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Exploring the Events Industry: Head of Sales - Jess Southworth

This week in exploring the events industry we are crossing over from event industry roles into hospitality, because the two go hand in hand. The amazing Jess Southworth shares her experience and journey to Head of Sales for GG Hospitality - the company that owns Hotel Football, Stock Exchange Hotel, Cafe Football & GG Events and Catering. Jess has made the hospitality industry not just her career but also her passion & is involved in many initiatives on top of her day job and being a mum, including the Female Hospitality Network & Girls Out Loud. Jess is an absolute super star!

Company: GG Hospitality

Years in current role: 4 ½ years at Hotel Football, 1 year as Head of Sales

Years in the hospitality industry: 12

Dream Event to work on or attend: After attending the Rise Live Virtual Conference with you Rachael – I have to see this live, with you and our newly founded ‘Rise Crew.’

How did you get into the industry and your current role?

I have been in hospitality for 12 years, and although I never intended to take a career in this industry, it has become my passion and my hobby all in one – it is not often you find you can combine the two but somehow this works.

When I think back to growing up and how I had planned my life, being a hospitality professional was never on the agenda. Back in school the travel and tourism studies were focused around being an air hostess and to be honest my height meant I was told I would probably never make the cut.

Without any real desire I decided to play it safe and continue my studies with ICT – it was the only A I had received in my GSCEs and I felt that it was a good enough reason to ‘roll with it.’ Then I became pregnant.

I will eventually share this journey and its’ lessons in the form of a journal which was something I started years ago and never completed- from attending the virtual Rise Conference I was inspired to pick this back up again – As you know Rachael from being one of the amazing people to champion the idea 😊

It was difficult period and a great deal of character building was done. One thing I will say is that the 3 year ICT course was passed with a triple distinction as I was too committed - or stubborn to allow the outcome to be any other way.

It was being 18 with a 2 year old that I started a role with Hilton, I will never forget the care and commitment my GM gave to me, as he enabled me to work full time and attend university part time. This allowed me to gain valuable experience whilst not sacrificing the opportunity for my efforts to be recognised academically. It would only be for the duration of my degree right? Wrong!

10 wonderful years later I am still here, after developing with Hilton over 4 years, 2 cities & 2 properties, a shorter stint with Thistle and finally GG Hospitality, where I find myself today.

I have loved every minute of it, the highs the lows and everything in between and the best part is my children have enjoyed this journey too.

In our world, no two days are ever the same but what would an average week in work look like for you?

Typically, I find myself up and ready around 6.30. This is where I aim to have some quiet time to myself and prepare for the day. This time is spent in my email triage filtering through anything urgent that needs actioning there and then and filing others in a ‘to action later folder’ – the name triage is solely for my amusement 😊

Then is the school run – one starts at 8.20 the other at 9 – so it’s breakfast, back pack and off we go.

I am very lucky that my workplace understands and trusts my judgement and therefore enables me to balance mum life and work life pretty efficiently.

I usually will arrive into the office at 9.30. This gives me half an hour to check in with my sales executive and then the wider commercial team too before we head to our hotel wide morning meeting.

This is followed by a sales and commercial catchup whilst we run through general numbers, concerns and activity for the day.

I then attack the to do list, which can have literally anything on there – however, I am always conscious of leaving time for the ‘whirlwind’ something I learnt a few years ago…always having space for the unknown.

This would be mixed with client appointments or site visits depending on my diary. I tend to plan quality over quantity – there is nothing worse than diary filling when you are just trying to make up a target, it is a waste of your time and your clients time – time is precious so I spend it wisely and I push my team to embrace this thought too.

Lunch is usually spent in the staff canteen – I love to see who is in and I do make an effort to speak to everyone in our wider team- it sounds very cliché but we are one huge family.

After work I usually find I have an event to attend – dinner, networking, fam trip – I make a huge effort to be at everything – and then I head home and resume ‘mum life!’

What are the most important skills you need to be successful in your role?

Organisation & Communication for me are the key to success. You can apply this in any role but in my role I find it is crucial.

I always know how my day is going to go from how I have planned my mind before the day starts. How organised I am has a huge impact on my results for the day.

The same works with communication – for a start I wouldn’t be able to do half of my role as I probably talk for a good 10 hours of my day (eek) but if I am not effective it could mean the difference in a confirmed piece of business or a lost opportunity.

Only I can influence the outcome.

What advice would you give anyone looking to up to you that hopes to work in your role one day?

Stay true to yourself and keep on your own path.

I was told I would never make a good leader as my empathy for others had been seen as a weakness. I didn’t allow this to change the way I work and now I find that as I care for others, they too care for my vision and what I believe. It also gives my team the confidence that they can also disagree with me – we are all on a learning journey and I have learnt so much about myself directly from others. I believe that by being the way I am in my role allows me to adapt quickly when needed and enables my team to feel empowered and innovative too.

What is your favourite part about your current role/ company? What is the Hardest part of your job?

My favourite part is the engagement whether it is with our team or with our clients.

Familiarisation trips top my list and my absolute favourite has to be the GG Weekender.

This has become the staple of my fam trip calendar and although it is made up of blood, sweat & tears I love everything about it.

In a nutshell we explore different areas of our business with around 50 event agents from across the UK for a weekend in June. Each year it becomes bigger and better, unfortunately due to Covid we have postponed, however for me this just means the ‘reload’ (sneaky peak on the nickname there!) will be one not to be missed.

The hardest part…when a potential client doesn’t understand our brand and doesn’t want me to explain.

I am so passionate about GG Hospitality and what we stand for and when I talk about Hotel Football, it is hard to take when we are misunderstood. For the record, we are not too masculine, we are not just for Manchester United fans and we are not just football mad.

The hotel really has something for everyone business, family and leisure alike.

How has covid 19 affected your job role? What have you/ your company changed to adapt in this situation?

Currently I am on furlough, which is the same for the majority of the wider GG Hospitality family. Whilst it has been tough mentally (when you talk to people as much as I do it is very hard to lose the interaction!) I have found a sense of hope within the team.

This has stemmed from our owners making the decision to open both of our hotels to the NHS for the duration of this pandemic.

This has meant that those NHS nurses and doctors that have been on the front line and haven’t been able to be at home for various reasons, have had a safe place to rest for as long as they have needed. Some have been with us for the 10 weeks!

This is complimentary and with the help of some fabulous companies nationwide, we have been able to also provide meals and small pockets of entertainment in their downtime.

When you see your leaders taking action because they can – it fills you with hope and warmth. The team have had the option to volunteer at both hotels and some have made friends for life now with the NHS teams.

Our 2 properties over 10 weeks have strangely been brought closer together, it is like one very extreme team build!

How can the hospitality industry come back from covid 19? What will you be doing at Hotel Football to bounce back?

As always, we will be looking at how we can continue to help.

What initiatives can be put into place to support the NHS moving forward and re-instating our Foodinate scheme. From a couple of requests from regular guests we currently have gift vouchers available with a percentage going to the NHS Foundation Trust, it is a small way for us to maintain support.

As a team we are confident in our product and have had 10 weeks of practice as a lot of adaptations have been made to house the NHS teams. We are finding now that procedures have not only been amended but also physically carried out as we have had to make changes to keep our special guests safe throughout this time.

Hospitality for me is the spine of the economy in the UK and makes up a large portion of the 5.9 million small businesses that contribute to half the turnover in the private sector each year. I am not by any means thinking we will bounce back with ease but I do believe that after the long road we will be back stronger.

Our sector provides entertainment and the people engagement that we are all missing right now and when I look at the many businesses that are challenging themselves to pivot and embrace change; I am seeing so much creativity and I feel that experience will become the new focal point of travel – maybe less often but with more meaning.

Whether this is from small restaurants that have helped prepare meals for the homeless or other outlets that have adapted to experiential options like a cook along series. It won’t be forgotten and when some form of normality resumes the excitement of trying out the place that did this or that will become a buzz of excitement once more.

I have my hitlist ready, but for now my next instalment is a cook at home order with Elite Bistros – and I cannot wait for it to be delivered!

Are there any industry initiatives or projects you are involved in you think others should know about?

As a company, the biggest initiative we have in place is via our meeting & events offering with a partnership with Foodinate.

Foodinate is a wonderful social enterprise that allows us to help support some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

It is very simple – for every meeting or event package booked at either Hotel Football or the Stock Exchange Hotel, we donate a meal per head to Foodinate, which in turn feeds a person in need in one of Manchester’s’ homeless centres- in our case the Mustard Tree. So; for a meeting of 20, 20 meals are provided at no extra cost to the client.

Just before covid hit we were just short of 30,000 meals provided since our partnership began in 2018 so I am looking forward to getting back on board and continuing to make a difference.

For me personally, I am on the Manchester board of the Female Hospitality Network. After taking the role of chair for 2019, 2020 saw me take on the role the Charity Director for 2020. The Network is there to Empower, Develop, Inspire & Connect Females within the hospitality Industry. We are proud to be multi regional and international, with our newest board set up in New York!

The Network has also altered during the past 10 weeks, we now have more of an online presence as we obviously can’t get together. This network has provided me with continued support when I needed it the most. Everything that it aims to achieve for its’ members I have been in receipt of personally, which makes it very easy for me to want to talk about it.

To find out more visit membership fees have been frozen so come and join in!

One of the reasons for taking on the charity role for the network, was because 2020 also saw me become an ambassador for Girls Out Loud – another fantastic social enterprise which helps coach and nurture girls of an impressionable age, to be the best version of themselves. It teaches confidence, resilience and over all girl power – which fits perfectly with my personal values and underpins those of the FHN too.

As a mum of a 14 year old daughter it really is a subject close to my heart – how are we inspiring and empowering the next generation of young females?

Follow Jess

Instagram - @hospitalityjess


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