In celebration of International Women’s Day 2021, CEO Julia Hands answers six questions about her own experience as a business leader in the hospitality industry.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I have received a large amount of good advice over the years. One piece which springs to mind is something my husband Guy said to me when I made the decision to take on the role of CEO of Hand Picked Hotels. Other than as a customer I knew very little about the running of hotels and it was a daunting task. He said to me that I would inevitably make mistakes but they would probably be no worse than anyone else’s mistakes. This did give me considerable confidence to go ahead, to implement my ideas, to experiment and along the way to make mistakes. On balance I believe the mistakes were vastly outweighed by the good decisions and I am immensely proud of what was created.

What qualities do you think are important in a good leader?

I would single out three qualities which are Clarity, Humanity and Honesty. 

Clarity of direction and its expression are crucial if a leader is going to take people with them. Ultimately a leader has to empower team members to do their jobs without constant supervision. They cannot do this unless they clearly understand what is expected of them and why.

Humanity is critical in hospitality where the business is all about people. Everyone is an individual and brings something unique to the task in hand. This should be recognised and celebrated. People have particular needs and these needs should be addressed and supported wherever possible. 

Honesty brings an open culture to a company where there are no hidden agendas and where people know where they stand. This is important in both internal matters and in dealings with third parties. Honesty brings certainty which brings security.

What do you most enjoy about working as a business leader in the hospitality industry?

I love the diversity of the industry and its inclusiveness. It welcomes people from all backgrounds and cultures and has a role for each of them. It is a real pleasure to meet team workers and hear their stories. The team spirit that I see in Hand Picked can also be found in the wider industry. I was deeply impressed by the generosity shown by others in the industry who gave me so much time and advice in the early days of Hand Picked and who now, so many years later, continue to do so when asked.

Which woman (or women) would you like to celebrate or thank on International Women’s day and why?

In addressing this question I have to start with my mother. Sadly she died nearly five years ago but during her life she was a constant source of love, support and encouragement for me. She never once asked me if I was sure I could do something nor did she put pressure on me to choose a route in life I did not want. She loved Hand Picked and celebrating her 80th birthday at Buxted Park will be a treasured memory for me for the rest of my life. 

I would also like to take the opportunity to celebrate and thank my two daughters. I am extremely proud of what they have achieved so far in their young lives and am full of hope and expectation for their future.

As we know Hospitality has had a challenging year and some people have very sadly decided to leave the industry or are reconsidering their career paths. What would you say to someone considering a career in hospitality?

I would say that although the industry has endured a terrible time during the pandemic, it will bounce back. There will always be a need for hotels and restaurants and passionate, committed people to bring them alive. It is an extraordinary industry where people can start at the bottom with no qualification and rise to the top – the lack of barriers remains impressive. 

Ultimately it is a business for people who want to make a difference, to work, to make others feel welcome and special and to bring joy to their lives. I am a Patron of Springboard, a charity which does invaluable work in bringing people into the industry. The stories they tell of those who have for a variety of reasons begun a career in hospitality and they success they have enjoyed in doing this are so uplifting.  

And finally, now it seems there is soon to be light at the end of the tunnel, what are you most looking forward to when all this is all over?

I am so looking forward to us being able to do what we do best without restriction. I cannot wait to be able to visit the hotels and speak to people face to face – to be in amongst the magic and experience Hand Picked first hand once more.