Paul Bayliss MBE returned to Cheshire’s Carden Park Golf, Hotel and Spa Resort in January of this year to take over from Hamish Ferguson, who had been general manager for 20 years. Bayliss was in the British Army for more than 23 years, starting in the Army School of Catering before working his way up to train others. He retired on commission in 2006, landing a job as GM of Hospitality and Food Services at AstraZenenca before taking the leap into hotels. He was Deputy GM at Carden Park for two years before moving to The Midland Hotel in Manchester. He also worked for Macdonald Hotels & Resorts and Park Leisure and was chair of the Manchester’s Hoteliers and Venues Association.
What was the incentive to return to Carden Park?
It was the first hotel I worked in after leaving the army and after I left here in 2009 I discovered how good it had been. Hamish (Ferguson, previous general manager) had been here for 19 years when I got the call asking if I wanted to go back and and it was an honour to be asked. The hotel is going through some exciting times too and it provides a huge opportunity going forward. We are about to announce a £12m spa and everything else is being refurbished – there’s a £200k Orangery going in in the next few weeks, all the bedrooms are being re-done and so are the conference facilities.
Carden Park is one of very few places to get a refurbishment of everything and to be able to manage that over the next few years will be amazing. The whole of the board and the owner (housebuilder Steve Morgan) are engaged in the concept and everything we’ve done has been about the quality of people and resource and ensure that everything we do is the best. It is very exciting time, I couldn’t wait to return.
You were in the British army for 23 years, how did that shape your future career in the hospitality industry?
I was in the army cadets as a kid and knew I was going to join the army, but didn’t know which discipline I was going into. I ended up joining as a chef apprentice, because that was the quickest way to get in at 15. At 16 I was named National Junior Champion (chef), so thought I’d stick with it. I did really well and won the World Championships at one point and could have stayed in the army until retirement at 65 if I’d wanted, but at the age of 39 – the first point at which I could have left – I asked myself ‘could I do this out in civvy street?’ When I left I was lucky to be given a job at AstraZeneca to manage the in-house catering operation and the reason the guy employed me was he had been trained by an army chef, so he knew what he was getting. Now, after 10 years of being a civvy, I understand what he was getting and why I am in this industry.
At Carden Park I manage a big team of 450 people and the hotel’s big ambition, as well as the here and now. These are all skills that the military teaches you to master and for that reason it is probably the best training organisation in the world. In the army you are constantly training and putting what you’ve learnt into practice. There is this real team focus there and now I instil a team focus in everything I do. There you also train the person beneath you while also being trained by the person above you. On civvy street that’s a tricky concept to behold, because the last thing your boss wants you to do is take their job, but it is a fantastic way to develop everyone.
Could the hospitality industry learn something from the army in that case?
Massively. I’m not saying it needs to go through a military-style regime, because that has a major impact, but when I was at the Army School of Catering we had 600 apprentices training at any one time and many went on to work out in the hospitality industry. At the same time there were a couple of other training schemes like it for hospitality – the Forte regime and British Rail. That style of mass-training through a system is invaluable and now if I’m looking for someone great to come into my organisation I’d probably look for someone who’d gone through one of those regimes. Ironically, when I got my MBE for vocational training (in 2006) it was a tipping point for the industry, because that’s when we started to out-source our training to places like Learn Direct and that was a disaster.
There are a tidal wave of problems coming our way because of Brexit. We need people to come into our country because we don’t have the infrastructure there now to develop our people. The industry’s missing a big systems approach to training, which is what the army offers. There are pockets of great practice at places like Northcote Manor, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin Group and Soho House. They get people in there and then show them what good looks like and that’s what we’re missing from a national perspective.
What is it you love about working in hospitality?
The diversity. I’m probably working in one of the most diverse hotels in the UK, because of what we do. My working day starts off seeing how the refurbishment is going, checking breakfast and on one of the big conferences going on, then I’ll go on the golf course, or have a meeting about the £12m spa going in. We also have a vineyard producing 6,000 bottles of sparkling wine a year here, so I get to visit that. As a GM of a luxury hotel, you have to test-drive everything you do too and how many people are lucky enough to do that?
If you could solve one of the industry’s problems tomorrow what would it be and how?
I’ve been trying to solve it since I was 25 and that’s the development of people. We need to regenerate the future. I was a young lad from Liverpool with no qualifications to my name when I joined the army. Now, years later, I’m considered an industry leader, I have world championship medals, an MBE and all sorts of awards and accolades. I’m not special, but people have invested in me over the years. Of course, I had to put the time and effort in, but you don’t need to be so highly skilled to do well, you just need enough people around you who are willing to develop the next generation. If we have that we can move mountains.
We are a people industry and if you concentrate beyond people then you’re not concentrating on the right area. Running a hospitality business is about people, profit and property and if you get the first one right the other two fall into place.
Where do you like to stay and eat out when you are off duty?
I’m really lucky because I went to Cornell a few years ago on a graduate scheme and I met 25 of the best hoteliers in the world. We now have a Whatsapp group and I keep in touch with them there where we arrange to get together every so often. We are planning to visit Budapest in October. It’s a bit like a busman’s holiday. However, it’s really useful and helps us focus on what we’re doing. It’s really useful to speak to those in Malta, New York or Australia about the problems they encounter – you realise they’re all pretty similar.
In the UK I like to stay at Northcote Manor and eat at The Art School in Liverpool or Restaurant Fraiche up the road on the Wirral. I’ve also just been to Madrid and was really impressed. The quality of food there was consistently good. I love that style of Mediterranean food.
What are your plans for the near future?
It’s about us getting Carden Park known on a national level. People who know this hotel love it, but that’s restricted to the North West, so I want to push the boundaries out. The offer is as good as anywhere in the UK and our scores on Revinate are so good every month.
We’ve got two championship golf courses, a spa facility, a leisure centre, three restaurants, bars, 200 bedrooms and a huge conference facility, all delivering to a great standard. When you add in that all facilities are being refurbished it creates something really spectacular. Our ambition shows no bounds and I think we’re perfectly positioned to be the hotel of choice in the UK. My plans are to stay here. After all, why wouldn’t I want to be looking after a place like this?
Hospitality & Catering News, Interviews Editor