4th June 2014

Our very own Joanne Taylor-Stagg, general manager of Crowne Plaza London Docklands, takes time out to tell us about her career in hospitality. Highlights include serving Nelson Mandela his first glass of Champagne after after he was elected President! Read on...

How did you find your way into the hospitality industry?
I was studying Law at university when I found my way into the industry originally. I was waitressing part time while studying and found I was enjoying working far more than studying. That was when I realised I'd made the wrong choice and decided to change things around. I applied for a management traineeship at the prestigious Carlton Hotel in South Africa and was one of only 5 candidates accepted.

Did anyone try to put you off?
Quite the opposite, when I told my grandmother what I planned to do she told me that it was fate and I was always meant to have a career in hospitality. She would tell me stories of how, unlike other small children, when I was four or five I would insist we have afternoon tea rather than playing with dolls.

What are you doing now and how did you get there?
I am now at the Crowne Plaza London Docklands as general manager. The hotel is part of the RBH management group and is a wonderful new challenge for me. Following my time at The Carlton Hotel in South Africa, I had the opportunity to come to the UK to set-up a small hotel with my former boss in The Cotswolds. I had planned to follow that with time backpacking and making my way back to South Africa but when I was offered a job at The Marriott in Swindon, I stayed with the company in various roles for 13 years.

Did you know right away this industry was for you?
Absolutely, from my first job as a waitress right the way throughout my career I've loved every part of it. We're given a very unique position in so many people's lives, whether it's making their wedding day special, celebrating a big business deal or making their holiday unique in some other way. There's no other industry like it.

What training opportunities have you been given?
I've had so many opportunities to expand my experience of the industry. Even now, I'm currently working towards an Executive Masters Degree in Hospitality and Tourism Leadership. I think the industry in general is fabulous at promoting inhouse training, it's unique in that someone can come into a role with no qualifications but if they have the right drive and determination they can work their way up.

Have you had a mentor along the way, either formally or informally?
I've had many informal mentors over the years, notably Gary Moran who I worked with in Leeds and Philip Newman-Hall at Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. As a general manager it's great to have someone you can bounce ideas off of and discuss things with.

What's the most inspiring/rewarding day you've had in your career?
There have been so many over the years but one of my most memorable moments was during my time in South Africa. I was lucky enough to serve Nelson Mandela his first glass of Champagne after he was elected President - I'll never forget that moment!

What do you love most about your job?
The most rewarding part of my role is helping create wonderful memories for guests over the years. I actually met someone recently, I had helped organise his wedding ten years ago and he still remembered me in a room full of people. It's those moments when you realise how much of an impact you can have on people's lives.

What do you hope to achieve in your career in the future?
I still have so many aspirations. I wanted to be in London for the Olympics - it was such a once in a lifetime opportunity so being appointed as GM at Docklands was fantastic. As for the future, I'd love, one day, to run one of the world's famous city centre hotels.

Who do you think is the best ambassador for the hospitality industry and why?
I always think Michel Roux Jr does a fantastic job of promoting the industry - both front and back of house. Chefs and food are very popular on TV but I always think Michel does well to show a real, rounded insight into the industry as a whole.

Do you think TV shows help or hinder when it comes to recruiting new young talent to the industry?
I do think TV can be helpful, shows like Masterchef and Michel Roux Jr's Service give people a unique and true-to-life idea of the industry and how hard it can be. Overall I also think these shows are useful for parents to see that the hospitality industry is a viable option for their children to build a good career in.

Would you recommend the industry to others?
I'm a huge champion for the industry. I always tell people how wonderful it is, I can't help myself.