“My Father always drilled it in to me that there is nothing free in life and that you have to work hard to get what you deserve out of life. I have a saying that ‘A dream doesn’t become a reality through magic, it takes sweat, determination and hard work.’
That was Mr Stuart Chappell, Area General Manager of Corinthia Hotel St George’s Bay, Marina Hotel and Radisson Hotel St Julians.
Insider Plus was thrilled to have a close look at this gentleman. It was soon clear that he is a solid character with a humane disposition. A tough worker with a beating heart. Hard work had not made him hard. It has moulded him into an outgoing wholesome person.
“Believe it or not I actually started working in my parents hotel when I was 9 years old! They were just chores to me at that time and my Father and I used to spend every evening preparing food for the following day. I used to help out washing dishes, cleaning rooms and used to run errands to the butcher and shops every day. As I grew up, one of my favourite jobs was taking my barrow, a converted old pram, to the station on a Saturday to welcome our visitors off the bus and bring their suitcases back to the hotel which was a 20-minute walk. As I grew older of course I did more things, started to cook, serve behind the bar, so it was a natural progression to go to college and gain some theoretical knowledge on the hotel industry. My Father was a coal merchant and that was my first preference but he persuaded me not to follow him; with hindsight it was a good decision!”
So what was his route to management of hotels? Mr Chappell emphasised that the best grounding to become a General Manager is to start from the bottom and work in all departments. That makes you knowledgeable, empathise, discern, and decide wisely.
“My first management role was Duty manager at The Grand Hotel Brighton, England where I stayed for 9 years, working up to the Deputy General Manager role. At the age of 29, I was General Manager of a 200 bedroom 4-star Hotel in Coventry, England. A year later, I was General Manager of my first 5-star hotel, De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, Southampton, England. Then in 2001 I joined Marriott International, first at Heathrow then moved to Central London. Six years later, in 2007 I was General Manager of the then largest hotel in the UK, the Cumberland Marble Arch, London. 2010 proved a great experience for me when I moved to Beijing, China, to open a 500 bedroom 5-star hotel. Then Corinthia entered into my life.”
How did he join Corinthia? Mr Chappell smiled, “I was persuaded by the then CEO Tony Potter who I had known for many years.” So from far away China, Mr Chappell’s next posting was Malta, where in 2011 he joined Corinthia as General Manager of Corinthia St George’s Bay, to become Cluster General Manager of Corinthia St George’s Bay and Marina Hotel in 2015 and later adding to his responsibilities by becoming Area General Manager of Corinthia Hotel St George’s Bay, Marina Hotel and Radisson Hotel St Julians in 2017.
Insider Plus was curious to see what would be a normal day’s work as Area Manager. Mr Chappell shook his head at the words’ normal day’s work’
“Nothing is normal; that is why I have enjoyed it so much for the past 40 years. However, there is some sort of routine to my day. Firstly I will normally check all the overnight emails and reports, especially checking the night manager’s handover and report. Then I would walk the public areas and the back of the house to check if all is well and greet guests and team members. At about 10.00 I would go through the Morning Briefing and discuss the business of the day and any issues arising. Naturally, I would have other meetings and appointments with clients or suppliers and with the team. At Lunch time I would walk around overseeing the goings on, and that would lead me to my afternoon meetings. I remain always hopeful to find a short time for the gym. Again an evening walk around. Dinner probably 2 or 3 nights a week. As I am responsible for the 3 properties here in St George’s Bay it is important that I spend time in all of them at some stage so I tend to alternate the start of my day between them.
That is quite a full programme for a normal day. What would a hectic day be?
“More time required on the floor meetings and dealing with guests’ queries and requests. Unfortunately, there are days when there are too many meetings!”
Mr Chappell was quick to clarify that he does not mind a tough day but he would miss engaging. “The true art of a Hotelier should be to engage with our customers and staff. Unfortunately, this is sometimes overtaken by financial pressure, reporting deadlines etc. The best enjoyment I get from my job is meeting clients and speaking to our people, feeling the pulse of what is going on, what is required or expected, and act. I feel one of the most important elements of my leadership is for my team to know I understand their needs and that I am there to support them in any way”
Clearly Mr Chappell is more at ease when he lives close to where the action is. “First and foremost I am a people’s person, I believe my greatest skills are my people skills, in dealing with guests and staff alike, in creating and leading teams. I enjoy setting a vision and creating clear goals and targets for all the team, everyone needs to know their individual role but also how these knit into the team goals.”
Surely he has met with bizarre moments in his very chequered life. Could he just hint at one or two? Mr Chappell smiled broadly. “There are so many! But I think two of the strangest were finding a 20-foot python in a guest bedroom and seeing a group of naked people appearing at the reception desk in the middle of the night. It appears that when some people come to an hotel they step out of their ‘normal life’ and behave very differently!”
Insider Plus warmed up to this genuine character and asked what characterises him most: “ I would call myself pragmatic, a realist. I act with humility. I have a determination and passion to achieve the best possible results. I am also structured and disciplined and have a belief that you should work hard and play hard. I am not materialistic at all, for instance if my car gets me from A to B that is good enough for me!”
But a good part of what you are, is also your dislikes. “That is very true. I hate dishonesty, laziness, nonsense and people who try to find negative things in others rather than the positives in people. Honesty, integrity, compassion and a willingness to help and try things new or different are traits I portray and look for in others.”
Switching on to something else: we speak of the Corinthia Family, when does Mr Chappell perceive it most? “When we hold our small recognition events here at the hotel, recognising our people that have excelled or achieved a milestone or goal in their career or personal life. Also, when we are faced with challenging situations and we get together as a team to decide and plan a way out, the teamwork that ensues bears all the hallmarks of true Corinthian values.”
And his own family? His face sobered. “Sadly my wife passed away a year and a half ago but I do have three amazing daughters, Chloe, Jessie and Amy who keep my feet on the ground. I have not seen my parents, sister, cousins or in-laws for over a year because of COVID restrictions, this has been incredibly hard.”
Insider Plus was eager to know Covid-19 hit his hotels and what actions he has taken to milden the effect, if possible. “Thankfully, with our Chairman and Board’s support we managed to stay open throughout the pandemic, naturally rigorously following all health regulations at all times. We had guests throughout; I really believe this put us in a better position to be ready and react to any business opportunity that presented itself. Of course, our staff compliment has been drastically reduced and we have limited services and cut down a lot of expenses thus making us a much leaner operation. Today and into the future one thing has become of paramount importance to our guests and that is how compliant we are to Covid-19 restrictions and new protocols and an even greater scrutiny of our cleanliness and hygiene practices. We have had to review all the elements that our guests come into contact with, to ensure we are Covid-19 compliant. Hand sanitisation, temperature checking and recording and information signs have now become permanent features throughout the hotel. One element that has been quite difficult to get precisely right are the guest bedrooms and amenities that go into the rooms. We always want to portray an element of luxury but some of the recommendations are to remove certain items from bedrooms such as bed throws and too many excessive cushions, stationery, magazines etc which can harbour the virus. We believe we have struck the right balance here and of course after every guest departs the room is meticulously cleaned and then sanitised and fumigated before the next guest arrives.”
And what about post-Covid plans? “From a personal perspective I shall try and do as much travelling as I can, having had two big trips cancelled in the past year. From a hotel perspective we will apply our new experiences to how we work and instil certain practices in our new normal mode of operation. We have had to diverse our customer base and we will continue to see how we can integrate this into our business as it returns to some sort of normality .”
Has this pandemic changed his priorities in life? “I guess like most people I have realised that family is the most important thing and sharing and creating lasting memories and experiences together will be an even greater priority in the future.”
Talking to Mr Stuart Chappell was a great experience. Our assessment: A hard working, determined, disciplined, but humane, warm, and sensitive gentleman with hoteliering flowing in his bloodstream.