10 Years in Hospitality FM From Grade I Listed Hotels to Richard Branson's Moskito Island

Episode 19

Facilities Management Podcast


About this episode

Charlie Wilson, the Head of Property and Estates at Gaucho and M Restaurants, talks us through the post-pandemic challenges in the hospitality industry, the risks associated with FM in Grade I listed buildings, and why you should never ignore your LinkedIn messages.


Charlie Green (Host): Charles is the Head of Property and Estates at Gaucho and M Restaurants. 

Charles has worked at well known companies including Prezzo, EasyHotel, Atlas Hotels, Handpicked hotels and Crowne Plaza. 

Charles has over 10 years’ experience in the property and facilities management sectors and worked internationally as the Maintenance Manager for Richard Branson’s privately owned Moskito Island so it will be great to hear his take on facilities management

Lauren Nicholson (Organiser): So thanks for joining us today, Charlie. We really appreciate your time to talk to us about facilities management. I’m Lauren, our podcast organiser, and as I previously mentioned, we find that facility teams are often underrated, which I’m sure you agree with. So hopefully with your expertise, we are going to further highlight the importance of FM to our audience. We do these podcasts to get insights from experts in the facilities management field, and we learn a lot from your experience.

And we understand that your role will have been vital to many customer experiences in the restaurants and hotels that you have worked with. So we know your insights will be really helpful to our listeners. With that said, I’ll pass you over to our hosts, our Senior Research Analyst, Charlie, and Head of Content, Ryan.

Charlie Green: Thank you very much for joining us today, Charlie. We really appreciate you coming on the podcast. We’ll jump straight into the questions if that’s all right. We start these podcasts usually with a bit of an origin story. And I’m sure our listeners will be very keen to hear about your professional journey and how you got into the world of property and facilities management.

Charlie Wilson (Guest): Yeah, it goes back quite a long way now. When I was going right back when I was at school, I was never very academic. I never really enjoyed that sort of thing. So I think I always had this thing in me where I wanted more of a practical world. However, at that point in time, it was never really, it never felt available. So it wasn’t really until I was about 18, 19, until I thought, well, I really want to go ahead and get some sort of practical skill.

So I ended up doing a three-year apprenticeship in joinery. So I did my joinery apprenticeship, love that, on the practical side. And then after that, I went on to do like a HNC certificate, which is a slightly different thing to a sort of trade, which you learn. So, yeah, I was never really academic. I wanted a skill and at that time, I was offered a position within a hotel to do sort of general maintenance and facilities. So that’s kind of how I got started.

Charlie Green: Fascinating. Yeah, it’s interesting how you found your way into it and your current position is Head of Property and Estates at Rare restaurants. Can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you in that role?

Charlie Wilson: Yeah, I mean, obviously every single day is, I’m sure all the facilities, ladies and gents will tell you that every single day is massively different. You could be dealing with something, high-level emergencies where you’ve got huge leaks and floods coming into the premises. You could be dealing with capital refurbishment programs, day-to-day, general maintenance activities. Dealing with contractors every single day and obviously the property team. So it is very varied every single day. There’s no day that is the same, which I guess is a good thing really.

Charlie Green: Yeah, definitely. I think we should maybe rephrase that question because everyone says the same thing, but it just shows how varied FM can be. But better to be busy than bored. You previously worked within the hotel industry. Can you tell us a little bit about the switch between hotels and food and beverage where you are now? Maybe what the differences are in FM.

Charlie Wilson: Yeah, I mean, obviously it’s massively transferable going from, you know, the sort of hotel side of hospitality into the sort of more F&B-focused side. So, yeah, I mean, obviously a hotel doesn’t shut, which is, you know, 24-7, 365 days. So, you know, you have the opportunity where restaurants are closed so you can complete certain things out of hours a lot easier. have a lot more people in hotels, so that has its own challenge. And like any business within hospitality, you’re trying to look after the guests. So that remains the same from hotel versus restaurant. But yeah, I mean, relatively speaking, you’ve got a kitchen within a hotel, so you’ve got kitchens in the restaurants, you’ve got the bar, you’ve got the guests. So ultimately it is the same, just a slightly, you know. So I have a different business model, to be honest.

Ryan Condon (Host): Is the focus, obviously the focus is on the customer, the guests of a hotel, is it still the same when you come to a restaurant or is there something else that takes a bit more priority there? 

Charlie Wilson: I think the experience of going to a hotel and being looked after versus going to a restaurant and being looked after, the principle is the same. Within a restaurant you’re there for a short period of time and I think expectations may be slightly higher, especially when you come into a restaurant like Gouch or M where the experience is key. It is, you know, you’re spending a short amount of time within a restaurant than a hotel. I do feel the expectation is higher when you go out for a meal, especially on our type of level at the moment. People seem to be going out spending their money at the higher end of the market, I think, because they’re really, you know, they’ve worked really hard and they want to go and enjoy themselves. So, yeah, I think there will always be a slight difference, but I think the expectation of going out for a meal, you know, particularly these days. 

There’s definitely more of an expectation that goes with it. 

Charlie Green: In 2015, you took on the role of maintenance manager at Mosquito Island, which is the privately owned island by Richard Branson in the Caribbean. We found that intriguing. Like that is a really, really cool post. How did that come about? And what were your roles and responsibilities there?

Charlie Wilson: Yeah, I mean, obviously, you know, absolutely amazing experience and, you know, for myself, my career, my family is a brilliant opportunity. So it actually came through LinkedIn. I had a message one day, I was at work, I received a message and I found my wife and I said, I’ve just had this message and I sent it to her and I said, is this legitimate? And she said, well, it can only be legitimate. So I followed it through.

We had various discussions, exchange emails and messages. That was probably one of the first-ever teams call I ever did. I was like, what’s this about? And it just progressed. It progressed and it got to the point where we had to make a decision. So, we went for it and we moved across to the Caribbean, rented our house out. And yeah, we went over there and, you know, it’s a totally different world, to be quite honest.

Ryan: Makes me think I should stop ignoring my LinkedIn messages, Charlie.

Charlie Green: Yeah

Charlie Wilson: Do you know what? I mean it’s something that I learnt so much from. It was totally different to anything you’re going to find over here. Everything was difficult. The climate, logistics, they do things differently to the way that we do. So I learnt loads of it. I learnt loads of things over there. Met some amazing people who are still keeping contact with today. So I was really lucky to have that.

Charlie Green: That’s fascinating. Could you maybe touch on what your roles and responsibilities

Ryan: Yeah, that’s incredible, like the whole experience of that. And then you’ve had different roles, for example, at is it Fawzi Hall Hotel, which is a grade one listed site. So there’s gotta be many challenges that come with working with grade one listed sites as a maintenance manager. How do you sort of deal with those restrictions that are in place?

Charlie Wilson: Yeah, I’ve worked in all different types of buildings, which I think is one of the most fun parts really about my career in property and facilities management. But yeah, I mean, working within listing buildings has its own challenges and you have to tread a bit more careful with what you’re doing, have a different type of respect for the building. But you want to have things which are quite exciting.

When you start taking things apart. Obviously you have to work with local authorities a bit closer. So different challenges, but I think that’s what makes working in this industry quite exciting that you never really know what you’re going to find. It doesn’t matter if it’s a brand new building or if it’s 800 years old, it doesn’t matter. All different challenges.

Ryan: Yeah, sure. We’ll go back to the time at Mosquito Island where you mentioned about the implementation of a preventative maintenance schedule where you were there. How were you able to build that preventative maintenance strategy and what worked best for you? What did it require from you while you were there?

Charlie Wilson: I had to be really reliant on the people who were already in the business. So they obviously had a lot of knowledge over there. But it was about the principles remain the same to be quite honest. Working really closely with trusted contractors and in terms of contractors over there, you’ve got more local people who are very highly skilled, whether that be electrical or plumbing, they were amazing at joinery and carpentry which was great for me to be involved with as that’s kind of my background. So it was heavily reliant on the people with the skill, you know, keeping a close-knit relationship with those people. And yeah, and building something that wasn’t there in terms of more of a plan schedule, looking after the estate, you know, we were looking after people who had a lot of money on that island. And the expectation there was far higher than any of the expectation I’ve probably ever come across in terms of what people are looking to find. There was no sort of margin for, there was not really any margin for breakdowns, to be honest, even though there was. However, you deal with it based on the people that you put in place to support you. So it was about.

It was about working with the local people, the trades, and also, you know, obviously the team that are already on board and just trying to strengthen it, to be honest.

Ryan: I guess it comes back to what you were saying about the rare restaurants, you know, creating that experience, making sure that experience never fails. I mean, we had a look at the room rates of Mosquito Island the other day, and if you’re paying that much, you expect everything to be perfect, you know.

Charlie Wilson: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a billion pounds or, you know, a few hundred pounds, I think, you know, your expectation is your expectation. And I think obviously over there, you meet some fascinating different people. And yeah, I mean, it goes back to the same thing. People are paying, you know, people work hard to earn their money. And especially, I think in the industry that we’re in, the higher end of the market, people who are spending their money at the higher end of the market. So, you know, we want to make sure that people leave with a really positive experience.

Charlie Green: Now, there must have been some challenges that you faced on that island in terms of maintenance, but also in terms of logistics because you’re in the middle of the Caribbean on an island. So how did you manage those logistics and what were some of the most unique challenges that you faced there?

Charlie Wilson: Yeah, logistics was one of the things that you really had to think quite far ahead on. So, you know, there’s a bit more of a challenge when you’re ordering something from the UK, if you miss that you’re not really going to get it within the next day or so. And also cost, the costs of it as well was, you know, can be more than the item that you’re buying. So we really had to think about, think ahead of the equipment, the stuff that we were ordering in, the parts and making sure that you had them available. So we did have to have like a buffer stock and stuff. So yeah, so the logistics and the lead time in the UK was a bit more of a challenge. What you have there is the weather.

The weather, you know, we had hurricanes that were coming through. And that’s where it was a bit more of a challenge, so having to sort of try and prepare and obviously look after people who are already on the island at the time. And obviously, you know, I can remember one evening when we had a storm warning coming through and we’ve got to quickly prepare for that. That was quite a challenge. And then, of course, we’ve got to recover from it.

And so yeah, I think the logistics were a challenge because obviously, the weather was also a bit more of a challenge as well.

Ryan: I suppose the hurricane’s probably more a challenge to some of the buildings that you have to look after as well.

Charlie Wilson: Yeah. I mean, obviously with that, you know, we were working with a lot of wood. Obviously, you’re working with a lot of wood and that wood is obviously, in those conditions, which is quite harsh. You know, everything’s good because it’s hot and sunny and the wood dries out and stuff. However, you’ve got a lot of moisture in the air. So things break down quite quickly. So there’s quite a lot of maintenance especially looking after the gardens, the fields, and everything over there. There’s a lot of maintenance and the buildings as well. So, yeah, so there was quite a lot of activity, a lot of things, a lot of different challenges. But that’s the excitement of it. And it kind of keeps you on your toes because you don’t really know what you’re going to expect every single day.

Charlie Green: Yeah. I mean, that’s the beauty of working in facilities management, right? Every day is different, and you have to adapt to the circumstances.

Charlie Wilson: Yeah.

Charlie Green: And speaking of adapting, you know, we’ve gone through some challenging times over the past couple of years with the COVID-19 pandemic. How did that impact your role in facilities management, especially within the context of the hospitality industry?

Charlie Wilson: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think it’s the same for everybody really. I think obviously it was the impact that the pandemic had was, you know, it was far-reaching and it hit us all in terms of facilities management because obviously you’re looking at how to reduce the cost within the business. You’ve got the safety of people and staff as well. So yeah, it impacted the business quite a lot. I mean, for us, a lot of the properties were closed, so we had to have a look at how you reduce the cost, but still keep, you know, the life of the building still going because obviously there’s no one there and there’s no one using them. So, we still have to maintain that the facility.

So we had to look at a lot of reducing costs, looking at things, talking to the suppliers, the contractors, making sure that they’re aware that we’re in a pandemic and the impact that the business has. And it’s about working together as well and finding the best solution to be able to keep everything maintained. But the impact is huge. It was huge.

You know, we’re lucky in some ways because, you know, we had a little bit more support from some of the landlords and also the government as well. So that’s definitely something to be, you know, I’m really pleased for the support that we had. So that definitely helped.

Charlie Green: Yeah, I can imagine it was a major challenge, especially when many facilities were not being used to their full capacity or even closed down temporarily.

Charlie Wilson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And also the challenge, I think, for us was, you know, as a company, as an organization, you’re obviously looking at different types of risks. You know, when you’re planning ahead and you’re planning with, you know, every day and every month and looking ahead for the year, you’re looking at different risks that come into play.

And, you know, you’re expecting to hear things like, oh, we’re going to have a flood, so we need to look at how we respond to that, or a power failure, or anything else. And no one was looking at something which is going to impact us globally, something that’s far-reaching, which is going to impact everybody, every single person, not just in the UK but globally. So that was a bit of a challenge, I think, you know, as facilities professionals and maintenance professionals. You know, I think we are so used to dealing with risks and risk management, but no one really.

Or very few people really expect something that’s going to be far-reaching, going to be a pandemic which is going to impact us all globally.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s sort of a new level of preparedness, I guess, isn’t it? That you need to put in place, now. And some of the people in facilities management that we speak to have mentioned, like they’ve gone back and, you know, had to readdress and rethink a lot of the plans that they already have in place, ready for any kind of crisis.

Charlie Wilson: Yeah. I think everyone’s kind of readdressed their business continuity, which is important because obviously we know the impact that it can have. So there’s a little bit more awareness, a lot more risk awareness and, you know, a lot more about what the impact is.

You know, obviously I was used to working within a restaurant which was really busy. And then when the pandemic struck, it was totally different. We had no one in there. So, you know, it is about thinking about, you know, what are you going to do and how are you going to be able to sort of provide continuity, business continuity and keep the building alive.

Charlie Green: Yeah, it’s been a transformative period for many industries, including facilities management. And as we move forward, you know, it’s important to take those lessons and adapt to the changing circumstances.

Charlie Wilson: Absolutely, yeah.

Charlie Green: So, in your career, you’ve had experience in various aspects of facilities management, from managing private islands to working in hotels and restaurants. What are some key lessons or insights you’ve gained throughout your career that you think are valuable for others in the field of facilities management?

Charlie Wilson: I think, you know, it’s about respect. I think it’s about respect for people. You know, respect for the people that you’re working with and, you know, your team. Because obviously the team is key and obviously working in different buildings, you know, everybody is so different. Everybody’s an individual. And I think it’s about respect and how you deal with people and how you, you know, just speak to people. The impact that you have on people. I think that’s really key.

And I think, I think it is also about looking forward as well. You know, looking ahead of what you’ve got and looking at the risks and also about the impacts. And obviously, you know, the impacts that we’ve just been talking about, you know, the pandemic, that it’s about thinking forward and thinking ahead and looking at the risks and how you manage those risks. It’s so much involved. And it’s, it can be really exciting. And every day is different. And I think that’s a really exciting thing.

And also, I think it is about the learning. You know, I started right at the bottom and worked my way through. And, you know, I’ve learned so much throughout my career. And, you know, I’m still learning and still looking to do more qualifications. And, you know, so there’s always a chance to learn, I think.

Ryan: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, the respect for people. It’s always key, isn’t it, and that’s something we’ve heard throughout this podcast. Everyone’s different, and everyone has their own needs and requirements, and just that respect for everyone and everyone’s opinions and ideas is a very key thing.

Charlie Wilson: Absolutely.

Charlie Green: Well, Charlie, it’s been fantastic having you on the podcast and hearing about your experiences in facilities management. I think our listeners are going to find this very insightful, especially the wide range of experiences you’ve had. So thank you for taking the time to join us today.

Charlie Wilson: No, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me. It’s been great. Thanks very much.

Charlie Green: And that’s a wrap for this episode of “The Facilities Management Podcast.” If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and leave a review on your preferred podcast platform. We appreciate your support. And if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, feel free to reach out to us. You can find all our contact information in the show notes. Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back with another episode soon.