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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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
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