John Hovarth of Cedar Court Hotels runs the show in more ways than one
PUBLISHED: 23:50 04 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:27 20 February 2013
This business leader runs a hotel group, not to mention marathons, and is dad to twin baby boys. Chris Titley asks: how does he do it?
The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012 issue of Yorkshire Life
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Despite grafting from dawn till dusk, John Horvath insists he hasnt got a full-time job.
I have a saying, which I tell my young managers: I work on a 36-hour day and an eight-day week, which means I class myself as part-time.
It makes a strange kind of sense. Repeated 14-hour shifts may seem less onerous if you believe the day has 36 hours rather than 24. I dont think my wife agrees, John admits.
Such dedication has helped him rise to the top of Yorkshires hospitality industry, as group hotel director of Cedar Court Hotels. He joined the company 20 years ago as general manager of the groups Wakefield hotel. Now the company is one of Yorkshires largest independent hoteliers, with four four-star properties in Harrogate, Bradford, Wakefield and Huddersfield, as well as Cedar Court Grand Hotel & Spa which became Yorks first ever five-star hotel when it opened in 2010.
Many questioned the decision to convert the citys old railway headquarters into luxury accommodation in the middle of a downturn. But already the risk is paying off. Weve got great occupancy and room rates in York.
The return on our investments happening, John said.
With a 1 million refurbishment of Wakefield also underway, he is very positive about the future. Short term, the vision is very clearly investment in the four-star properties, both the product and the staff training, and thats ongoing now.
Long term, we need to look at developing the brand nationally. Good Yorkshire brands from Morrisons to Asda started strong regionally then decided what to do nationally.
Johns journey didnt begin in Yorkshire, but in his native West Midlands. As a 15-year-old he fully expected to take up an engineering apprenticeship, until someone from the hotels sector gave a careers talk at school. He was instantly hooked.
But has the industry lived up to his teenage expectations? Im still in it! To stay in one career for 35 years and still have that buzz you had when you were 16 is quite unusual.
Other people put the hours in but never rise to the top of the pile. They most likely lack Johns focus. Ive always had a clarity of vision. Ive always known where I was going, a sense of purpose.
He is a people person, a great asset in hospitality, and although he admits it can be lonely at the top having great staff and customers around you, youre never that lonely.
There are many challenges to the modern hotelier finding and developing the right staff is one of them, especially as the hospitality sector often fails to do itself justice.
The industry still doesnt have a glamorous image, although for me its been fantastic. Ive always tried to inspire people to come into it. The reality shows over the years dont help sometimes. We dont do ourselves justice.
Television producers wouldnt be interested in the Cedar Court Wakefield, he says, because were efficient and organised, what customers want. They want the Basil Fawlty moments.
Another challenge is attracting customers in the internet age. The whole worlds changing. You do have to look at your business model, attract different customers, understand who is out there.
Unlike some his age John, 51, has embraced social media like Twitter and Facebook. Its part of communication. Where youve got clarity of vision, you can communicate that quite regularly using the tools around you, and technologys very good for that. Despite his long hours, John strives to make time for his wife and twin nine-month-old boys. Coming to work is so easy compared to my wifes day. My priorities when I get home are all about her.
Hows he coping with the sleepless nights? One wakes up, the other wakes up thats the challenge we have got at present. I have been used to broken sleep working in this industry, sometimes no sleep. It means if I get four hours its a bonus.
As if this werent enough, John recently completed the London Marathon in aid of Wakefield Hospice. He came in the top third with a time of 4h 23mins which, he points out with a smile, was faster than Welcome to Yorkshire boss Gary Verity, chef Gordon Ramsay and politician Ed Balls.
What are his tips for the upcoming generation in business?
Start young, he says. Dont be embarrassed to learn from old codgers like me. Dont worry about putting the hours in. I remember working as a trainee in London and had three jobs on the go. I learned a lot that way. And enjoy what you do if you dont enjoy it, why are you doing it?