Five Questions For…

Bill Mullarkey – 50 Years in the Concierge Business

SamJ : December 3, 2012 2:00 pm : Interviews

We spoke to Bill Mullarkey about the highlights of his astonishing 50-year career on the concierge desk…

“A close family friend worked in the hotel industry for many years and he encouraged me to apply for a job to see if I would like it. It was a coincidence that I was walking in Russell Square with some friends and noticed that a new hotel called The President had opened and it was looking for staff. I therefore decided to apply for a position as a day porter and was successful. The year was June 1962, which was also the year that The Beatles came to London and were staying at the hotel!

“As the years moved on, I became more attached to the hotel industry and started to really enjoy it. I also had challenges to overcome within these years, which included having to manage four hotels. However, these challenges were made easier by being fortunate enough to have good team members in each hotel, together with a good family-run business, Imperial London Hotels, as my employer.

“My most treasured memories have been when I met stars of the 60s and 70s such as The Beatles, Cilla Black and more recently the experience of the London 2012 Olympics. I have also received some memorable awards, which include receiving the Commendation from the Metropolitan Police in November 2006 for ‘dedication, tenacity and investigative ability in apprehending and convicting a professional and habitual burglar.’Alongside this, in 2008, I was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award at the annual Morris Golden Keys Concierge Awards.

“Over the 50 years in the hotel industry it has been a very exciting and enjoyable journey. I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people and some of them have become close friends.”

 

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Karim Bernichi, Assistant Head Concierge, Crowne Plaza London – Kensington

SamJ : June 29, 2012 5:27 pm : Interviews

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a concierge?
A: I enjoy helping people, making sure their stay is hassle free and that they remember the hotel and particularly the service as exceptional, evoking an emotion in guests to promote loyalty and affection.
I enjoy the diversity and spontaneity of working with such a cosmopolitan clientèle and how the demands on me vary so dramatically.

Q: What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
A: I am an animal lover and it was always my dream to work as a vet, or maybe in a zoo looking after the big cats.  I became a concierge, a long way from being a vet, but am very happy with my job – I find it really satisfying.

Q: Do you have any favourite stories from your work life?
A: I once had to go and get a piece of luggage  for one of our VIP guests from an address that he gave me located just outside Paris. I left straight from the hotel wearing my concierge uniform and when I arrived at the address given by the guest, I found out that he had given me the wrong address.  I called the guest to confirm and he gave me a different address located about 7 hours by train from Paris, near Lyon. I spent the night in Paris – luckily my Mum lives there and was happy to accommodate me for one night. What was expected to be a 4 hour straightforward trip, ended up being over 24 hours, mostly on trains. Seeing the guest happily reunited with his bag was a satisfactory reward for the long journey though.

Q: Tell us about your favourite hidden gem in London?
A: Personally, my favourite place in London is Shad Thames. It’s an historic street that has Tower Bridge at its west end, and runs along the south side of the River Thames, set back behind a row of converted warehouses; it then takes a 90 degree turn south along St Saviour’s Dock. The street is partly cobbled and is host to well-known riverside restaurants. The area also includes numerous cafes, bars and shops for quick shopping or nights out. I’ve  been living around here for the last 10 years and it’s a favourite place to stroll with my wife and daughter in the evening and on weekends.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
A: 
I was told by my General Manager that “your job as a concierge is to be a master communicator; to greet every person you meet in a friendly manner so that they can feel the natural warmth of your kindness, acceptance, and recognition. Except for the more serious circumstances, a warm and enthusiastic smile creates the best starting point for a mutually enjoyable conversation.”

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Guillaume Couchou-Meillot, Assistant Head Concierge, Sofitel London St James

SamJ : May 25, 2012 11:36 am : Interviews

Q: What made you choose London as your current home and how long have you been at the Sofitel St James?
A:
London has always attracted me I think. When I was 17 or 18, I remember taking the overnight coach and ferry to Dover and heading straight to London, sometimes only for one night. The city fascinated me, it was so different to my home town of Paris.

I have been at the Sofitel St James for more than 8 years now. The hotel has changed so much over the years – we extended to the building next door a couple of years ago and opened the award-winning “So Spa”. More recently, there has been a complete refurbishment of our St James Bar and we also opened our new restaurant, The Balcon, with great success.

Q: If you could be a concierge in another city, where would it be and why?
A:
Maybe Rio de Janeiro or Moscow, two very different but incredible cities.

Q: Do you have a favourite story from your work as Concierge?
A: 
Yes, it was about 4 years ago and it ended sweetly.  A French film director was in London for the premiere of his movie and staying with us. He was at the screening when he received a call from his pregnant wife in France, informing him that she was having contractions and was heading to the hospital.

He was understandably very nervous and surprised, since his wife was not supposed to give birth for another 3 weeks! The film director and his assistant rushed back to the hotel, but since it was already 10pm there was no Eurostar or flights to Paris. I managed to find a driver who would accept the drive all the way to Paris at such short notice. After a long drive through the night, they managed to reach the hospital at dawn, just on time for the film director to be reunited with his wife and witness the birth of his first child!

Q: Tell us about your favourite hidden gem in London.
A: 
It has got to be the Hampstead swimming pond. It feels as if you’re miles away from London. To be totally honest, I have never swum there myself, but walked or ran past it many times and you can always find a couple of swimmers brave enough to swim in very chilly water! The pond was recently featured in a scene from the “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” movie.

Q: What’s your most prized possession?
A: 
My set of Golden Keys!  And my family, as well as my special one of course, she’ll understand 😉

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Vladimir Susko, Guest Services Manager, Andaz Liverpool Street

SamJ : May 18, 2012 11:45 am : Interviews

Q: Tell me about how you got into your line of work…
A: Truly, I never thought I would be working in the Hotel industry. While I was finishing my BA programme in Lithuania, I took a year off and went to work on a cruise ship in Tahiti. Upon returning, I completed my degree and decided to move to London. My first job in London was in the Great Eastern Hotel, a property that used to be partly owned and run by Sir Terence Conran. Ten years passed and I am still in the industry! Now working at Andaz Liverpool Street, a new brand of hotels from Hyatt International.

Q: If you could be a concierge in another city, where would it be and why?
A: London, London, and once again London! I love this place, with all the hidden places and secret pockets of culture in every corner of the city. If I had to move, I’d probably work in Vilnius, Lithuania. It’s a bit cheeky to mention my home country, but I think it’s got the charm and qualities of a world city.

Q: Do you have any favourite stories from your work life?
A: During my first week in London, a famous actress arrived to check in with her entourage behind her and informed me that tonight she would be staying under the name of Ms Smith. I paused, looked back, and asked what her real name was, as the booking was under her real name and I had no idea who she was. The whole crowd burst into tears of laughter.

Q: Tell us about your favourite hidden gem in London.
A: I absolutely love the City of London and Shoreditch. So many hidden streets, squares, and corners. A mixture of several hundreds years of history and modern world, all mashed into one. It’s all summarised by an old Church next to the Andaz Liverpool Street, where I found a drawing of a little mouth on the Church porch (Banksy, I think).

Q: Do you have a special talent?
A: I calm down people around me!

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Mo Charane, Concierge, The Cavendish London

SamJ : March 15, 2012 10:57 am : Interviews

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a Concierge?
A: 
Meeting new people every day and exploring new places.

Q:  What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
A:
I was hoping to have my own business.

Q:  What was the strangest request you ever had from a Guest?
A: 
I was on my late shift one Saturday night when one a French lady came down at about 9.30pm and brought all her Harrods shopping with her. She wanted me to send it to her flat in Paris and for it to be there at 8am on Sunday morning. I had no choice but to take all her shopping home with me and take the first Eurostar train at 5am to Paris.  I took a taxi from Gare du Nord to her Paris flat and made it by the 8am Sunday morning deadline – it certainly helped that I know Paris very well. I took the Eurostar back to London and was on time for my shift that same day.

Q: Tell us about your favourite hidden gem in London?
A: My favourite hidden gem has to be Number 92 Brasserie in Notting Hill, a great place to celebrate any occasion.

 Q: What’s your most prized possession?
A:
My most prized possession is the watch that my dad gave me on my 18th birthday.

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Ildiko Mihályi, Concierge, InterContinental London Park Lane

SamJ : January 27, 2012 4:05 pm : Interviews

Q: Were you named after anyone?
A: My name, Ildiko, is a Hungarian name with German origin. The meaning of it is “warrior”. Ildikos are confident, smart, responsible people with good sense of business.

Q: Which super power would you like to have and why?
A: Sometimes I would like to be able to stop time and enjoy the moment longer.

Q:  What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
A: I wanted to be a famous artist or a writer, living in a country cottage house with a lovely large garden and a peaceful working room, writing bestsellers about mind and soul and getting tired of celebrities’ dinner and party invitations. I stopped writing many years ago but I started painting and I really love my new hobby… unfortunately I haven’t received any invitations yet.

Q: Where is your favourite place in London to spend a day off?
A: I love going for a long walk in the Epping Forest with sandwiches, drinks, canvas, acrylic paints and brushes in my backpack and trying to find the deer’s park.  If I feel like staying in the city, then the programme should include a visit to a market (Borough Market,  Columbia Road Flower Market or Brick Lane on Sundays), a walk in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, some shopping at the Whole Foods Market at Kensington High Street and a nice drink at the Old Swan in Notting Hill.

Q: Do you have a favourite story from your work as a concierge?
A: My favorite story is always the latest story. We had a lovely couple staying with us a few weeks ago and I was able to get two tickets for them for the sold-out Leonardo da Vinci exhibition on New Year’s Day. They thought the museum was closed that day and were overwhelmed when I emailed them the availability.
I received a letter from them recently with a lovely postcard and a thank you note inside. The entire front-of-house and concierge department were amazed and jealous as the guest stuck an entire collection of old and colourful US stamps on the envelope. I was happy to see that the guest took his time and sent me such a kind gift and it was really funny to receive my colleagues’ offers as they wanted to buy my new stamp collection!

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John Kortenray, Head Concierge, Melia White House

SamJ : January 23, 2012 1:11 pm : Interviews

Q: Tell me about how you go into your line of work?
A: I did catering at school and the year I left school I wandered around West End hotels asking about Chef jobs. The previous year I attempted to get a summer job working at The Westbury

Eventually I found a job at the Intercontinental London Park Lane as a Page Boy and never looked back (all those years ago)!

Q: Have you ever been ‘starstruck’ by a particular guest?  
A: The Dalai Lama

Q: Did you get tickets for the Olympics and if so, for which sports?
A: No

Q: What is your favourite London restaurant at the moment?
A: Gaucho Grill Charlotte Street

Q: What’s your most prized possession?
A: My family.

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Ben Szent-Kirallyi, Concierge, Intercontinental London Park Lane

SamJ : January 5, 2012 3:13 pm : Interviews

Q: What else would you be if you weren’t a concierge?
A: Always wanted to be an actor! You would probably find me doing that at least part-time, otherwise I would be in the video games industry.

Q: Where is your favourite place in London to spend a day off?
A: At one of our city’s parks with my wife and kids – our favourite is Victoria Park!

Q: If you could be a concierge in another city, where would it be and why?
A: I would love to be a concierge in Sydney, Australia one day. I have met so many wonderful people from there and it looks like such an amazing place!

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a concierge?
A: The fact that I am able to deal with and look after so many high profile people from all over the world, but ultimately creating happy memories and smiles!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
A: “Always think outside the box”, and “listen before you act”!

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Stephan Buys, Concierge Supervisor, Hilton London Heathrow Airport

SamJ : December 15, 2011 5:01 pm : Interviews

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a Concierge?
A:
The fact that no one day is the same, every day comes with a new challenge, big or small but never dull – from finding a certain wooden toy to fixing a broken heal of a shoe, etc! The most satisfaction that I personally get is when that guest that you advised and sent away in the morning, walks past the desk in the evening praising your good recommendation out loud! Just knowing that you have made that London trip the most enjoyable and fun that you could have even if it is not the first time the guest visits the Capital.

Q: What was the strangest request you ever had from a Guest?
A:
Well that is measured between the scales of strange and weird. We have had people ask to book a private jet to New York because his wife is complaining too much and also people asking where they can go to a naked beach!

Q: How critical are you when you stay in another hotel?
A:
To be honest we do look firstly at the check in process and also the Concierge experience and weigh that up to our own property but we do not complain because we know that it sometimes can be stressful . And most important we tip our wonderful Concierge team member.

Q: Tell us about your favourite hidden gem in London
A:
Well, London is still a undiscovered gem in my books because I have worked out in Heathrow my whole career, but we are discovering more and more amazing places as time goes by, from Ed’s Roadhouse Diner in Soho to The Wallace Restaurant in Hertford House.

Q: What is your most prized possession and why?
A:
Without it sounding like a cliché, I do live for Les Clefs d’Or and my Golden Keys make me proud to be a respected member of Concierge.

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Andy Roberts, Head Concierge, Millennium Knightsbridge Hotel

SamJ : December 1, 2011 4:42 pm : Interviews

Tell me about how you got into your line of work. I was working in my home town of Crewe as an apprentice roofer when a recession hit and I got laid off, so I went from one job to another. My best friend David had moved to London two years earlier and every time we talked he offered to put me up at his place until I found work.  So there I was, a 19 year old kid with a bag in one hand & £20 in the other, hitchhiking from Manchester to London. I made it with my £20 untouched and after looking for work with no luck, my friend’s girlfriend said “why don’t you try the hotel where I work”? The next day I had an interview and was offered a job as a luggage porter at the Strand Palace Hotel. After two years, I was a Concierge at the Mayfair InterContinental – great times!

How critical are you when you stay in another hotel?  Not at all, I have a very good understanding of how hotels work and at the end of the day you get what you pay for, so it’s not to much of a bother when something goes wrong as long as it’s dealt with.

If you could be a concierge in another city, where would it be and why?  In the UK, it would only be in London, but I would love to work in a resort hotel somewhere hot.

What is your favourite London restaurant at the moment?  I don’t have one favourite but I have always liked the Rib Room, especially after last week’s visit. I also like Bar Boulud and Gaucho Grill.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?  This is a difficult question as all the guys (Bill, Don, Joe & Arthur) at the Mayfair had a helping hand in training me as a Concierge, however I think the advice that Don gave to me when dealing with guests was the most beneficial: “Always try and do your best for the guest and never guess”.

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