, aspiring hoteliers and all of us who are intrigued by the apparent glamour of the hotel business, Conor has exercised the full breadth of his probing skills to extract 7 wonderful stories from the 7 individuals featured here who, between them, have worked at such iconic properties as the Connaught in London and Sandy Lane in Barbados. Each story is as unique as its teller but all coalesce around the core concepts of service, hospitality, surprising and delighting guests.

Hotel General Managers, it would appear, are both born and made. Many can trace the seeds of service through their family legacy and have the service industry and the hotel business is in the DNA. Others, by contrast, fall into the job by total accident and only discover their aptitude for hotel-keeping as their careers unfold. The common defining thread for success amongst the 7 leaders interviewed by Conor is that generalist capacity that’s at the heart of hotel management. A General Manager, typically, will deal with owners, accountants, brand guys, architects, interior designers, investors, specialists in culinary arts as well as the kaleidoscopic expanse of regular, VIP and VVVIP guests that tend to populate up-market hotels. It’s requires a mix of IQ and EQ and immense balancing skills, or, to quote one of the trainers at Shannon College, you need to be “an acrobat, a diplomat and a doorman”.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 17.27.34Conor has done a great service for the global hospitality industry at large by producing a book that unlocks all the intrigue, fascination and energy of hotel keeping at the highest level. He shows, by the example of these 7 leaders, that one size doesn’t fit all and that you can grow into the GM role over time, building a successful career that’s like universal currency, valid all over the world. He reveals all the glamour of the role, the hobnobbing with celebrities, the hanging out in the playgrounds of power. The story of Luc Delafosse, GM of Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, of Michael Jackson dancing around the fountain of the Burj Al Arab is probably the most perfect symbol for this.  But Conor also brings out the hard work, the long hours, the sacrifices.

Amongst the many nuggets of wisdom over the 200 pages of this lovely book is a telling comment from the K Club’s Michael Davern. Michael’s own career at luxury hotels has spanned the analogue and digital ages. But he sees further transformative changes on the horizon as the Gen X and Gen Y demographic takes over from the baby-boomers and “luxury”, as we know it, is re-defined:

At the luxury end, the hotel business as we know it is going to change as guests look more and more for independent hotels that deliver a truly authentic experience. A manager who is looking for the company manual on the shelf with the answer to every problem in it is not going to be a success in the future because the industry is looking for people who can think on their feet, who can listen to the customer in their specific area in their specific market and figure out what ticks the boxes for the customer.

Check out Conor Kenny & Associates here

Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney run SoolNua, a boutique agency offering marketing, strategy and training for destinations, hotels and venues specifically in the MICE industry

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