Hastings Ballygally Castle
A good sense of humour helps Norman McBride to cope with the different daily challenges of being the general manager in a busy hotel
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
I have been in the hospitality business for nearly 40 years. I started as an apprentice barman at 16-years-old in the Quarry Inn and since then I have worked in every hotel department.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I wasn’t fond of studying, but my geography teacher said I should become a comedian. I think my sense of humour has been a great asset throughout my career.
Did you go on to further/ higher education, if so what did you study and where?
I studied at the college of Business Studies in the old Brunswick Street building, I have studied everything from basic bar service to Hotel Management.
How did you get into your area of work?
I was told about the apprentice job in the Quarry Inn by a friend’s dad and I thought it will do me for now — and here I am 40 years on.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do but once I started in the trade I knew that was it, I loved it so much.
Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
Back in the day, when I first started, just breathing and showing up were enough, but now there is a lot of expectation on new employees. It is very hard and demanding work and you must have a passion for the hospitality trade, and be prepared to work the hours it takes. Many who are career driven have now got excellent qualifications before they even come to us and at Hastings Hotels we train our staff on the job, encouraging them to become qualified for management roles.
Are there alternative routes into the job?
You can go down the university route and come in at mid-level, but you still need work experience. Our trainee manager scheme is excellent to find the best and most passionate people who want to rise to the top.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
A sense of humour, good communication skills excellent negotiation skills and sometimes a very thick skin.
What does a typical day entail?
It varies from day to day. No matter how much you plan your day you have to expect that anything can happen. First thing would be checking emails, a morning meeting with staff, then check business on the books for the day’s arrivals. Often I get a visit from one of the directors or head office team members and then they ask some quick fire questions which I must be ready for, be it about the week’s business or forward planning with sales and marketing. I also spend much of my time talking to guests that will include brides, journalists, tour operators, or other visitors and of course, training and keeping on top of my staff to ensure we give the best service possible. Everyone in this industry will tell you that no two days are the same.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The best part is working with a great team. The most challenging is managing customer expectation. I love it when customers show gratitude by way of a thank you, a positive TripAdvisor report or by recommending us to their friends.
Why is what you do important?
I manage the smallest (but I think the best) of the six Hastings Hotels so may be a small cog in a big wheel, but I am frequently in communication with my fellow GMs and my actions can impact on the whole group.
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
Be prepared to work hard and remember how important this industry is, never let anyone tell you otherwise. Everyone who uses a hotel thinks they are an expert, but believe me they have no idea about how diligent you have to be.
If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?
Recently I have thought it would be lovely to work on a desert island making sand, sculptures and drinking wine, but retirement isn’t for at least another 10 years so I am just dreaming.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
Remember to go home.
Describe your ideal day off.
Having a family BBQ with my wife, Sharon and my children, who are now pretty much grown up so it is always lovely to see them and I, like many others, enjoy a nice cold beer.
And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?
Look for a job you like, life is too short to be unhappy at work. As I have often heard quoted, ‘choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.’