Neil McInnes’ career journey

Neil McInnes was 17 years old when he decided to leave school and go straight to work without pursuing a higher degree in education. His career began in Food & Beverage at the Hilton Glasgow in 1995, and now the year is 2020 – he is celebrating a 25-year career anniversary with the company!

“I was always interested in hospitality,” Neil shares. “My family had the opportunity to travel and stay at different hotels and so I had the chance to observe the atmosphere and quickly got very excited about it. Nobody from my family works in hospitality, I just knew it was something I wanted to do and so I pursued my dream.”

Out of the nine years spent at the Hilton Glasgow, Neil has spent most of his time working in the Front Office, where he fully experienced the joy of working with guests and thus, managed to be promoted several times. Neil then took on a regional role based in London, after which he got the opportunity to go to Australia to be a part of the opening team for Hilton Sydney. At first he was responsible for Front Office, after which he moved to Revenue Management and soon after became the Commercial Manager of the hotel.

After spending five years in Sydney, Neil got the chance to move to Japan! He told himself that he would only stay there for a few years, which soon became 10 and he enjoyed every single year. In Tokyo Neil held multiple roles at Hilton before finally becoming the General Manager of Conrad Tokyo, which is a luxurious five-star hotel located in the heart of the city.

“From my very first job I knew I wanted to become a General Manager, and so I’ve achieved that. It’s been an amazing career of 25 years; it took me to different continents and several different hotels. I’ve worked my way through the ranks all the way up to becoming a General Manager and it shows that nowadays people don’t need to go and get a master’s degree to be a General Manager – hard work and hands-on experience also pays off!” Neil says with a proud smile.

”I remember it was my fourth year working with Hilton and I found out about a fast-track management program that helps you become a General Manager. However, I couldn’t apply for it as I didn’t have a degree. Interestingly, only one or two people that graduated from the program became General Managers. This showed me that working on the front line is just as powerful. Many people start working in hotels as an intermediary before their big career journey in another industry and thus don’t necessarily have the passion and the long-term vision to ever become a General Manager. We need to look up to people who devoted their years to become top of their class hoteliers – they are our inspiration,” the 42-year-old General Manager explains.

The role of a General Manager can be very different depending on the hotel and its location. An average workday for Neil starts before 5:00 a.m. every day. He then goes to the gym to get some exercise in before work. While he’s there, he is already planning the day ahead. By 7:30 a.m. Neil is in the office, checking urgent e-mails. By 8:00 a.m. he is greeting the guests and the team and checking that everything is running smoothly. Throughout the day Neil usually has different meetings – some with customers and some with team members. He spends a lot of time on team development, making sure the talent is nurtured. Later in the evening there might be some entertainment with the guests or customers. We do live in a world of e-mail overload, so on top of everything Neil also spends a significant amount of time using electronic devices to keep up. Networking is another activity his team takes seriously as they need to make sure the hotel is promoted in the local community. It’s important to ensure that Neil and his team are giving back to the community they operate in.

As for his favourite part of the day, Neil shares that it’s all about spending time with the guests, as well as with his team. It’s so important to communicate with the guests because he gets to learn more about the experience at the hotel, about what’s going on. “Just as important is spending time with the team,” Neil says. “They are the ones that make things happen. We always say that they are “the core ingredients of our sauce”. And, of course, when I’m there I speak to them and see how they’re doing. Those two aspects of my day – the guests and my team – are exactly why I’m in the “industry of people”.”

When it comes to combining Neil’s personal and professional lives, he says that even though the job is ‘full-on’ – he doesn’t mind that at all. “From a young age my father installed an ethic of working hard,” Neil shares. “I’ve always watched him work and worked incredibly hard myself. The long hours don’t bother me either – we are in an industry where long hours are present. However, I do make sure that I lead by example and have a work-life balance for my team to take note as well.” Some days Neil does tend to stay longer and another time he leaves reasonably early to spend quality time with his partner and their dog at home. Same goes for the weekends – if Neil can take the time off, then he will and try to disconnect as it is so important to recharge. “I feel creative when I’m at home on my own and thinking about the week ahead,” he shares. “This allows me to return on Monday and feel fresh and recharged. Being on call 24/7 as a General Manager does make it hard to switch off and sometimes, I still think about work during my time off. The industry I’m in can be pressurising with the amount of responsibility I carry. I wouldn’t change it to be any other way though and I thrive on that.”

We still wanted to know if Neil could go back in time, whether he would do anything differently in terms of his career path. Neil admitted that he would change two things. Firstly, he would love to have a second language. In school they did learn French, but sadly didn’t get very far with it. Seeing his colleagues speak three or four languages is truly inspiring for Neil. He wouldn’t say that knowing multiple languages is key, but it is certainly very beneficial. Secondly, he would want to travel more and leave the comfort zone. Neil stayed at Hilton Glasgow for nine years before leaving to go to London. He admits that he should’ve left even earlier. “The moment I moved to Sydney my career had changed, I’ve met new friends, travelled the world, lived the dream,” Neil shares. “People shouldn’t hold back when it comes to travel. It is tough when you pack a box and move to the other side of the world when you don’t know anything about it. However, if you got the right personality, then you will meet people in our industry who will become lifelong friends and family and it will all work out.”

Every career path comes with its own challenges and we asked Neil about his experiences. “There’s been many and the higher you go in management – the more you get to deal with crisis management,” Neil admits. “Of course, now we are dealing with Covid-19 and it takes an enormous amount of our time due to how it affected the hotel and the lives of our team members. I’ve also been through other situations like terrorist incidents and earthquakes, such as the one that happened in Japan on the 11th March in 2011, which was enormous.” He shared how terrible is was to go through it all, however, looking at it now Neil realizes how much stronger those experiences made him as a person. “When you’re going through a crisis, you create a great bond with your team and you learn from it,” Neil explains. “Crisis management is a big part of the job and although we never wish for any of that to happen, it’s about how you go through it and lead the team that makes you who you are. You must be prepared for the unknown and carry that responsibility.”

When it comes to exciting plans for the future, Neil shared that him and his team are very much looking forward to the Olympic Games, as an enormous amount of time and effort has been devoted to the event – as a city, as a country and as a hotel. It does excite them a lot. Neil has also had 26 new graduates start their careers at the hotel on the 1st July and it’s been great to see the same smile and energy that Neil had when his career began 25 years ago.

For someone interested in a career in hospitality and what skills would matter the most, Neil believes that the main thing is about being a ‘people person’. You must have that at the very core of your being and bring that to everything you do – not only when it comes to guests, but your team as well. Being open-minded and dynamic is also very important. The hospitality industry is so fascinating – it stretches across the whole world and encompasses a variety of different cultures and people. They can be our guests or our team members and it’s incredibly beneficial to have those two trades.

Neil is very passionate about nurturing future talent for the hospitality industry. When asked about what advice he would have for someone looking for career opportunities, he shared that the key is to be resilient and motivated as there can be incredibly long and tough days. “I look back at the time when I started 25 years ago and out of all my colleagues that started alongside me, I’m the only one still working in hospitality industry,” Neil admits. “I’ve kept in touch with everyone and they all chose different paths. They ask me how I am still in the same industry after 25 years. The key for me is to have that passion for the job, don’t let it run out no matter how bad it can get sometimes. Have an open-minded approach as you go through it. Set yourself a goal and work towards it – everyone has their own destination towards success, they just need to make it happen.”

Published: 7th September 2020

Last edited: 25th November 2020

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