7 September 2014
So here we are.
After months of ideas and anticipation, planning and negotiating, we’ve arrived at another milestone in UKFast’s non-stop journey. Standing in front of such a historic hotel with its traditional Swiss exterior, in the middle of one what is arguably one of the most beautiful ski resorts in the world, it’s hard to believe that we’ve crossed the line and another race has just begun.
Since we finished the process of acquiring Le Farinet – Verbier’s first ever hotel and an excellent apres ski bar – people are wondering what’s over the next hill and why we chose to take on such a big project in the first place.
I suppose, on reflection, the story goes back to one of my team members who was facing a real challenge in his personal life. Having heard about it, I flew back from my holiday, drove to his house, picked him up, and drove to Wales with a tent, a few rucksacks, provisions and some beer. We climbed Mount Snowdon and camped out there for a few nights just to get away from it all and to get some perspective on everything. As it happens, that member of staff is still with me, and one of the most amazing moments in my entire professional career was when he said, “Loz, can I work for you for the rest of my life?” It was a really touching moment that took me completely by surprise.
However, it made me think, I’ve spent so much time – at school and on holidays, with the army – going up the mountains. In some ways, I’ve spent my entire life in the mountains, which is probably where I get a lot of my determination from; just trudging through the moors and onwards and upwards, no matter what. I’ve always found great pleasure in doing it and I’ve made some great friends.
I started to wonder whether we were missing a trick not having this element as a part of UKFast, and so we started to take more people down to Wales. In the early days, we’d stay in B&B’s and in my mum and dad’s hotel in Llandudno; we paid to stay there. I realised pretty soon that this was important but it was also cost-prohibitive. It dawned on us that as the company grew and we took bigger groups, it was going to cost us a huge amount of money, which would take the fun out of it and make it impossible to do.
Then one day, Gail found the answer. We’d written in our goals that we wanted to find a house by a lake, and sure enough, she discovered this place called Castell Cidwm in North Wales, an old hotel on – you guessed it – the end of a lake! Since then, it’s been our goal to get every single person at UKFast down there, and I think it’s safe to say that about 90% of the people at UKFast have actually experienced it in one form or another.
And it’s not just used for team-building; we also use it for training and inductions. We’ve done sales training down there on the banks of the lake and held manager summits where we can get away and think. We’ve even used it for our company festival, UKFest. So it’s always being used and it’s always work-related, but it helps to get people out of the office and thinking outside the box. I hate that term, but that’s what it does. Some of the best ideas come when you’re outside, walking and talking with people. Six or seven years on, it’s amazing the team spirit that it has created at UKFast.
So the dream expanded, like all dreams do, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have places like this all over the world?”
Sure enough, back in the hills, we fell in love with a place in Verbier and for the last five years we’ve taken people out there and done hosting summits and team-building events, and again it’s had massive value – mountain biking, skiing, walking, having picnics, all with a view of getting people out of the office environment and thinking about work and about their colleagues in a different way.
And it’s worked.
It’s not the standard work jolly where you just have a few days out of the office. This is a place where we do things together and there’s a co-ordinated effort to make sure the business is stronger as a result.
But again, just like back in the 2000’s when we started hiring my mum and dad’s hotel, it started getting expensive. We did the maths and thought, “If we’re going to carry on doing this then we have to look at another way”. We were lucky enough to stumble upon Le Farinet, an established hotel with a very successful bar attached to it – so we’d already identified a revenue stream. It actually it made perfect financial sense.
Obviously it comes with its complexities because we can’t just leave a building like this without a team, so you have to create a team here that is able to support the business and keep it going so they’re ready to take guests in. We can work and bond there, and enjoy the mountain air, when the place is empty. So it’s a symbiotic relationship between a business that’s already in existence, and UKFast that has a need now to spread her wings.
The internet is one of those amazing businesses that facilitates expansion very easily, so I think this is a positive step in the right direction.
We’re still very much a British organisation and we’re going about things in a very British way. We’re respecting Swiss tradition. We bought a historic building – it’s the first hotel that we’ve ever bought – and you have to factor that legacy in. Personally, I think it’s a great honour to develop and acquire something like this. And if this concept works again just like Castell Cidwm is working, I’m sure we’ll find another one… and then another, and another.
But for now, I can’t wait to fly out with some of my team mates and enjoy spending time with them in such a beautiful environment. And if you’ve ever looking for me, you’ll find me in the corner of a room, sitting with my wife, drinking a cranberry soda, and just watching everyone enjoy themselves.
There’s nothing more satisfying than realising you’ve made people happy.