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#033 - Hospitality Meets Niels Sherry - The International Private Members Club COO
Episode 332nd September 2020 • Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street • Phil Street
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One of the things we love about Hospitality more than anything else is the international element to it and there's no better career if you want to see the world.

Niels Sherry is a shining example of that with a career that has taken him to the USA, Middle East and Asia as well as establishing himself in Europe.

Now the COO for the expanding private members club 67 Pall Mall (

We chat about lots including gaining variety in your career, the Savoy, leaps of faith, opening a press hungry hotel, recruiting for character over qualifications, making time for people, utilising your neighbours internet, online wine tastings, being denied entry in Saudi Arabia and so much more.

Niels has forged himself and incredible career and it's an excellent story told with eloquence and energy.


Recorded on 7th July 2020.

Show Transcription


hotel, people, business, wine, hospitality, called, savoy, London, Singapore, club, world, run, started, bit, learning, stories, asked, open


Niels Sherry, Phil Street

Phil Street 00:01

Welcome to hospitality meets with me Phil street where we take a light hearted look into the stories and individuals that make up the wonderful world of hospitality. Today's guest is Neils Sherry, CEO of 67 Pall Mall a stunning private member's club for wine lovers in London. Coming up on today's show... Niels tells us the extremes he'll go to when learning.

Niels Sherry 00:22

I spent probably two months, maybe a bit more literally glued to Ian.

Phil Street 00:27

Phil gets confused and thinks he's on the telly... So just for I suppose for the record for the viewers And Niels calmly understates the severity of his predicament,

Niels Sherry 00:37

They took my passport, and they threw it on the floor. I thought um, this is not going well.

Phil Street 00:42

All that and so much more. As Niels talks us through His story and journey to date, as well as some fantastic snippets of advice from an excellent career. Don't forget to give us a like and a share across your favourite social channels. Enjoy. Hello, and welcome to the next edition of hospitality meats with me Phil Street. Today, I'm delighted to welcome to the show someone who I've known on and off for, I'd say about 10 years now. And I've got a story actually about how we met, which you may or may not remember, but we'll come on to that in a second. delighted to welcome the CEO of 67 Pall Mall, Niels Sherry.

Niels Sherry 01:15

Thanks very much, delighted to be on the call. And hopefully, we've got some interesting stories to share.

Phil Street 01:22

I'll bet you have I mean, you cover off one of my favourite topics, which is wine, so I'm sure what we'll talk about that at some point. So just for I suppose for the record for the the viewers, where in the world are you right now and kind of what have you got your head into.

Niels Sherry 01:38

So having spent about six years with sixty seven Pall Mall setting up the club in London, with Grant, the founder, we, about two and a half years ago, we did a strategy meeting with our board of directors and one of the things that came out of that was that we need to take 67 Pall Mall around the world. So we conducted an exercise of places that we could possibly open. And the country state that came to the top of the list was Singapore. So that's where I'm residing. So I'm sitting in my office overlooking, actually not my office, I'm at home, overlooking Marina Bay Sands. So it's great to be in Singapore. It's amazing. Nice, amazing city.

Phil Street 02:22

Yeah, no doubt, I'm guessing as well, you you both opening a club at the time of year that you were going to do as been presented with some on well, unknown challenges that at the beginning of the year, I suppose that's part of your strategy, you wouldn't have written in that you would be facing a pandemic in the first quarter and beyond

Niels Sherry 02:42

Yes its probably shared with millions of hospitality people around the world right now. Yeah, yeah, no, I mean, we're we're we're in a good position, we have an amazing location on Scotts road in Orchard Road is right in the centre of, of town, it's a penthouse that belonged to the owner of the main building the shore family, and that's been gutted. And we were working on designs. So all the sort of the work behind the scenes in terms of design, mechanical, electrical, all that stuff that's just carrying on as normal. But certainly, our original intention was to open the club in September this year in time for the Grand Prix, right, I suspect will be delayed probably by about a year. So we need to be open for September next year. Well, it's just there's just there's so many other things that tie into it. So you've got membership acquisition going on, you've got the financing and finding shareholders going on. And literally, when lockdown started, you know, the world came to an end on that front. So it's almost as if we have to start again. Which is interesting, though, as I say, all the behind the scenes stuff is cracking on so we're, we're in a good place there. Before lockdown. I was I was hosting events every week in our office, and for about 80 people a week. We already have about 700 members for the club in Singapore, right go with a goal to open with about 2000. So that's very doable. We're, we're very excited. The the Singapore is ready for 67,000 hours. There's no doubt about that. And the whole wine culture here is really progressing. Sometimes people say why didn't we do Hong Kong? First. And this was before sort of the issues and troubles started on in Hong Kong. So that wasn't really, you know, on the agenda. But we looked at Hong Kong, we looked at Singapore, and we just felt Singapore we were getting in there. slightly earlier stage in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is already a crowded market in the wine world and hospitality, whereas Singapore is on a journey. And so we're getting there earlier. And for us, that's more exciting, to be honest.

Phil Street 04:42

Yeah, absolutely. I mentioned in the preamble at the beginning how we met Can you remember that? Or shall I just regale you? Why don't you remind me. It was at a networking event run by EP This is probably 2010 or 11. About then. And I think at that point, you are running your own company. And I always remember this, this is just stuck with me for for the rest of time, I asked a typical question that you do at networking events is Who are you in what you do? And you told me the name of your company at the time. And I said, and what does that involve? And you said, Well, basically, I help people with their drinking strategies.

Niels Sherry 05:20


Phil Street 05:21

And until that point, I'd never known that you could have a drinking strategy. And that's always stuck with me, I just think it's a it's a really, you don't you didn't need 30 seconds of an elevator pitch, you just needed that one line?

Niels Sherry 05:34

Yeah, it's, um, you know, the whole wine thing kind of happened By... of course, wine's always been a big part of my life of being in hospitality. But the kind of getting into sort of wine business more seriously was a, just an off chance, you know, meeting with a chapter wants to create a private, familiar service, consult someone. And so I was one of the first person to be part of that we built that business up. And then then the sort of wild thing has kind of stayed with me along the way. It's a fascinating world, and very enjoyable. And I particularly like what I'm doing at the moment, being in the world of clubs. And what I find quite refreshing is, I love hotels to bits, and you'll hear probably a bit more about, you know, what I've been up to. But in hotels, generally speaking, your customers come and go, will be with a few regulars that you see more often. Yeah. But in a club, you have a permanent base of people that aren't going anywhere. And so you really do spend time investing, you know, getting to know them, getting to other personalities, then getting to know you, you know, you share the sad moments shut you share that the moments of joy. And it's just, it's just fascinating. And, you know, being a club that's, you know, cycles around wine, we have a really interesting membership, you know, really high achievers, and they've got interesting stories. And I find that, you know, particularly interesting, and one of the most rewarding parts of this current part of my career.

Phil Street 07:01

Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned stories there. I'm on board with that 100%. I just think the stories that people have to tell are one of the most interesting things that exist in any kind of career that you you end up pursuing. So let's talk about your story. Or take us all the way back to the beginning of your career. You don't need to mention yours or anything like that. But what was your What was your path to do? Did you study at university? Just Just talk us through from the beginning?

Niels Sherry 07:32

Okay, it's some Well, I've been in, I've been working in the business for about over 36 years. So I've been around for a while. And it's interesting. I was listening to a podcast of David Calgary the other day. Yeah. I met David Calgary at the Ritz probably 35 years ago. And we've known each other forever, right. I think that's part of our industry. By the way, I think it's, you know, the friendships, we gain through both people that we meet in the business, but the people we work with is second to none. And in one of my notes that I made I, I said somewhere that I I wish that GM social media been around 36 years ago, when it would have been a lot easier to keep in touch with people. So sometimes, now you might have lost touch with someone for 10 years, and you just bump into them in and out another event. But when you start chatting, it's as if you had been speaking only yesterday. So I think that's amazing industry that to answer your question. Two things happens that were kind of aligned when I was at school, finishing my A Levels. A chap called Richard Edward Edmonds who was running. He was the secretary of boodles, was an old boy at the school and he came to give a career chat. So that was one big influence that I had. And then a friend of a family friend, was running one of the major hotels in London, I just kind of saw the way he was living and what he was up to, and there was something quite mysterious about it. And so that's when I thought, you know what, I need to dip my toe into this and kind of find out a little bit about it. And so I did a little bit of holiday work in some small hotels and you know, in school breaks and stuff, and I can't support this, this is kind of understand this. Then I thought, Okay, what do I do? I'm going to I'm going to leave school they levels what's the next step? So I interviewed with the Savoy group to be asked the boy trainee management trainee of a lady called Olive Barnet. And I was offered a position to do so. And at the same time, I also applied to Westminster College, hotel school intention square in London. And I was also offered a opportunity there, and I couldn't decide between the two. And in the end, I thought, you know what, I can probably do both. So I went to Westminster. I took an eight HMD and negotiated with the Savoy that after I finished my course I would join Savoy's postgraduate training. And so I was very lucky to be able to do that. And then when I was at Westminster in this various holiday breaks, there's particularly that the summer, I worked at the Ritz Hotel in London's where I met David Cowdery. And that just gave me more insight. And I was, and I did all sorts of things. I was working in room service and restaurants and all that sort of stuff. And I was fascinated by it. I then left the hotel school thoroughly enjoyed that that was not like education, it's almost like a sometimes they used to refer to it like a finishing school, because it was just teaching you how to enjoy and do the finer things in life. And I particularly remember having gastronomy as one of my my subjects and, you know, starting to do all the wine tastings, which obviously, was premonition of thing of things to come. But I after I left Westminster, I bizarrely and not released, but I worked at the Lancaster Hotel in Paris, which was part of the Savoy group. Then the funny side of that was that when I I went there, of course, with the idea in my mind that I would improve my French, however, being a hotel owned by an English company, everyone that worked there was English. The linguistic skills were not developed to, unfortunately, yeah. So then I came, came back from Lancaster and I joined Savoy at the time, it was being run by Willie Bower infamous Willie Bower. And I started first job there was working in the American Bar with two great barman, one guy called Rick Gower, and another guy called Peter Direlli. He's had a very interesting career. And then from there, I went to the cashiers department, and eventually ended up on the on the front desk, and I worked my way up from being a very, very, very junior receptionist. And at the end of my time, at the Savoy, I was the assistant front of house manager. So really looking at the day to day running of front offers and being a duty manager. And that was incredible. I mean, you, you know, one of the things I talked about lace was just, you know, the people you meet, and my gosh, was the boy, you know, every day you would meet someone famous, or you know, it was just incredible, incredible meeting all the politicians, you know, you get a phone call in the evening, you know, from parents house saying the queen mother wants to pop into the grill to have a bite to eat, you know, and, you know, you're, you know, she'd pop along and what was bizarre, you couldn't make this up, you know, she'd come into the hotel, and she'd wander around the lobby, and she just talked to the guests, right? was, you know, imagine being an American, you know, standing in the lobby of the hotel and saying the queen mother comes up and says, Hello, very fast.

Phil Street 12:36

Very cool. Yeah.

Niels Sherry 12:37

So the Savoy was a an important part of my career. I, I don't think The Savoy taught me about finance or any of that stuff in hotel well, but it certainly taught me about hospitality, looking after people. So that's my, my big takeaway, you know, from there. Yeah. And then Peter Chrome, who's a great friend of mine, was the Hotel Manager, Savoy, and he moved up to the St Andrews Old course to reopen that after a huge refurbishment, and he asked me to go up there as the front of house manager that inside, you know, had a bigger department more responsibility. And it was kind of a it was a it was an interesting move. And it was getting out of London in a different type of hotel. And I, I am a believer that, you know, in one's career, you should have ferocity of the people, the places that you work, because they bring something different to the table and you take have different takeaways from them. Yeah. And dad was was a sort of it was half leisure, I suppose, with the Gulf being massively important, but it was also called a big conference hotel, especially in the winter. And the hotel was kind of a sister relationship to intercontinental hotels at the time, it had the same owners, but they wanted it to run as a separate entity. In fact, it was it was rosewoods first hotel in the United Kingdom. They were that the managing property

Phil Street 13:54

Is it really Yeah, I did not know that.

Niels Sherry 13:58

So that was, that was kind of interesting. Yeah. So I was out, yeah, didn't suntan for a few years, you know, great, great place. And then, you know, it's also I had to get back into the smoke. I had to get back into into London or a big city to really, you know, be working in hotels that were doing a 5% occupancy. And we're kind of machines. And you know, and I so I joined what was Sheraton hotels at the time, but then became Starwood Hotels, and I started at the park town in Knightsbridge. Working with Derek Pico, another infamous hotelier and started off as the front office manager, there became executive systems and eventually, I ran the hotels hotel manager. We had a central GM which was Michael whale at the time, and I ran the hotel and Starwood kind of brought me that the things that Savoy didn't say, Starwood was all about structure, financials, you know, really, really organised And I was there for about five years, you know, and loved it. Again, massively important part of my, my career, but then it was time for change. I got approached to go work for a guy called Ian Schrager. And nobody's heard of him. No one's heard of him. And it was a friend of mine it was a chap called Ian Nicholson against known hotel a basin states now called me and told me about the opportunity. And actually the opportunity was to actually was to be the GM of Sanderson hotel, which was the second hotel opening, but I was to be brought on board to be go through the process of the opening of St Martins lane, then learn from that. So I could then you know, benefit from hindsight of that when when we did Sanderson

Phil Street 15:45


Niels Sherry 15:46

So I got involved with St Martins Lane. Amazing. I mean, I met Ian Schrager. You know, what those hotels were doing? Back in 1999. was ground breaking there was nothing like it. And you know, Ian, you know, I took when I first heard of Ian Schrager had to go and Google him find out about him and all that sort of stuff. And I was really encouraged by friends to make a jump because it was a it was going from two very different organisations in Schrager hotels, the time it was a bit disorganised, they were great, they made loads of money. There wasn't a massive amount of structure. The branding was em, and nothing's really documented on that front, which which later changed to a great extent. Um, but what was interesting, so about an asset to Martha's name was about to open, I saw various bits of recruitment, various things going on, I thought, well, I'm kind of going psilocin because you know, this, this gave me some tough issues here. About two weeks later, he changed his mind and asked me to run to Martins lane hotel, and it was a blast. I mean, I remember when those doors first opened, that you need a crowd control. There was so many people trying to get into that hotel to see it. The press coverage, you'd never seen anything like it. I mean, every magazine, glossy magazine didn't just have like a couple of inches of column news on it. They had six page spreads with all the great photography. I mean, it was it was it was amazing. And the hotel was full from day one. There was no, there's no ramp up period. Yeah, we will talk about how you know, you go from first couple of months that you have 30% up, it was full from from day one....