Conor Kenny


Published by OAK TREE PRESS
Cork, Ireland /

© 2016 Conor Kenny

A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978 1 78119 208 5

All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording or electronically without written permission of the publisher. Such written permission also must be obtained before any part of this publication is stored in a retrieval system of any nature. Requests for permission should be directed to Oak Tree Press,





Kiaran MacDonald

Philippe Leboeuf

Nathalie Seiler-Hayez

Michael Davern

Bernard Murphy

Greg Liddell

Luc Delafosse


The Author


Behind every book there’s a story and behind every story, a person. This is a book about people and it wouldn’t have happened without the extraordinary help of a few good men and women.

My gratitude goes out to:


For my family,
and for hotel professionals the world over.


Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.
Conrad Hilton

The purpose of this book is threefold. First, it is for hoteliers who want to learn from the best. Second, it is for those thinking of becoming hoteliers and finally, it is for those who are curious about the men and women who run some of the world’s finest hotels.

It is the first time, ever, that a book like this has been written.

Each conversation took place in the hotel run by the hotelier and lasted around three hours. Every hotelier was asked the same series of questions and has seen their chapter in advance. They made few, if any, changes. These are their words, their way.

The hoteliers here run, and have run, the some of best-known hotels in the world – from the Far East, across Europe and to the West Coast of America and from the Hotel Burj Al Arab in Dubai to The Savoy, London and The Waldorf Astoria, Beverly Hills. They have greeted the most famous faces on earth, hosted kings, queens and presidents and provided for the needs of the most powerful people on the planet.

Their stories are remarkable, funny, inspiring and, most of all, human. They have witnessed the extremes of humanity from 9/11 to riots and from excess to poverty.

Every story and every journey to the top has been entirely different. There is no right way. There are some constants, but it would dilute the book to cluster their stories into a scientific analysis. It is up to the reader to glean the lessons they can relate to.

As well as being high-achieving and world-leading hoteliers, it is obvious that these hoteliers are also charismatic leaders. But it’s interesting that none of them used that word or saw themselves as charismatic, preferring to anchor their own high achievement in a sense of ‘here to serve’.

Nonetheless, the hoteliers are charismatic; they have to be. They must combine the confidence to meet heads of state with the discipline to trawl through dull backroom essentials. They must lead, but must remain in the background. They must master a multitude of skills from service to finance, design to architecture and food to bedrooms, strategy to technology. On top of all that, they must motivate their troops daily and cope with the inevitability of human error, collapsing plans, changing circumstances and global events. These leading hoteliers have done all that and more. They are at the very top of their chosen Everest and that, in itself, is why they are special people worth listening to.

For me, it has been a wonderful journey where I have had access and the trust of the best of the best. As well as that, I have had the joy of building new relationships and learning from the world’s finest, not to mention visiting the most luxurious hotels along the way. It has been fun, interesting and at times, mesmerising. Then again, hotels have always interested me, let me tell you why.


I was lucky to have a childhood where my mother and father understood the educational value of travel and of family, also recurring themes in each hotelier’s story. From an early age, I was travelling and it was always an adventure.

I must have been around seven or eight years old. My Dad, my brother, Dermot, and I were off to Derry in Northern Ireland. Business had taken us there.

At that age, staying in a hotel was very exciting. Lifts were a playground and the endless corridors were a real-life maze. Naturally, to the distress of sleeping guests, we ran everywhere, impatient to discover what lay beyond. Eventually, exhaustion and hunger forced us back to our third-floor perch. Together in the small twin-bedded room, separated by the obligatory mahogany bedside locker, we wondered how to drain the last of our adrenalin? Dad was immersed in meetings elsewhere. We had to do something.

In those days, telephones were like priceless Ming china; you daren’t touch them. But hunger and a sense of adventure were potent and intoxicating chemicals for two young boys. We stared at the huge white ceramic telephone and tested our little fingers into the big rhythmic dial. Imagining electric shocks, we’d beat a retreat only to summon up the courage and go again. Eventually, we lifted the phone, giggling nervously, our little hearts racing.

To our astonishment, a voice boomed down the line, “Can I help you?”. We looked at one another, mouths open, lost for words. But, it was an opportunity, an adventure. We’d gone this far. “Can we have two chicken sandwiches please?” Now we were in such deep water nothing else mattered. “Anything else?” came the anonymous voice. Our horizons had already been stretched, “Could we have two Coca Colas as well, please?”.

We lay on our beds exhausted from the stress of it all. What had we done? What trouble awaited us? We concluded we were doomed.

A loud confident knock came from the door. We froze. Nervously, four young eyes peered through the gap in the door at the man in the white jacket, his gleaming trolley matching his brilliant white smile. Theatrically, he wheeled in the finest trolley we had ever seen. He even called us “Mr. Kenny”. With ceremony and style, he poured the drinks and uncovered the chicken sandwiches from the polished dishes. We were hypnotised. He left and we fell in to the role of two dandies enjoying their supper.

Still laughing at our crime, reality started to bite. Who would pay for this? No money had changed hands. Oh my, we were in big trouble.

Just then, with the remnants of the delicious treats still visible, Dad came to the door. Before him, his two young sons sat surrounded by white linen, fine cutlery, crystal glass and uneaten crusts. He paused, took it all in and burst out laughing. Confused, we laughed too – and then both of us got sick. Our first step into hotels had been all too much.


The men and women who run hotels are truly amazing. They are at the front line of emotions and egos, as well as running a business. Unlike many predictable industries, 24 hours in any hotel sees substantial change. That change must be managed and responded to instantly. Some years ago, I wrote this to explain its unique characteristics.

A hotel is like a theatre. Every night when the lights go down, the show is over – another day is done. The next day, no matter what has gone before it, the show will have a new audience, often a first-time audience, and today’s show must, at the very least, be better than the day before. The actors who will deliver the show are your people. If you do not motivate them, inspire them and invest in them, you will have an average show and average is not the same as memorable. After all, what is the point of a beautiful comfortable cosy theatre with great sets, great seats and great lighting if the guys on stage have no idea what they are doing? The beautiful posters will soon be poisoned by the critics’ pen. The hotelier’s job is to keep the actors acting and the audience smiling. It’s that simple.

Every time you enjoy the serenity, space, comfort and service of a great hotel, think of the gifted artist, brilliant surgeon, professional sportsperson or enigmatic musician. In common with great hoteliers, they rarely seek the limelight or praise. Instead, they get on with it quietly; they make it look easy. After all, isn’t that the art and craft of all successful people, including these high-achieving hoteliers?

Conor Kenny

Dublin, Ireland