Michael Shepherd

General Manager, Hilton Park Lane

Having passion is fundamental and a requirement for everything you do. In hospitality, people who are successful definitely have a passion for their particular role.

In our business, the devil is in the detail. Checking the detail is important, but don’t do it all yourself, otherwise you will also lose your focus on the big picture.

You should never underestimate your clients. When a customer checks in to your hotel, there are a 100 things that can go wrong within the first five or 10 minutes. The client will have drawn a conclusion about how good their experience is going to be on the service they receive in the first 10 minutes.

I meet every member of staff who works in this hotel on the first day or before they start. Whoever they are, their job is vital to the success of this organisation, and if they don’t do a good job, we all fail.

You’re only as good as your weakest link, so if a link is broken, the guest is likely to have had a bad experience at some point. If the guest has a bad experience, everyone suffers and everybody fails.

I have been in the hotel business for 30 years. I’m a graduate of Surrey University and I’m also on its advisory board, so I still have an affiliation with the school of business management there.

I graduated in 1976 and after having done training and work experience at The Connaught, my first job was to join this hotel on the front desk. I was promoted very rapidly to front-office manager.

Within two years I was offered a job in Lesotho where I was second in charge of a new Hilton hotel at the tender age of 25. That was a big responsibility for a young guy. I believe I got the job because no-one else wanted to go. It prompted me to get married because I was afraid of leaving without anybody.

Lowdown on Michael Shepherd

AGE: 53

LIVES: family house in Winchmore Hill, London

STATUS: married to Sian and has three children

DRIVES: Volvo X690. It’s a large, bulky, steamroller that accommodates all the children’s things

FAVOURITE FILM: Gosford Park or Pirates of the Caribbean

FAVOURITE BOOK: anything by Tom Peters or John le Carré

INTERESTS: sailing, skiing, keeping fit

LAST HOLIDAY: sailing around Corsica, Sardinia and the west coast of Italy

We opened one month before a ‘small’ competitor called Sun City. So after three years, we were struggling and sold out for more money than we made operating the property.

I was managing director at The Savoy for six years during a time of great change. The hotel moved forward significantly from being an old-fashioned organisation to a property suitable for the 21st century.

At that time I had a call from David Michels, the chief executive of the Hilton Group. He asked if I was offered a job at Hilton, whether there was any reason I would not take it and that brought me back here.

The Hilton Park Lane is amazingly iconic, it was built in the 1960s when we had the Beatles and Carnaby Street, flowers in your hair, cannabis, free love and all of that stuff.

It was a remarkable icon because architecturally it was unique and it was one of the first US-managed properties in the country, which was quite controversial for the conservative hotel environment. It was about razzmatazz, celebration, about going out and being somewhere.

It is a stimulating business to run because it has the broadest cross-section of market segmentation of any other hotel in London. We accommodate heads of state, high-rolling businessmen, regular chief executives, groups of certain volumes, banquets and honeymooners.

Commercially it’s about ‘mousetraps’. It’s about creating places where people want to be, small little destinations, which are varied and people will come back and enjoy. That requires me to be forward thinking, to know what’s going on in the outside world, to keep up to date with fashions and trends and understand what influences people.

It helps having children. I have a family who are probably my most severe critics, so if things aren’t right, they will tell me.

Guests are more discerning these days, and they expect more. Every year that goes by, you have to deliver more because if you don’t, you are going backwards. We are constantly stretching the limits of what we can do.

I have always owned Volvos but there was a time when my children persuaded me to buy a car with more performance so I got a Jaguar. I loved driving it, but it was totally impractical. I had to borrow a car to take the children back to school.

As a family we enjoy a healthy lifestyle, exercising, jogging, sport and tennis, but our main family activity is sailing. In the summer for the past 10 years, we have chartered a yacht and sailed around various places in the Mediterranean.

Over the years, the yachts seemed to get larger. My wife likes to have her own cabin with a hairdryer so they have become even more expensive. I would only be disappointed if I was to buy my own boat because I wouldn’t be able to afford what I want.

My brother also sails, he races for Great Britain. I used to crew for him but I’m too old now. He doesn’t have anyone older than 24 in his crew.

Every day I pinch myself because I feel like the luckiest guy on earth. This is a great business to be in – it’s exciting, challenging and rewarding.

Over my career, I’ve had about 15 different jobs and every one has been my dream job. The day I wake up and say I’m no longer in my dream job I don’t think I’ll be looking for another one.