From behind the bar to beds, finance and beyond – an interview with Michael Grove, Managing Director EMEA at HotStats
To introduce Michael Grove as a hospitality finance expert is accurate; but it belies the true extent of his incredibly diverse career. From working behind the bar in his local hotel in Cardiff, to selling beds, helping to open a new hotel in Bristol and now Managing Director EMEA at HotStats, Michael’s approach to life has always been do what feels right and deliver extra.
Earlier this year, Michael Grove visited our Glion campus to give a class to our BBA Finance and Hotel Development specialization students. He was kind enough to spare us some time for an interview, which we present here.
Q: You have definitely practiced what you preach about role diversity – can you tell us about your background?
I left college at the age of 18 and started working in a local hotel in the bar before moving to the restaurant and then conferences and events. It was the perfect job for me, but I always had the hunger to do more. I wanted to learn the front office, I wanted to learn about the leisure activities, I wanted to know how housekeeping works, how it is in the kitchen… so many more things to see!
I decided that I wanted to try all these different things, which is when the hotel made me Head of Conference, Events and F&B. I did four years before deciding that I didn’t want to work in hotels anymore.
I chose to go and sell beds. I could work from 9am to 5pm, I could earn more money and it seemed like a good thing to do. But I hated it; I didn’t last three months. So, I went back to the hotel industry, working in weddings and events sales for a country hotel. That didn’t work out, so I returned to operations at a hotel that had just been signed by Radisson.
I was involved in the refurbishment program and helping the GM get the hotel up to brand standards, which meant that I was able to have visibility of how things work in the different departments. The thing about front office that I really loved is that you get to learn everything about the hotel, because it is a central point.
About two years into that, the financial controller left, and the General Manager said to me: “You really understand IT, you know how the billing process works; and handling cash. Would you be interested in acting as Financial Controller of the hotel for a bit?”. Two years later, I moved to a new opening hotel in Bristol, as financial controller.
I took a role as financial controller in a hotel. Soon after, I was promoted to District Financial Controller for the UK. I did that for a few years and then in 2015 I got the opportunity to move to the Middle East as a Regional Financial Controller. I was based in the corporate office, so it was a different dynamic. You learn so much from everyone around you, but I was used to being a hotel person, so it was very conflicting for me because I wanted to be in the hotel environment.
After two years, I moved back to the UK to join RBH, which is a hotel management company. After just five months into this wonderful role with a company whose principles I really believed in, I saw a Director of Hotel Intelligence role with what was then a start-up business, HotStats.
I realized I could use my skillset in hotel operations and finance to go and explain to the hoteliers how using profit data benchmarking could help them drive their profit. It was niche and wasn’t like anything anybody else was doing, so I reached out to the CEO.
When I started there was a small team of people working in an office in Worcester. Now we have five offices around the world and 40 team members. We’ve gone global and as part of the expansion I was offered the position of Manging Director EMEA that I hold today.
Q: So, would you recommend getting involved in different roles and departments in a hotel?
My whole career has been hotels, and not just in one department; I tried as many different things in hospitality as I could. It enables me to take a holistic approach to decision making and discussion as I can consider operations, finance and from a supplier & data provider perspective.
One student asked me today, ‘I don’t know where I want to go, what should I do?’ My reply was, “Before you do anything, aim to do hotel operations. Eventually your job might be a consultant advisor or marketing or finance or whatever ends up interesting you; but you are going to want this operational knowledge.
In the Middle East I worked with the guys who came straight from universities with finance qualifications. When they got to the hotel, they understood accounting and principles of finance, but they didn’t understand, for example, problems in front office that cause other problems in the hotel that eventually impact finances. I also understand first-hand the areas of leakage and potential threats that exist in hotel operations.
Q: What has been the key to your success?
I was good at doing a bit that wasn’t included in my job. Nobody expected me to build a new front office tool or to arrange a first front office conference for the UK. But I did that. When we converted 12 local hotels into the Radisson or Park Inn brand, we were all inexperienced. So I said, “Let’s all arrange a get-together, where we can all discuss these issues and share the best ideas and take the best tips away with us.”
You get known as ‘that guy’ then. It is very little, it doesn’t involve much, but it brings you a great benefit. What I explain to people is that I wasn’t ready for any of my jobs, but I learnt a job, took it to the next level and then I took the next job.
That’s passion, that’s forward-thinking, that’s being able to manage upwards and being able to speak to your colleagues in a respectful manner, and also wanting to learn. I never looked at my job description or what I was paid for. When I took that job as a financial controller, I had the same salary as front office manager, but I did not do it for the money. My next job after that was double salary; so I just learned, gave everything and was patient.
Q: What did you talk about with the students on-campus?
Today, I was teaching a session on operational benchmarking and the ability to be able to reflect financial data from hotels around the world. We provide this data back to the industry in order for them to be able to benchmark how they are performing on over 500 KPIs, so looking into their performance versus the competition. They are able to then use that data to set the strategy to continuously improve based on what the opportunities are to improve their accounts.
The concept of benchmarking has always been kind of secluded to the top line, to the revenue part, and therefore, we’ve often talked about the RevPAR with the students. My objective is to try and help people understand that there is more to hotels than just the room revenue. There are actually a lot of variables in food revenue and beverage revenue, conference and events, etc.
There is the expense line to think about as well, because you might get a lot of money at the top, but then lose a lot of money on unnecessary expenses, so you need to see how you can better perform within your costs and, ultimately, in addition to focusing on RevPAR, measure your GOP as the focus point.
All the conversations with students today had to do with P&L and benchmarking, so it all linked in. We were able to talk about anything: marketing, guest experience, food quality, sustainable initiatives etc, but it all comes back to P&L.
Q: What advice do you have for students trying to decide on their first role after graduation?
My message will always be to just enjoy the initial learning and don’t put too much pressure on yourself in your early years. Ultimately, you will change your mind many times. I never thought that I would be interested in hotels at all, I just thought that I would go and work in the bar because it was at the end of my street and it was easy.
I never thought for a minute that Radisson will be taking over and I would then fall into front office and food and beverage, then manager of different departments, then head of finance etc. I could never see that. So you can never plan anything, just go with it and see which opportunities come up.
Great advice and further evidence of the success possible when you immerse yourself fully in all aspects of hospitality – a career approach we see championed time and again by industry leaders. Thank you to Michael for his insightful class on campus, and for taking the time to talk to us about his journey in hospitality. We wish him continued success.
· You can follow HotStats for free industry updates, information and data by subscribing at www.hotstats.com