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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Debits and Credits

I attended an event in my hometown recently that resonated perfectly with an on-going preoccupation of mine (and that of @Supergreybeard) and that’s workplace culture.

I guess we’re at that stage in our careers when you do the Math, look at the credits and debits, ask where you stand in terms of net contribution.

Was your career merely a whirl around the Monopoly board taking the odd punt on this or that investment, collecting £200 every time you passed “Go” and holding a “Get out of Jail Card” in reserve against any difficulties or challenges?

Or, did you really make a difference? Did you build anything more lasting than the modest pile of cash you might have made and lost and made again? Are you leaving anything behind? A lasting legacy? Something that didn’t exist until you came along?



This reflection might be a bit easier to undertake for businesses that actually make things. The MacBook Pro that I’m writing on now is one of Steve Jobs’ many, many tangible legacies. The Hotel Corinthia where I’m staying in Prague is a clear expression of the achievement of the Pisani family from Malta that operates this hotel group.

Yet even bricks and mortar businesses like hospitality and IT companies are as ephemeral as flowers. They grow and blossom for a while, maybe even decades, sometimes centuries but, eventually, they too fade and pass. Just ask Kodak or Atari or Blockbuster or Pam Am or Amoco or Enron or Woolworth’s or Borders.

@Supergreybeard and I have come to the conclusion, however, that culture and values are lasting things, ultimately because they’re kind of contagious, have a viral aspect to them and tend to spill onwards and outwards into the ether. I’m taking here, of course, about good culture but, sadly, the same is true of bad culture as evidenced by the recent horrific revelations from the movie and theatre world.

Hodson Bay Group

The event I attended was at the Teelings Distillery in Dublin’s Liberties and was staged by the O’Sullivan family, owners of the Hodson Bay Group. Targeting the meetings and events sector – hence my presence at it – the event introduced the family’s 4 star hotels in Galway (the Galway Bay Hotel) and Athlone (the Hodson Bay Hotel and the Sheraton Athlone) and announced the latest edition to the group, a new €40m 234 bedroom hotel on Dean St, close to the Teelings Distillery in Dublin 8.



As are most gatherings of #eventprofs, this was an upbeat, convivial affair with great food, great whiskey-based cocktails (thanks Teelings!) and a truly great cohort of people like Susie Sheil (of SEA, there to oversee some of the entertainment), Deirdre O’Brien (now working for Marriott across Europe), Michelle Thornton and her talented son Stuart of Hotel Solutions, Ken Lyons of Ken Lyons Communications, John Costelloe of The Powerscourt Hotel, Julia from Custom Ireland, Raffaela and Meggan from Aspects of Ireland.



Great speeches were delivered by the folks from the Hodson Bay Group and Teelings and, clearly, both family-owned organisations have developed highly successful businesses, weathering the battering storms of recession, emerging unscathed and strong as the sky finally cleared to blue again. Anna Connaughton, head of MICE and group sales, highlighted the meetings and events capabilities of the Hodson Bay Group and, with her charming Tyrone patois, gave us all the reasons why we should be organising meetings and events in Athlone and Galway (so she did!).



However, the striking thing for me was the emphasis given throughout the presentations to workplace culture and values and how the family and senior management see these are the big differentiator, the USP, the reason why you might turn away from a high flying career with one of Europe’s biggest organisations to return to a relatively small hotel group with 3 properties, going on 4.



The Hodson Bay Group coalesces around 5 core values – Excellence, Passion, Honesty, Flexibility, Fun – and builds its on-boarding and training programmes on these to ensure that all 600 team members are aligned around the organisation’s core purpose. In addition, company team members wear a small lapel pin in the shape of the letter “R” signifying “respect”, the key attitude that defines all interactions with customers, staff and the local community.



The workplace culture at the heart of the Hodson Bay Group is defined unambiguously by relationships, an uncompromising focus on people, on building meaningful connections whether they’re guests, co-workers, or local suppliers. It’s a culture that links in with its locality, supports local initiatives, gives back to its surrounding community. Overall it’s a culture that’s enduring, purposeful and sufficiently magnetic to attract a senior management team that’s been with the group, on average, for 15 years or more.

I’ve written previously on this blog about Simon Sinek’s what we do | how we do it | why we do it. Hodson Bay Group seems to me to be a company that starts with “why?” creating, in the process, a workplace culture that’s engaging, appealing, and attractive. Making money is obviously hugely important to the O’Sullivan family – and it looks like they’re doing that now under a clear blue sky, free from the clouds of recession. However, it’s crystal clear to me that the O’Sullivan’s want to leave a legacy the extends beyond remuneration and cash. This is a hospitality group that works out of an organic culture and values matrix (as opposed to one created by consultants!) and recognises that this is at the heart of its true value.

Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum are SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the MICE market


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