Brennan is the proprietor of the award-winning five-star Park Hotel Kenmare, voted Hotel of the Year by Egon Ronay.
Name: Francis Brennan
Third-level education: A degree from Dublin Institute of Technology, Cathal Brugha Street
In the news for: Brennan is the proprietor of the award-winning five-star Park Hotel Kenmare, voted Hotel of the Year by Egon Ronay. His brother John is general manager. Four years ago they added the Sámas Spa, which recently won top awards from Condé Nast Traveler and Spa Finder.
Where did you grow up?
Sandyford, Co Dublin. My parents owned a grocery store there. I went to CBS Westland Row and CUS with the Marist Fathers. I found the difference was that the former tried to beat the knowledge into you while the latter told it to you. I was quite diligent but never seemed to get anywhere in school.
What was your first paying job?
Working in the Step Inn when I was 14. I spent three summers there.
What did you do after school?
I did a degree in Cathal Brugha Street. Once I got to college I had no problem studying as I was genuinely interested in the subjects being taught. I worked my way through those years getting great experience doing stints in various hotels. Once I qualified I did a four-year management programme with Jury's in Sligo, then in the old Jury's on Dame Street. I moved on to become a verbal prostitute for Great Southern Hotels -- I was duty manager in Parknasilla and I loved it. I got to look after all the guests and was there when Queen Juliana came to stay.
Had you always intended to work in the hotel business?
I always knew I'd work in a service business. As my parents ran a grocery shop I was very aware of the psychology that lies behind serving a customer -- in those days you had to figure out what people wanted before you stocked it. The hotel business is similar. When I was quite young my parents were thinking of opening a hotel themselves and I had visions of myself as head waiter, wearing an old tail coat we used for dressing up.
When did you get your break?
When I was working in The Park Kenmare. It used to be a Great Southern Hotel, then a Swiss company took over but got into difficulties and went bust. When I was 24, there was an opportunity for someone to take over and my accountant Pat Sheahan said 'why don't you go for it yourself?' I am a risk taker so I set up a company in a week and leased the hotel, having borrowed £40k against the deeds of my parents' house. It was a nightmare trying to get money from the banks as they all thought I was too young but it worked out in the end. My brother John joined as general manager in 1996 and we set about refurbishing, finally adding the spa retreat in 2003.
What is your advice for people who want to get into the business?
Age doesn't matter in this game, but you need to enjoy serving others. It helps if you have some personality and can chat away to guests comfortably. When we opened in 1986 the average age of the staff was 19. I pushed it up a bit, but out of the 72 staff members we now have, many have worked here since then. We go on a staff holiday together once a year. We've been everywhere from the Canaries to Las Vegas.
Has there been a low point in your career?
9/11 was a bad time, as at that point 60pc of our business was from the US. When we opened, our ideal guest was over 55 with a good book -- but if they were 55 in the Eighties they could be dead today. The spa has transformed our customer base. We took a big risk, as there are separate areas for men and women, but men are more open to the concept than you might think -- we have loads of fellas using it.
If you were to change career, what would you do?
I'd probably go into broadcasting. I love music and listen to everything from the Arctic Monkeys to Handel so I could see myself doing a radio show.
Interview by Hilary Fennell
© Whitespace Ltd