Bernard Murphy was appointed Managing Director of The Gleneagles Hotel in January 2015, after seven years as General Manager, and is responsible for developing the hotel’s international reputation as one of the world’s leading leisure and business destinations.
Bernard’s experience and interest in hospitality started in London in the early nineties, when he worked for The Churchill Inter-Continental Hotel, as Front Desk Manager, and then moved on to The Britannia Inter-Continental Hotel in London, as Assistant Front Office Manager.
Tell us your reasoning for The Gleneagles Collection.
Our roots are in the 1920s – we were originally a railway hotel – and this is something we were reflecting on last year when we celebrated our 90th anniversary. We commissioned renowned photographer Jason Bell to come up with some really eye-catching brand advertising, and one of the stand-out images was a very chic Georgian lady alighting at Gleneagles station, surrounded by piles of luggage. That planted the seed. We knew there was an appetite among our guests for Gleneagles branded keepsakes that they could take with them as a memento of their stay – we have a high level of repeat business, families who return to us year after year, and people staying for special occasions, and these guests have a genuine emotional connection with the hotel. Luggage seemed like a perfect fit, so they could have a little piece of Gleneagles with them wherever they travel.
How does The Gleneagles Collection fit into the overall brand of Gleneagles hotel?
Like Gleneagles itself, the pieces in the Collection are classic, timeless and represent a real attention to detail. They are designed to be timeless, and the leather will only look better with age. You will see the familiar Gleneagles ‘crackle’ used throughout the Collection, a design element which is woven into the fabric of Gleneagles – from the porte-cochère at the main entrance, to the lighting features, to the soft furnishings in our bedrooms.
How did you get into the hospitality industry?
My career in hospitality started in London in the early nineties when, after gaining a BA in Hotel and Catering Management, I landed a job at The Churchill Inter-Continental Hotel, as a Front of House Duty Manager.
I first joined the team at Gleneagles in 1995 and held various managerial positions from Front of House Manager, to Operations Development Manager, Operations Manager and Hotel/Resident Manager, where I was responsible for ensuring the standard of service and profit performance across the hotel, as well as managing refurbishment and renovation contracts.
After a spell at The Royal Bank of Scotland and then Compass Group, the world leading food and support service company, I returned to Gleneagles in 2007 as General Manager and was promoted to Managing Director in 2014.
Tell us about Gleneagles. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the hotel?
The Gleneagles Hotel story actually begins in the year 1910, when a senior Scottish railway executive named Donald A Matheson spent a memorable holiday in the tree-studded river valley known as Strathearn. He went home with an inspiration: the creation of ‘a Georgian Hotel or country house, built in the style of a palace, to attract and cater for the British travelling class’– placed in the seclusion of the Strathearn pinewoods, surrounded by the flowering wilderness of heather and gorse that is typical Scottish moor.
Gleneagles finally opened its doors on 6 June 1924, and was soon feted as one of the world’s leading luxury hotels. Hailed as ‘The Palace in the Glens’ and ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’, Gleneagles quickly became an established part of the ‘society’ calendar, alongside yachting at Cowes and polo at Deauville.
90 years later, the world is a very different place but the vision of Gleneagles remains quintessentially the same, to create experiences and memories that will last a lifetime for our guests through exceptional service.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Multigenerational travel continues to be a huge growth area for us, and we’re delighted to see more and more families visiting Gleneagles, sometimes three or four generations at a time! We like to think we have something to keep every member of the family happy – from aged 2 to 92, and over the past 10-15 years, we have continually added to the range of activities available at the resort – from horse-riding, to falconry, to archery, to off-road driving, and an amazing Spa by ESPA. Guests want experiences and to learn new things in their leisure time, not just the absence of work. We also see far greater interest in food and drink over recent years. It is a key determinant in guests selection of hotels now; far more than was the case historically.
Your greatest success as Managing Director of Gleneagles?
Without question, The Ryder Cup was something very special to be involved with for everyone at Gleneagles, and to have it described as ‘the best ever’ by commentators like Butch Harmon was a source of immense pride. More generally, our success can be measured by the number of our guests that return time after time and by the quality of members of staff that we are able to attract, retain and develop.
Your advice to an aspiring hotelier?
You’ll need a lot of energy. There are no shortcuts and the more of yourself you’re prepared to put into your roles the further it will take you. In this business endeavour is as important as formal qualifications and experience.
Describe the ideal experience at Gleneagles.
There are so many experiences to choose from so that’s quite a difficult question! Perhaps learning to fly a Harris Hawk from your gloved hand for the first time, enjoying an eight course degustation menu in Andrew Fairlie (Scotland’s only two Michelin-starred restaurant) or else playing golf on the PGA Centenary Course on a summer’s afternoon, where Europe and the US did battle in September 2014.
How important are architecture/design to the success of Gleneagles?
The architecture of the building is hugely important, as our 1920s heritage is something that’s really appealing to guests. We are very lucky to be custodians of a beautiful building, designed in the style of a French chateau, and very picturesque 850 acre estate. When you walk through the hotel, especially in areas like The Bar and The Ballroom, elements of Art Deco design are everywhere, and it’s important to us to retain the original character of the hotel. At the same time, we have to keep things fresh and be able to deliver new experiences to our guests. For example, in the past few years we have invested heavily in various refurbishment projects, including a $7million upgrade to our leisure club and the creation of a new al fresco whisky and cigar bar with a central firepit and heated sofas, The Blue Bar.
How do you motivate your employees?
By taking a genuine interest in them and the work they are doing. Spending time with them and thanking them for what they add to the guest experience and constantly reinforcing how important that is. And …by listening.
What literature is on your bed stand?
When the money runs out by Stephen D King
5 Star Service by Michael Heppell
What's next for Gleneagles?
We’ve just launched The Gleneagles Arena, a new 26,000 square ft events space which is also home to four indoor tennis courts. There’s already been a lot of interest in holding all kinds of events there – from conferences, to car launches, to celebrity exhibition matches – so that’s a very exciting new development.