Exp101 " Talks" with Saskia Boissevain

When we started to think about how we could positively affect the issues facing our industry there was no better place to start than people, the only way to try and fix the problems we face is to involve the next generation in the conversation. I had worked with Saskia previously during my career and she was ( and still is!) vibrant, fun and smart ! ….so how did the industry nearly lose such a rising star……

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Exp101 “Talks”

With Saskia Boissevain

My career and love for the hospitality industry started at 13 years old where I worked part time

during school and university holidays, at a quaint village café in Pembrokeshire, South

West Wales. My boss, who was known as ‘Auntie Vi’, had received an MBE from the Queen

for services to Tourism and Hospitality and ran the legendary café until she was 90 years of

age. She had started washing up there when she was four and had never left. For the best

part of 10 years I was part of a family that I remain life-long friends with. Both Vi and the

café taught me the fundamentals of hospitality in its truest sense very early on. The

importance and enjoyment of being part of a team, having fun, making people smile and

ensuring you had a huge amount of pride and confidence in your product.

At university I studied Psychology and began following a career path to become a

clinical psychologist, never for a second thinking about the industry that had supported me

since a teenager becoming a career that I would then pursue.

The swift, dramatic change to my career mindset happened one afternoon in my quest for a

free lunch during a bleak library day writing notes about neurology. I received an email from

my university listing a number of talks that various companies such as the Post Office, HSBC

and the like, would be holding across campus over the next few days to encourage students

to apply for their Graduate Schemes. As I was dragging the email swiftly straight into my

‘junk’ I spotted the logo of one of my favourite restaurant chains and clocked that there was

to be a talk at 1pm that day. SURELY, they would provide a free lunch to entice us!? Without

a second thought I was up and out of my seat and found myself plonked in a large room

listening to what was the start of an incredibly exciting process. I was adamant that I was

what they wanted and had never heard a job description that I felt fitted my skills and great

personal passions so well.

I joined the Graduate Management Scheme in central London just under a year later. Since

then, after working with the company in central London and being put off by a number of

aspects of the employment contract, I planned to leave hospitality behind me to follow my

particular interest in staff engagement. However, as fate would have it, I joined my family in

creating and opening a boutique hotel on the coast in South Wales called Penally Abbey

Hotel.

Since then, I have learnt a huge amount - from the type of manager I want to be from the

perspective of managing and understanding staff, how to launch a new restaurant, what

goes into building a brand and how to holistically run a business. There is constantly so

much learning to do and I have found the best way to do that, and continue to do so, is

always through experience. I have made endless mistakes and cock ups, made life-long

friends, had successes and ultimately experienced an industry in a country where it isn’t

seen as a career to many people who have the talent to do incredibly well. This industry is

my first love and one that is consistently in the press for its closures and failing business

models. It often has a negative stigma attached to it which is uninspiring young people, with

appalling work contracts that are deemed as acceptable across the industry and often a lack

of support for staff progression. I’m incredibly driven to change the stigma and to regenerate

the interest and enthusiasm for a career path in restaurants, hotels, cafes, bars

and everything in between. It is a brilliant world to be part of and one that should be taken

seriously as a career, both by new employees and the employers themselves.

Young people need to be inspired and that then needs to be nurtured through their career.

The lack of it, is something I always felt was missing when I started to take it seriously for

my future.

chris fletcher