Established by Sir William Hastings in the late 1960s, Hastings Hotels is a family-owned company and the largest independent hotel group in Northern Ireland. Very much a family business, all four of Sir William’s children joined the group and are now in the roles of Managing Director, Sales Director, Marketing Director and Events Director. Although it has not been all plain sailing over the last 50 years for Hastings Hotels, Howard Hastings, Managing Director of the group, shares how their purpose and values have helped the company grow from strength to strength, including their latest landmark addition, the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast.
"We’ve always seen the need to participate and develop relationships that speak more to the family values than to the financial return."
Howard Hastings and his sisters learned their craft from their father, as Howard recalls. ‘He grew the business from pubs into hotels and was strongly guided by his business outlook which he learned from his father and brother. Often he would share those lessons with my sisters and I, so we grew up learning it too. We are fortunate to have such a clear sense of values which include not only a work ethic but reflect the morals of the company too. For us it is vital that the business equally respects fellow family members as well as our staff, suppliers and clients.’
Hastings Hotels is a source of pride to many in Northern Ireland. Commitment to their region is part of who they are and brings its own rewards, Howard explains. 'We feel very much that we are a full-service professional hospitality company, based and grounded in Northern Ireland and it’s the last that dictates our social corporate responsibility. We work with local suppliers and use local produce because it makes good business sense. We are not concerned to pay more for local produce, because it's more than made up for in the stories that we tell about where that produce comes from, and that in turn allows us to get a premium in the marketplace.’
Their contribution goes far beyond sourcing goods, as Howard points out. ‘My father was a staunch supporter of several causes down the years, but only those in which he felt he could add value by immersing himself in what they did. We support locally-based causes because of that ability to add value to something that’s going on. We’ve also always had a participative view of working in our community, joining governance bodies like Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland, and Visit Belfast, as well as representing our sector in the wider business like the Institute of Directors. We believe it is important to the business and the sector, and we also develop strong links with colleges including Belfast Metropolitan and universities like Ulster University, which are a source of potential recruits for us.’
Asked about attracting the next generation to the family business, Howard believes the challenge for a regionally-based service sector family business is delivering local services, and to be sufficiently attractive that the next generation wants to participate. 'Being global citizens they want to travel more and gain their own skill sets. The best part is they aren’t necessarily what we think they are or what our generation thinks they are.’ He looks to the impact this will deliver in the future: ‘Today’s generation have a range of opportunity for learning and experience open to them, that will enable them to bring a greater range of skill sets to the business.’
"One of the things that manages to ensure a sense of purpose, and keep the peace, is that each of the family members is very fulfilled in their individual role."
Howard also believes it is important to look beyond the family, ‘we’ve a long history of wanting to give opportunities to new entrants to train and develop with us. That may not be widely shared with all parts of our industry, but it’s becoming increasingly recognised as an important benefit of working with our company. That’s good because it’s a reputation that takes a long time to establish. I believe the retention level of our staff is important, in an industry where that’s traditionally an issue; and by offering employment to people of all skill levels, as well as opportunities to grow and develop within the company, we enjoy strong retention. The company is big enough that the extent of family membership participation is not the same barrier to progress for non-family members that it might be in a much smaller organisation.’
It's clear that Howard and his sisters inherited a strong sense of purpose from their father to grow their prestigious hotels group in Northern Ireland, supporting local suppliers and the tourism industry. This has not limited their horizons. If anything the transformation of landmark hotels like the Grand Central have helped grow the region’s profile overseas, helping to attract more international spend. All good business sense.
UK Family Business Leader, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)7764 958585