James Hiley-Jones has been the general manager of the Montagu Arms hotel in Beaulieu, Hampshire, since 2001.
After studying for a three-year HND at Highbury College in Portsmouth, he rose rapidly through the ranks, landing his first general management role in less than 10 years. Despite this impressive rise to the top, Hiley-Jones is keen to avoid becoming complacent.
"One of my biggest challenges is to walk into the hotel each day with a fresh set of eyes. It becomes harder to do so the longer you're in the one place, but it's the only way you'll pick up on problem areas," he says.
Hiley-Jones believes the secret of being a successful hotel manager is attention to detail, and the award of a third AA red star during his tenure at the 23-bedroom property suggests he's right.
His career started in earnest in 1996 when he became deputy manager at four-star hotel Ston Easton Park in Bath. After a year he moved to the bigger, luxurious Bath Spa hotel, where he picked up useful knowledge on room rates and yield management as well as the running of a large food and beverage operation, first as operations manager and then as hotel manager.
Hiley-Jones then became resident manager of the Athenaeum hotel in London during 2000, a five-red-star hotel with more than 150 rooms and apartments. It's a route he recommends to aspiring general managers, adding that networking remains an important career aid for those keen to progress.
"I think it's good to take your first general management role at a smaller property where you can be hands-on and refine your skills," says Hiley-Jones. "But on my way here I have definitely benefited from working at big hotels for the larger groups as it gives you such a good grounding in the skills you need to do a good job."
For those considering striking out to become general managers because of a preconceived romantic ideal, Hiley-Jones does have a few words of warning. "The role of general manager has changed dramatically over the years. These days you have to be financially aware, and I spend much of my working day marketing the hotel and responding to correspondence. Strategising also takes up a lot of time."
Deputy manager, Ston Easton Park
Operations manager, Bath Spa
2000 Resident manager, Athenaeum
2001 First general management role at Montagu Arms