Conversations with Experts: Bob Cotton OBE
After being one of the first people to ever graduate with a degree in Hotel Management, Bob spent the first 5 years of his career working in the car industry and looking after food services for Ford, Chrysler, British Leyland and their 60k-200k employees. He then moved to Gardner Merchant where, for the next 25 years, he saw the growth of the company to their management buyout in 1994 and their expansion to 19 countries around the world. Since then, he has been appointed chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), Chairman of the Tourism Alliance and Chairman of Hospitality Action. He also received an OBE for his services to the tourism and hospitality industry.
Here, we talk to Bob about hospitality as a people-focused industry, the rising problem of staff retention, and how platforms like Eko can help.
Many believe that the hospitality industry is more of a ‘traditional’ style of business than a tech-savvy one. What can you say about technology adoption in hospitality?
I wouldn’t say hospitality is a ‘traditional’ industry but it’s definitely a people-driven business. In many other industries, you can replace the workforce with machines, robots and artificial intelligence. But you can’t do that with hospitality–it’s all about the point of contact between the staff and customers, and that needs a human touch. Technology can definitely come in as a part of that and help improve that relationship – but it can not replace it.
What exactly is technology’s role in that?
One example is communication platforms and how technology can greatly aid how we communicate with staff, and train staff to communicate with customers. A big proportion of the hospitality workforce are young people–first-jobbers–who communicate best through technology. They don’t really speak to each other face-to-face. If that’s the way the majority of the workforce gains knowledge and shares information, then the industry has to embrace the technology needed for this.
It helps with staff retention too, right?
Definitely. I’ve always been a firm believer that when staff quit, it’s because of poor people management. People leave people, not companies. Platforms like Eko can help management greatly – making employees feel more connected and engaged with one another by aiding communication up, down and across the company. This is crucial especially in post-Brexit Britain, where we now have a tighter labour market and retaining your workforce has become crucial.
Do you think Eko is the right platform to help with this?
Yes. What I like about Eko is that it’s a one-stop shop that has everything employees need in a workplace. It’s easy to use which is great for people who may not be the most tech-savvy. It’s also very flexible, you can adapt it to your company’s needs, but also has a very good security system so you don’t have to worry about giving out people’s private data. Another huge factor is that it’s cost effective. The last thing you want is a complicated system that will cost you a lot – with Eko, you can easily calculate how much it will cost you thanks to the per head pricing system, and it’s much more affordable than buying multiple different products for what you need.
Do you think Eko can play a role in shaping a company’s work culture?
Company culture is something that always has to come from the top. By implementing a platform like Eko that encourages people to talk amongst themselves, to share ideas and to work together–that’s the right culture you want to build. By building these aspects, you’ll create a great team. And it’s always the great teams that win, not the smart individuals. In particular, I really like Eko’s reward system where you can send a positive tick to a team member and everyone in the company can see it.