Posted on Friday 18 January 2019 by John Mulgrew
This year marks Howard Hastings’ three decades working at the company, which was founded by his late father – the charismatic and inimitable Sir William Hastings – more than 50 years ago
“It’s been a big year for the company, because the addition of the Grand Central at a cost of £53m, 300 bedrooms to the company which has now 1,000 bedrooms for the first time, it was a significant growth spurt and project to undertake.
“We go in to the New Year, happy that we have added something to the hotel market in Belfast – which is well-positioned, not just to cannibalise our competitors, but to take advantage of some of the new markets that are coming into Ireland.”
The group employs around 850 full-time staff and roughly the same number in part-time and casual work, depending on the season.
Howard returned to Northern Ireland in 1989 – a very different hospitality landscape back then – after working for Volvo in Marlow, England.
“We were still very much in the height of the Troubles, and it was before we bought the Everglades, the Europa and developed the Merrion,” he said.
Howard started off as operations director, taking over form a long-term ‘right-hand man’ to his father, who had previously held the role.
“He retired a year before I came home. His role had been in the operations of the company, where it was more bar focused, rather than hotel-focused. With my law degree and accountancy qualification, it brought a certain amount of business skills into the business.”
He also did his time in bars and hotels, before going into the family business – including a stint at the Gresham in Dublin.
A few years later, he took over at the helm of the business, with his brother and three other sisters also holding director roles.
“I suppose people look from the outside and think, that’s a very large business – because it’s a series of smaller enterprises, it doesn’t feel like that.
“We operate in a very competitive marketplace. One of the things you can do to distinguish yourself in the marketplace is to have the very best people you can have. As a company, my style would be very much to focus on getting the best people we can, retaining and developing them.”
Howard says he and the company also ensure that they are building a career in hospitality, and are able to grow and develop.
“When we opened the Grand Central we were able to recruit a substantial proportion of the top team as internal promotions, which meant we could be relatively certain that could deliver the style and culture that we wanted.”
And is there a greater weight on his shoulders, running a family business?
“In a family company, in my experience, there is less politics when compared to a corporate environment.
“The other benefit is that we can be quite nimble in decision making. We aren’t bound by lots of committees in getting things done. Our investments sometimes take a longer term view than would be the case if you are a shareholder looking for their return every quarter.”
On Brexit, while Howard believes that the withdrawal deal on the table is “the best that could be achieved” he still thinks withdrawing Article 50 would be a better option.
“If that’s the best we can do, would it not be better to consider withdrawing Article 50, that we may be better off securing our future from within, and reforming that, which some of us did not like, about the European project, rather than ending up in a situation where we are on the end of an EU lead without the advantages of shaping where it would go.”