Pathways: Mary Jane Flanagan, founder of MJ Inspire, on her journey through hospitality
The founder of recruitment company MJ Inspire has reinvented herself throughout her career, going from wine buyer to general manager to hospitality trainer. She speaks to Lisa Jenkins
Did you study a hospitality course at school or college?
I did a hotel management HND at Huddersfield Polytechnic.
Did you do an apprenticeship in hospitality?
No, but I am a fierce supporter of them and would recommend them to anyone entering the industry.
Did you do any work experience in the industry?
At 15, I spent a week working at the Metropole in Brighton – it seemed so glamorous at the time. It was only once I saw behind the scenes that I could appreciate the passion, commitment and teamwork it took to provide magical experiences. I was hooked!
What was your first hospitality job?
I grew up in a guesthouse in Hove and started waitressing in a seafront restaurant from the age of 15. Starting at such a young age helped build my confidence and ability to deal with people, which has stayed with me.
What initially attracted you to working in hospitality?
I believe that for many in hospitality our desire to look after people is in our soul, and that's the same with me. It's the only thing I ever wanted to do.
Were there any influences, influencers or experiences that encouraged you the take the route you have taken?
My career has progressed through a combination of choosing roles to develop the skills I knew were missing or being head-hunted, which is a lesson for everyone… be the best you can be.
What networks have supported you in your career progression?
I am a member of the Institute of Hospitality and a fellow of the Institute of Training and Occupational Learning.
Have you embarked on any additional career development?
I have a Level 3 award from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust as well as various leadership and training qualifications. After studying with the Open University at night school I graduated with a BSc Hons in psychology, which has helped me transition into consultancy and training.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced?
Twice companies I worked for were bought out, leading to redundancy, but I used it as a positive. I travelled and took my Level 3 WSET. I would urge anyone who has been made redundant to pick yourself up, train and apply for new roles. Things will get better, and you will go on to thrive.
The hardest challenge has been working for those managers who don't value their teams and were demotivating, which is why I am so passionate about developing the leadership capability of managers.
Do you have any regrets or things you wish you'd done differently?
My only regret is that I didn't travel enough in my early career. Having said that, I now travel the globe as a management consultant and speaker. I never lose the excitement of visiting a new country, staying in a hotel, tasting the food, and learning about the people and culture.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Ask questions, be open to feedback. Be prepared to get stuck in, volunteer for projects and get noticed.
What are your career goals?
I moved out of operations into training in 2002 and have been running my own consultancy since 2016. Luckily, business has recovered from the pandemic and I have just been made a non-exec director of Ward Security, a truly honourable security business that values its people and clients alike.
Would you recommend a career in hospitality to your friends and family?
Definitely, no matter where your talent lies there is a role to fit you. You'll make friends for life, learn so many skills and have great fun.
Who inspires you in the industry?
Harry Murray never fails to inspire me. He is so relevant and forward-thinking as well as being a true gentleman. He is pure class.
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