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Steven Hesketh : Must-Have Skills for Entrepreneurs in 2024

Award-winning Business and Hospitality Expert, Steven Hesketh is the Founder The Hospitality Hero. Today, they share their tips on the must-have skills for entrepreneurs in 2024.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what got you into entrepreneurship?

Leaving school with very few qualifications, I always struggled academically and believe I had (and still have) dyslexia, which went undetected as I navigated the education system.

Embracing the hospitality industry, I built my career working in customer facing roles, hosting and welcoming guests, and organising social events and activities for them, as Activities Co-ordinator. This gave me so much knowledge and experience.

Five years after my first job in hospitality, I decided to return to England from Australia with three of my mates and I found myself working in corporate hospitality in Chester — a far cry from the holiday destination hospitality of the BBQ welcome parties on the Gold Coast, but I loved the atmosphere and buzz of things like Chester Races that brought people together from far and wide, and was hooked.

This is where I met my now wife of over 20 years. As I cut my teeth in the food and beverage industry, I went on to work across Industry for the next 17 years, working across Moat House Hotels, Macdonald Hotels, Jarvis Hotels, and BridgeStreet Serviced Apartments, undertaking many different roles and responsibilities.

I took on management training programmes to work up to the role of GM, whilst also experiencing hands on roles in the restaurants and bar areas too and I was also developed to upskill on the sales side of the industry, something I highly valued — until you go into that mode, you don’t really understand costs, you don’t really understand almost why you’re there. You just think you’ve just got to give the customers a good time, you don’t understand that it’s a business.

I have owned and run hotels for the past 30 years in the hospitality industry, I have also run/worked within restaurants, leisure clubs, student accommodation, serviced apartments and retail outlets.

I am passionate about delivering 21st Century Hospitality. I am known as ‘The Hospitality Hero’. I’m still a multi-Hotel Owner, Chair of Chester Hospitality Association and Vice-Chair of Liverpool Hospitality (Association), as well as a Committee Member for UK Hospitality (Northern Region).

I’m a man on a mission to revive the hospitality industry, with people, place and perception in mind. A big task…so what exactly is the plan? I am putting my heart, soul and cash into supporting an industry that I have been a part of for 30 years — one I am willing to disrupt as I fear it won’t have a sustainable future if things don’t change — I am committing to being a leader of change. Driven by my belief that evolution and history must unite to ensure the industry has a strong and sustainable future, I am facilitating industry events, collaborations and conversations, as well as developing training and offering consultancy support — to proactively encourage growth — growth of the industry as a whole, and growth of the people working within it, supporting and training hospitality leaders globally.

What are the top three skills you think are crucial for entrepreneurs today?

Be Inquisitive and Bold - As I was learning and progressing my career, I was confident and never afraid to ask questions, or to be bold… this is what stood out to my first UK GM, Mark Fuller, he believed in me and wasn’t put off by my questioning, he saw potential and put me on an in-house management program. He genuinely saw I was keen to please the customer and work with my teammates in a positive and fun manner. I also had two other GM’s in my career Carole Smith & Fiona Lockyer — both individuals pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to network and grow my connections, a huge valuable lesson.

Have your finger on the pulse… - You need to know what is trending and what is being talked about. Ensure you have Daily Online Information Drops — for me personally, what’s taken me from zero to hero, are my daily information drops about the industry. These are absolute gold dust for you, understanding and educating yourself on what’s going on in your industry day in, day out. These usually just give a quick flavour of Industry, but vitally it gives you knowledge to network. From when you wake up, these give you a great picture of what’s going on in industry. Who are the movers and shakers? What are the current challenges? What are the current opportunities that you can tap into? What’s hot and what’s not?

Be Disruptive - Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo or the norms! Disruption in the hospitality industry is needed, but it needs to be done for positive outcomes, so that it brings about the much-needed changes, innovation, and improvement. For example; we need to disrupt by fostering a culture of continuous improvement, addressing staff issues and shortages and bridging generational gaps… Disruption can be negative when it leads to instability, alienates people or fails to address essential industry challenges. For example, sudden and poorly executed changes to established service models or drastic cost-cutting measures that compromise the quality of guest experiences can be detrimental. In the current challenging landscape, it’s crucial to balance the need for disruption and transformation with the preservation of the core values and experiences that define hospitality.

How do you think the role of technology has impacted these skills in recent years?

With regards to having your finger on the pulse of your industry - technology has allowed us to have this information quickly in the palm of our hands and many industries and associations also streamline this information for us so it’s easily accessible and digestible.

Being disruptive in a good way - a force for good - is also easier due to technology, we can all have a voice on social media platforms and add our voice to conversations already happening globally. I personally use LinkedIn a lot for this, to expand my network and mission

Could you share a story with us about how you used some of these skills to overcome a challenge in your journey?

When I first became an entrepreneur, it wasn’t long afterwards that everything came crashing down. I lost 4 restaurants and our family home, which was used as a personal guarantee, as the business went bust. This was due to trusting in someone and trying to grow to fast and ultimately feeling a little invisible (age & experience is so underrated). I did manage to hold onto my three hotels, and within a couple of years I had rebuilt our life back up.

I was flambéed, burnt to a high level, but the flambéing process only added to my experience, giving me even more flavour!

I learned the hard way. We overstretched and we didn’t manage cash flow, and I took my eye off the numbers, believing someone else was in control of them. I was oblivious to it, because I’d long stopped looking at the bank account as I was too wrapped up in the operations and growth and had trusted in the wrong people. That was a sharp learning curve. I had to dig deep, I needed to be bold. I also needed my network around me to remind me of what I can do, what I have done and what I am capable of in the future.

In your opinion, how important is it for entrepreneurs to adapt to changing trends and what do you see as the biggest trend in 2024?

As I mentioned above, I feel it’s crucial as entrepreneurs that we have our finger on the pulse and are willing to adapt and change when needed.

We live in a fast-paced society where lots has changed and continues to change. And, in my field in particular, I feel we need to be adaptable in order for the hospitality industry to survive and thrive.

A trend I think many of us business leading entrepreneurs will see is a shift from managing to leading. Especially in the hospitality industry, many hospitality entrepreneurs have a tendency to run around like headless chickens, or certainly that’s how it feels, we really don’t take the time to understand the difference between managing our operation and leading our operation. Many of us need to go from managing to leading.

A favourite quote of mine is from Karren Brady — Baroness Brady, CBE — who is a British business executive and television personality, seen on the UK version of The Apprentice. Karren said: “We should never confuse leadership with management. Management is about setting a series of goals and managing the people to deliver them. It’s very very very important but it’s not leadership. Leadership is about vision and sometimes that’s a vision only you can see but your art as a leader is to persuade people to believe in your vision and help you deliver it.”

What a fantastic quote and I think that’s so true! When you’re opening your venue, when you are running your department… there is a significant difference between running the day-to-day and actually leading and getting your team to deliver this for you.

This is quote spoke volumes to me, it’s a reminder to regularly check in and take the time to focus on your product, team, venue, recruitment and business — to lead and develop, don’t just be a manager!

What's one common mistake you often see new entrepreneurs make, and how can they avoid it?

Working in silo!

We get so busy doing the doing and stuck in our little circle, that we forget to look beyond or ask for help.

I am looking to create a global community of Hospitality Heroes — professionals who are ready and eager to fight for the industry to be its very best. For me, one of the best tactics I’ve done in all my career is, I’ve got involved in the local associations and community projects.

What are the local Associations, Chamber of Commerce, Business Groups, what are the wider Regional Associations… potentially… Where should you be seen? Where do you stand in your local community and where are your connections with local council and wider stakeholders?

These will be crucial to how you grow and how you’re perceived as a business owner in your neck of the woods.

If there isn’t any local groups or networks… Why not look to start one yourself? When I couldn’t find anything, I started my own hospitality association. And that was as simple as door knocking on my competitors and my neighbours and saying, We’ve got some challenges in our city — shall we face them together? It’s been priceless. It puts you on the map. It really does set you up as a leader and shows that you want to engage and collaborate with others for the better good of the region, the business and those businesses around you.

You can also show up online and join online networks and forums. This is a key opportunity to show you as an individual leader, separate from your business. Follow and support as many in Industry as you can, join some of the groups and be active. Prove your Industry contribution, let people know you’re out and about, talk about your successes and celebration of all things Hospitality.

Ask questions, ask for support…something that has been absolutely crucial for me is LinkedIn specifically. You can get yourself involved with so many groups and connect. And the great thing about them is they are global. That really gives you a full global picture.

How do you keep learning and growing as an entrepreneur?

I love learning and continuing to find out about new trends, products and training.

I love learning from those around me.

I am a self-aware leader and therefore aware of my weaknesses and continue to try and develop these areas.

I also ask for feedback from my staff and customers regularly.

A course I did a couple of years back was a practice in personnel certificate, which is a small part of the wider CIPD qualification. I didn't fancy doing four years of university to become a HR professional. But, what I did want to do is really improve on my delivery of one to ones and reviews. So, this was a great small course that I did over a couple of weeks on an evening, to really strengthen my understanding of reviews and personal developments.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting their entrepreneurial journey in 2024?

I believe every business owner should commit to high standards of hospitality, no matter what industry you work in.

For me hospitality is at the heart of community - and I truly believe hospitality can change the world. Whatever line of business you’re in, putting hospitality and its values at the core will stand you in good stead.

I believe hospitality = humanity. It’s the same thing….and it’s the only thing that’s going to fix this world. The art of hospitality is the heart of hospitality. Being hospitable is being human. If we can educate ourselves on being human again the world can be a different place. Let’s remember what hospitality is all about. It’s about being human and being kind to each other.

Too often when we get wrapped up in the day to day of running a business we can lose sight of this simple thing, and as stress mounts around finances and logistics the focus goes elsewhere -but if we can always bring it back to people, we will be building a business which people love -and which is delivering true value. This breeds loyalty, and satisfaction from both customers and staff alike, and you’re onto a winner.

Honing the skills needed in hospitality is also a truly valuable exercise for team members in other industries. Being a customer-centric business requires leadership, creativity, strong communication and interpersonal skills, teamwork, and solid business processes to help you over-deliver. Some of the most famous entrepreneurs started their careers in hospitality. It’s such a strong foundation for developing strong work ethics, understanding the importance of the customer experience - and people being your priority.


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