A pandemic change improved one hospitality expert’s work/life balance, while helping businesses along the way.
Will Macpherson is a founding partner of CAM Ventures – a micro angel investment company founded with the intention of supporting exciting new businesses within the hospitality industry. A father of two, he began his career as a computational physicist before moving into hospitality. Will now balances work with family life. We asked him what makes him tick.
I had been thinking for a while that I needed a change from the role of a hotel General Manager, the job had become more reactive and I enjoyed working in a proactive role trying to change and improve things. As the hotel was empty and the initial crisis management had subsided I found myself having some really exciting conversations with different people about what could happen and what we could do.
I then realised I had to make it happen, whatever “it” was. I didn’t have a clear idea of doing one thing, and thankfully an investor friend of mine had similar desires and CAM Ventures was born.
It has been great to have such freedom over what I am doing. I ended on good terms with my hotel owners and management company but to be able to be completely free and speak to whoever I want about whatever I want is very exciting. Only 5% of what I talk about might come off, but it is the potential that the 5% has that excites me. It also goes without saying, I think, that the freedom and flexibility to manage my own time is also great as I can spend my time as I wish.
I might start a little later so I can drop the kids or perhaps head out on my bike, knowing that I will get the work done when I get the work done. If I only do 30 hours a week it doesn’t really matter as I know it is ultimately up to me to make stuff happen rather than worrying about working enough to give the impression I am busy.
It can be an industry of long hours but I do think (and hope) that things are changing. When I started out, weeks of 70 hours plus were common place but I don’t think it is as common as it once was. The challenge with hospitality is that it is 24/7 so the business is constantly changing. You can sometimes find it hard to catch up, as when you come in the next day something has happened which puts you back a day.
Having said that, the 24/7 aspect can be used to your advantage. If you are working an operational role you can work shifts that help with time for the family. Working a late shift means you could have the kids during the day or do a school drop off and get some jobs done around the house before going in at 3pm. Also a lot of roles require weekend working which is great as it means you can have 2 mid-week days off which can be spent on family duties or getting stuff done at places that are busy or closed at weekends. Having said this, whatever role and working hours you have kids throw up curve balls all the time and your plans have to change. That then relies on the leaders in the hotel to be flexible and support if you need to change things up to be at home to look after an ill child or something similar.
In my last hotel, out of 9 managers, 8 of us had young kids. Everybody knew that if they needed to be away to support at home or deal with one of these many unexpected changes then they could do it as long as the team knew what was going on. From time to time this would throw up operational challenges, but we got through it and worked out plans. I was probably more understanding as I was going through it myself, so I guess we will know flexibility is established when the leaders who don’t have kids understand.
During the first lockdown when everything stopped, I was still working and I had to be at the hotel for security and to work out how to deal with what was going on. My working week was generally based on the Monday to Friday pattern, but because we didn’t have childcare for our 2 and 4 year olds then I worked weekends and one late shift mid-week which meant I could look after the kids whilst my wife got work done.
My wife works from home in normal times anyway, but this at least gave her 2 and half solid days a week where she could focus fully on work and not worry about keeping the kids amused.
We are starting within the hospitality sector, loosely speaking, because that is what I know but we also have some great ideas for some more random projects. As long as they bring variety and fun along with returns then I am keen. We used the word “Ventures” rather than “Hospitality” so we wouldn’t be stuck in one sector. I am enjoying the variety of conversations I am having about some really cool stuff, they all at least have some sort of hospitality relation but only a few are pure hospitality.
It is well documented now that as we emerge from the pandemic hospitality is going through a resourcing crisis because people have left the industry and discovered they can be treated better elsewhere and have a bit more security. I hope this sparks the change in the industry for owners and employers to think about how they treat people and make hospitality a career of choice. I think the market is there for hospitality businesses to be successful, so the jobs are there but the industry as a whole needs to drop the “long hours badge of honour” approach and start thinking a lot more progressively.
I have seen this get better over the last 10 years in branded hotels where I worked, but there is still a lot of old fashioned leadership styles out there that I hope are no longer being tolerated. I remember being asked by a fellow GM how I managed managers who asked to take time out and my response was what I have always said; they manage their own time and I pay them to produce results. If they can do that in 20 hours per week then that means they are awesome and I don’t mind.
It has certainly changed my approach to work for sure. I am very lucky that, since we had the kids, my wife has worked part time to be the on-call parent as it was but I have always tried hard to make it work for all of us. Like a lot of jobs, I would have long days and long weeks but I always made sure that was the exception rather than the rule. I was mostly, and still am, home in time for stories to make sure I saw the kids before they were asleep. If I didn’t do that then I might not see them the whole day because I would be away before they were up.
I wouldn’t say my career took a back seat as I have progressed well over the last five years, but I have not been a slave to it. If I was needed by the family then I was there. There have been a couple of times when I have been away from home on work and either the kids or my wife have been very ill and they needed support, so I would get my things and leave before I was due to. I am not sure if I was judged for that, but it needed to be done and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Leading up to the birth of our second I was also preparing a new hotel for opening, there were also weeks then when I would say to my wife that she wouldn’t see me much and she was great and we got through it. Flexibility has to go both ways on occasion and it’s not always a bad thing.