Paul Dermody (Groves 1963)

2002 Guardian Interview With Paul Dermody...


Chief Executive Of De Vere Hotels, 1963, Trainee Accountant Groves & Whitnall

A weary rep rolls up at his hotel. It has been a long night and he collapses into bed. It is Saturday afternoon when he wakes and flings open the curtains - to find 20,000 people staring in and 22 men running around a field.

Welcome to White's hotel, an integral part of Bolton Wanderers' Reebok stadium. It has 19 pitch side bedrooms, complete with patio doors, a nice little balcony, a couple of comfy chairs and a bird's eye view of the pitch. This is fantasy football - lying in bed and simultaneously watching live soccer. And it is Paul Dermody's pride and joy. Dermody is the chief executive of De Vere hotels, the £400m company behind White's and a portfolio of rather more glitzy and upmarket locations, like the Grand in Brighton, the Belfry near Birmingham and Cameron House on the banks of Loch Lomond.

He is not even a Bolton fan - he's a Man United man - but it is White's he is most proud of, even though it is a concrete monstrosity, surrounded by car parks, with views of a (usually empty) stadium on one side and a panoramic vista of the local Tesco on the other. Dermody is short in stature, and long on blunt northern banter. The sort of chap who calls a spade a bloody shovel and cannot resist the odd jibe about southerners.

White's is a standard "conference hotel", which uses the vast empty spaces under the stands to host corporate presentations. This week it has got BT, Sainsbury and Scottish Courage in; if there is one thing Dermody is not, it is a hotel snob. "It gets ordinary people used to being in a hotel environment", he says. "Then I can sell them a weekend break". Dermody, 56, has worked for De Vere - previously known as Greenalls - for 39 years. He has never run a hotel - "but I know a lot of people who can" - and could not be more different from his predecessor, the rather posh Lord Daresbury of the Greenall brewing dynasty, who is now chairman.

When he was handed the top job two years ago, there were many who thought Lord D and Mr Dermody were not a natural combination. "But I just said: 'Bloody watch me.' People who hadn't met me didn't realise what an awkward sod I could be." He elaborates: "I wouldn't like to be married to me. Can you imagine? I'm a snappy sort of person. Sometimes when I get home I forget where I am. I say 'do this and do that' to my wife Eileen and she has to remind me where I am."

Eileen clearly has her work cut out. "There was a piece in the Financial Times about me which said 'this man is a genius". I had it framed and put it on the wall at home. But then Eileen made me hang it behind a door. She reckoned not everyone would want to see it." Dermody was born and bred in Salford and has never strayed far from home. Until just a couple of years ago he and Eileen, who works in a local hospice, lived in the same semi, despite his rise up the corporate ladder. Now home is a Lancashire cottage. "We have had great fun doing it up. It suits us, because Eileen's small and so am I, and the ceilings are low."

His career started as an accounting trainee at the Groves & Whitnall brewery in Salford, part of Greenall Whitley and the inspiration for Newton & Ridley, the beer in Coronation Street's Rovers Return. Needless to say, Dermody is a big Corrie fan - to the extent that his family arranged for Helen Worth, who plays Gail Tilsley, to turn up at his 50th birthday party. With no prompting he is off down memory lane: "When Len Fairclough and Jerry Booth used to go off to work on the brewery, it was actually the Groves & Whitnall brewery they used. "I am a great fan and a great critic", he says. "But frankly, it's gone down the pan recently. It's just become silly. There are too many daft things going on. Eileen orders me not to speak when it's on, because I am constantly making comments; but I just can't keep quiet". From Groves & Whitnall he moved up the ladder, first running the finances of the Greenalls pubs division and then moving in as financial director when Greenalls bought De Vere in 1984.

Health Club

Then came a spell running the group's Village hotels operation - cheaper than De Vere and built around health club facilities. Greenalls had pulled out of brewing in 1989, choosing instead to concentrate on pubs and hotels. But in 1999 it sold first its tenanted pubs, to concentrate on managed houses, and later that year was made an offer for the managed houses that it couldn't turn down. "We were offered £1.14bn," says Dermody. "We couldn't refuse that." Once the pubs were sold, he says, "we were the only people left". So Greenalls became De Vere and Dermody grabbed the chance to run the business, where he last year earned nearly £300,000. On his watch the share price has climbed from 260p to 380p.

Lack of front-of-house hotel experience is no handicap, he says. "It's just management and the basic principles are the same, regardless of the type of business." He scans the smart restaurant which overlooks the Bolton pitch and says: "It is a great business to be in, a nice place to work." Extending an arm to a young waiter he says: "Take young Ian here, he could be working down a coalmine". Dermody's worst - and finest - moment came last year, when the Ryder Cup due to be played at his Belfry hotel was cancelled with just two weeks' notice after the September 11 attacks. "It is a very big deal for us. The whole world is watching little old De Vere. It is our chance to get on the stage and shine. The chairman and chief executive of every company goes to the Ryder Cup, even if they don't like golf. When it was postponed we had a completely empty hotel and just two weeks to fill it. The marketing people hit the phones. We had the Brabazon course to offer, in Ryder Cup condition. In the end we got it 65% full."

He is determined to "give something back" to his community and is a governor at the local comprehensive that his grown-up children attended and chairs the Northwest skills forum. He shuns the usual executive toys. There are no second homes, racehorses or yachts. "What would I want a boat for? All that upping and downing." Maybe DIY is his bag? "D-I-What?", he almost shouts. "My wife does that in my house." But he is a stickler for holidays. "I insist on taking all mine. You must put them in the diary or work always interferes. I preach that throughout this business. I want people to take their holidays - preferably in the UK and preferably at a De Vere hotel."

He is not, he reckons, the guest from hell, though the staff at an hotel in Rome he recently visited might beg to differ. "My wife and I went for six nights," he says. "They showed us to this room and it was tiny and dark and there wasn't enough room in the wardrobe for my suits, let alone my wife's luggage. But what really annoyed me was that ,when I complained, the man who had showed us to the room immediately took us to another one. He had the key in his pocket. "They were just trying it on, to see if they could rid of that room. The second room was bigger, but it still didn't have enough hangers. And the safe wasn't fixed to the wall." He is into his stride now, because that's not the only thing that annoys him. Restaurants that charge service and then leave the slip open are another. "It really gets my back up. It is appalling. I always make a big show of scribbling it out."

His CV

· Born: October 1 1945
· Education: De La Salle School, Salford; Salford Technical College
· Career....
1963: trainee accountant, Groves & Whitnall;
1972: management accountant, Greenall brewery;
1977: financial controller, Greenall retail;
1984: finance director, De Vere hotels;
1995: chief executive, Village Hotels;
1997: managing director, Greenall Hotels and Leisure;
2000: chief executive, De Vere group
· Home: Worsley, Lancashire
· Family: Married to Eileen. Two children
· Leisure: Singing, swimming, eating out, shopping, "going out with my wife"