Overall ranking: 23 (new entry)
Hotelier ranking: 3 (new entry)
As chairman, Robin Sheppard has grown Bespoke Hotels, alongside chief executive Haydn Fentum, into one of the largest privately owned hotel groups in the UK. The business was launched in 2001 to manage and inject value into the often overlooked regional mid-market hotel sector. Today, Bespoke has burgeoned into a business that, while predominately focused on UK hotel management (with such stellar properties as the five-red-AA-star, 80-bedroom Chester Grosvenor), is represented in 18 countries, with hotels as far-flung as Barbados, Ukraine and Australia. In total, the company represents more than 200 hotels, with 9,000 employees and £1.5b worth of assets under management or marketing agreements. Recently, Bespoke has taken a financial stake in a small number of properties, including one of its most high profile to date, the 60-bedroom Hotel Gotham in Manchester, which it operates under a 30-year lease with building company Marshall CDP.
What we think
A determined entrepreneurial streak has ensured success for Sheppard through the four decades he has worked in the hospitality industry. At the same time, he is one of the most engaging of hoteliers, who has said the most irritating thing about the industry is "hotels that take themselves more seriously than their customers".
After studying hotel administration, Sheppard entered the industry at the Adelphi in Liverpool, then part of British Transport Hotels, before working up to his first general manager role, at the age of 27, at Bodysgallen hotel, Llandudno, Wales. Other hotels he went on to manage included the Lygon Arms in Broadway, Worcestershire, the Royal Berkshire in Ascot, Berkshire, and the Bath Spa in Bath.
It hasn't all been roses. In the early years of building the business, Sheppard was struck down with an illness which at one point left him paralysed. He was found to be suffering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, which forced him to relearn how to sit, stand and walk, and has left him without a sense of smell or feeling in his fingertips and toes.
Despite a two-year recovery period, Sheppard was determined to continue working in the industry that continues to inspire him. Indeed, it has led him to campaign on behalf of disabled guests, who he believes are often treated like second-class citizens by hotels.
To encourage a more "joyful experience" for disabled guests, with the focus on enjoyment rather than rules and regulations, he launched the Bespoke Access Awards in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects. The first set of awards, with prize money totaling £30,000, was held in 2016; the winners of the second awards were announced this April.
It is no surprise then that the government's Office for Disability Issues appointed Sheppard, winner of the Outstanding Contribution award at the 2016 Cateys, as a hotel sector champion last year.
Meanwhile, Bespoke continues to grow its management contracts and acquire further properties, including a minority stake in boutique serviced apartment operator Stayling Cool, which is set to open a site in Manchester later this year. It has also invested £3m in the 57-bedroom White Horse hotel in Dorking, Surrey, after acquiring it last year from US private equity company Lone Star.
Hotel Gotham is to be rolled out as a brand, with three sites under contract and openings scheduled for 2019. Also due next year is the launch of Hotel Brooklyn in Manchester.
Now in his seventh decade, there is absolutely no sign that Sheppard intends to slow down any time soon.
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