Robert McHugh catches up with Nicky Logue, general manager at InterContinental Dublin, ‘the capital’s only true five-star urban resort.’
It is fair to say that InterContinental Dublin is one of the most impressive hotels in Europe. Despite it being a damp Tuesday afternoon, the hotel lobby is bustling with activity when I arrive.
A prominent businessman – well known in media circles – walks past me as I wait at reception. Tourists and business people are enjoying lunch in the Lobby Lounge, a newly refurbished area that looks out onto the garden terrace. Plush armchairs and a grand piano in the corner add to the luxurious ambience.
InterContinental Dublin is located on two acres of gardens in one of Dublin’s most affluent neighbourhoods, Ballsbridge. The hotel has won numerous awards in recent years, from Forbes Travel Guide, Condé Nast Traveller and the National Hospitality Awards to two rosettes from AA Hospitality.
Nicky Logue became general manager at InterContinental Dublin in 2016, just as the hotel was embarking on a €5 million refurbishment programme. Despite his busy schedule, he agreed to sit down for an interview with Hospitality Ireland.
Logue meets me in the lobby of the hotel with a firm handshake and gives the impression of being totally at ease with himself and the space around him. I learn from speaking to him, however, that behind this calmness and efficiency lie a solid work ethic and a strong commitment to the hospitality sector.
He has worked with some of the most prestigious hotel groups in Ireland.
What was your first job in the hospitality industry, and how did that experience shape your passion and commitment to the field?
My first job was working in the washing-up area of a hotel in Ennis when I was 13 years of age.
I worked in the wash-up in the Queens Hotel in Ennis, where I come from, and soon progressed to the lobby, serving tea and coffee, working in the bar, and so on.
Later, I worked in Dromoland Castle during various summers and really enjoyed the hospitality business and looking after people. My dad, Seamus Logue, was in the hotel business, and he worked for the Fitzpatrick family in Bunratty.
When I knew I was going to do it as a career, I wanted to get into the Shannon College of Hotel Management. I applied, but fell slightly short of the honours required, so I took a year out, continued working in hotels, and went to Bruce College in Limerick to study French.
I got into Shannon the next year. That was the beginning of my formal career in hospitality.
Who was your first mentor in hospitality, and how did his/her/their guidance influence your growth and development as a hospitality professional?
My dad had a big influence on my career choice. I worked for periods in the Shannon Shamrock [Hotel] when he was working there, and watching him perform and look after people was very inspirational, and that’s when I knew I wanted to work in hospitality.
Over the years, there are other people that influenced me. I had a patron in Shannon College called Peter Malone – he would have been synonymous with the Jurys Hotel Group.
Each year, Shannon has a patron who is there to guide and assist the class, and Peter was chosen. Peter was a great influence in getting me involved in Jurys Hotels and making me familiar with how the company operated.
A third person was a gentleman on the board at Killiney Castle when I was there – a guy called Tony Spollin. He […] passed away in the last couple of years, but Tony was a great support to me, in terms of generating ideas and supporting me in my role. He was a great mentor and advisor.
Can you elaborate on the factors that led you to decide on your career direction? Were there any influential individuals or experiences that encouraged you to take the route that you have taken?
When I knew I wanted this career, Shannon was definitely the college I wanted to go to. Coming from County Clare, I would have known of the college and knew it was for me.
Gaining international experience was an attractive aspect. With Shannon, the first year is academic and practical, and the second year usually takes place abroad. I was in Switzerland for the second year, and that was very exciting. In the third year, it was all academic.
In the fourth year, I got a placement in the UK, so, again, it was international experience. I think that was a major advantage.
Throughout your journey, could you walk us through the various roles that you have held in your career and the significant lessons that you have learned from each experience?
The significant ones began when I was in the UK on a fourth-year placement. I went in as a trainee manager, and before I graduated from Shannon, I became general manager of that hotel.
It was an Irish gentleman that owned the hotel at the time. Initially, the hotel was owned by Trusthouse Forte Hotels, and they were selling off many of their properties, so an Irish gentleman bought the hotel. He approached me and told me he was buying the hotel and wanted me to stay on. I told him I that I was on my Shannon placement and might be moved to another Forte property because the relationship was between Forte and the college.
He said he really wanted me to stay, so I actually became deputy manager of that hotel, and then the hotel went through a couple of general managers that came and went for personal reasons.
Not long before my graduation, I was made GM of that property. What helped was that I had started at such a young age in hotels, so I had strong work experience and a good work ethic from working with my dad. Putting in the hours and the graft paid off, in that respect.
So, I was fortunate to become GM, which I think was a first for Shannon. Phil Smith, the head of Shannon College, always said that I was the first graduate as a GM at graduation. I spent three years at that property, and then that gentleman, Michael Birchall, bought another hotel in Cheltenham, so I moved there, to his other property, which was a bigger hotel. I enjoyed my time there.
Usually, I will look at where the hotel is now and start setting some key targets to where we can go. Whether that be financial and profits, average room rates, Tripadvisor accolades, it is really how you build on the success. Both of the properties went from strength to strength.
I was then headhunted by a man named Tony Troy, who owned a hotel on the outskirts of London, called Selsdon Park Hotel and Golf Resort. I knew him through my Shannon connections – he was a graduate himself – so Tony approached me and asked me would I manage his London property. I was having a great time working with Michael for seven or eight years, but this property on the outskirts of London was a stunning 254-bedroom hotel with a golf course, 27 meeting rooms – it was a huge operation – so Tony enticed me to go and work at that hotel, and I managed that hotel for four years.
I spent 11 years in the UK, and then, for various personal reasons, I decided I would make the move home. My dad had passed away, I was in a relationship that had just finished, and so I suppose I had reached a point where I thought, will I spend many more years in the UK, or will I make the move home?
So, I made the move and I joined Fitzpatrick’s in Killiney. There was a connection there because my dad had worked with him in the Shannon Shamrock for 25 years. They were looking for a manager for Killiney Castle, so I joined there in 2003, and I spent time with the Fitzpatrick family in Killiney.
I was approached to manage the Gibson Hotel and spent three years there and was doing very well, and then I was approached by the owner of the InterContinental Dublin, to see if I wanted to join them, so I did – in 2016 – and have been here ever since.
I suppose the lesson I have learned is the importance of building a team around you that’s going to deliver, and I have been fortunate that I had a strong team around me to help develop and see them rise with the business. I try to create a team that is really passionate about the guest. For me, I believe if the guest is happy, they will keep coming back.
It’s a business, so you always have to perform to the numbers and keep a strong focus on that. Again, I have always been fortunate enough to have strong finance people working with me that keep an eye on that. Sometimes you need the good-cop-bad-cop approach. I’ll be the good cop and let them be the bad cop!
It’s great having a great team who you care about, who, in turn, care about the customers. I am also fortunate to work with companies that really want to invest in the property, and the people to have it grow as well. I am lucky to work with two gentlemen here whose philosophy is ‘invest in the property, make sure the property is right, and deliver on the service and the team.’
Of which industry networks have you been a part that have provided vital support and contributed to your career progression?
When I was in Killiney, I got involved with the Irish Hospitality Institute, which I hold in high regard. It really focuses on the people within hospitality, so I got involved and got on the council and progressed to president for a couple of years. It’s quite a progressive institute and runs a lot of courses on people development.
They have awards coming up next month, at the Burlington, where they get about 700 people. That’s where they crown the GM of the Year, the Deputy of the Year. I was fortunate enough to win GM of the Year in 2006. I was three years back in Ireland at that stage. I was in Killiney Castle. You are nominated by your company, and then you go through a process of interviews, and so on. I have a high regard for that institute because it is about people and their development.
In your experience, what are the most significant challenges that you have faced while working in the hospitality industry, and how did you navigate through them?
Covid was one of the most challenging times of my career. There were so many unknowns. We hadn’t experienced anything like it before. Going from operating an exceptionally busy hotel to having to release staff and create a core team was difficult.
We had residents living on site and essential workers, but only a core team available. To navigate the openings and closings with Covid was difficult because it was difficult to predict how busy you would be when you reopened.
The hotel was very busy, which was good because I think people felt safe here because of our spacious grounds and large rooms, and so on, but the challenge then was to try and get people to come back to work because the government incentives were quite good.
I learned that this business is all about people and looking after people, and trying to work with a team who want to go in the same direction as you. It is important to look after the team, as well as the customers. I try and foster a family environment within the hotel, so that we are looking out for each other.
I think if you can get that right in a property, it makes it easier to achieve things. That is really how I try to operate.
Looking ahead, what are your career goals and aspirations, and how do you envision making a lasting impact on the hospitality sector?
I am still incredibly happy here and feel I have a lot more to achieve with MHL, who are a very progressive company.
We now have 13 hotels in Ireland, spread between Dublin, Limerick, Wicklow and Galway. I am thrilled to be part of MHL and feel I am growing with them.
I am always satisfied to see people come in under our wing who have developed and gone on to better things. I am fortunate that I have had many people who worked with me throughout their careers. It’s great to see people develop and flourish under my leadership, and that gives me great satisfaction.
Some team workers wonder will they quite make it, and it’s always so pleasing when you see them turning that corner and really making a great success of it – and then sometimes you see them in another property, where they are very, very happy. I think people like to move up and on at certain points, but when you meet them down the line and they are continuing on in their successful journey – even if it’s another industry – just to see them flourish and be happy, knowing that you were part of their career and development, is always very pleasing.
To know that each hotel I’ve gone into as manager of the team, I have left a better hotel – in terms of profile, figures, team awards – always brings a great sense of achievement.