Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Tim and Kit Kemp, Firmdale Hotels

01 July 2011
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Tim and Kit Kemp, Firmdale Hotels

Overall ranking: 37 (ranked 28 in 2010)

Hotel ranking: 10 (ranked 8 in 2010)

Husband-and-wife team Tim and Kit Kemp are the co-founders of Firmdale Hotel group, which they started in 1985. It now comprises a collection of seven stylish boutique hotels all in London, bar the Crosby Street hotel in New York. As chairman, Tim's role is that of property developer and number cruncher, whilst Kit is the group's design director.

Tim and Kit Kemp - Career guide

The Kemps met while Kit was working in an architects' office in London. She and Tim, who had been working in the property sector, went on to develop a string of small hotels in west London offering student accommodation.

They launched Firmdale hotels in 1985 with the opening of the Dorset Square hotel. Two of the group's London hotels - Number 16 in South Kensington and the Knightsbridge hotel - are chic B&Bs, while the remaining properties all have in-house destination restaurants or bars. Three of the properties also include state-of-the-art cinemas.

A self-taught designer, Kit rebuilds and designs the properties from scratch. This evolved through practical as well as artistic necessity, as the properties include a former hospital, a multi-storey car park and a dental warehouse.

The UK portfolio comprises The Soho Hotel, Charlotte Street Hotel, Covent Garden Hotel and Haymarket Hotel, the Knightsbridge Hotel and Number Sixteen - all in central London.

In May this year, the Kemps bought back their inaugural property, the Dorset Square hotel, which had fallen into administration after they sold it eight years ago. The 37-room hotel is due to reopen at the end of the year having undergone an extensive refurbishment. The group is also working on a second New York property as well as developing its next London hotel - a 90-bedroom hotel with restaurant, bar, cinema and bowling alley for 2013, at Ham Yard in Soho.

Over the years the group has won a plethora of awards. The Soho Hotel won the Group Hotel of the Year accolade at the 2006 Cateys. More recent recognition includes the Queen's Award in 2009 for international trade (also in 2000 and 2006) and the Excellence in Customer Service accolade at the Hotel Excellence Awards 2010.

Separately, Kit has won the Andrew Martin International Interior Designer of the Year award in 2008 and the House & Garden (UK) Pineapple Award for Hotel Designer of the Year 2008, while the group's Haymarket hotel received the Crown Estate's Urban Business Award 2007 and the prize for Best Interior Design Lobby at the European Hotel Design Awards 2007. In 2010 New York's Crosby Street hotel was listed as one of the best new or newly revamped business hotels in the world by Wallpaper and Fortune magazines.

The group employs nearly 800 staff and made a profit of £12.9m and turnover of £69.5m for the year to January 2011 (up from profit of £11m on a turnover of £54.1m the previous year).

Time and Kit Kemp - What we think

Firmdale hotels redefined the luxury boutique hotel genre from its inception and continues to do so, but now it's doing it in the Big Apple too.

The group's winning streak seems to run and run. Kit's style has evolved from the grand country house hotel style of her original Dorset Square design to the chic decor of the group's latest properties in London and the Crosby Street hotel in New York.

The Kemps have no plans to slow down either, as well as a further hotel planned for London's Soho, they admit "several further hotels are planned for New York."

The Kemps are fiercely independent and have always followed their own belief in their vision, even when others failed to get it. Initially this was the bankers - the Kemps were turned down by 14 banks before they secured the funding for their first hotel.

But the concept has proved enduring and a hit with customers as well as inspiring a wave of other boutique-style hotels. Firmdale hotels run at near 100% occupancy all year round and the Kemps have been awarded countless accolades for their achievements. The group has also become a leading promoter of women in the industry, with all bar two of its GM positions held by females.

In April the company appointed two non-executive directors - Christopher Brotchie, former chief executive of Barings Private Equity Partners and solicitor John Gray - which prompted speculation that the group may float, although to date, this has been denied.

The Kemps were listed at no 359 on the 2011 Sunday Times Rich List this year with a fortune of £194m, up £34m on the previous year.

Tim and Kit Kemp's ranking in the 2010 100 >>

Hoteliers dominate hospitality Rich List >>

Firmdale buy back Dorset Square hotel >>

Hotels group Firmdale Holdings bolsters board, fuelling float speculation >>

Two UK hotels make shortlist of world's top business hotels >>" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Firmdale website >>

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