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Exclusive Interview: Nick Newman, General Manager of Cardiff’s The Philharmonic


nick-newman-philarmonic-27-marchBusiness News Wales has interviewed the general manager of Cardiff’s The Philharmonic, Nick Newman. As the popular bar is undergoing a major renovation, Nick gives us an in insight into plans for the re-opening. He also talks to us about his career history and innovation within the Welsh hospitality industry.

Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within Organisation?

I have lived in Cardiff all my life – other than a brief spell of a year or so when I lived and worked in France. I went to Howardian High School and have worked in the licensed trade / hospitality industry since the early eighties.

I have run some of Cardiff's most successful licensed businesses such as The Bank, Bar Cuba, The Yard and, for the past four years, Brewhouse in the Brewery Quarter

I am now General Manager of The Philharmonic and am working hard at the venue as we progress towards its spring opening.

What is the current status of the redevelopment of the Philharmonic?

Building works are progressing well and at a pace, it's certainly nice to see materials entering rather than leaving the building. The size and shape of the building, not to mention the size of the whole fit out project, means that we have teams working in several areas concurrently and main contractors RJM Construction are forging ahead with great enthusiasm and skill.

First fix works to the first floor are complete, along with huge progress in the lower ground floor ad initial work to the ground floor begins this week. Exciting times!

What plans and events are in place for the Philharmonic when it opens?

Plans for opening events are well-established but for now the Directors prefer to keep these under wraps. One thing we are happy to share is that we will be starting our first menu cook-off shortly and we already have a queue down St Mary Street of willing tasters.

What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

The next five years will be busy with opening and re-establishing The Philharmonic as one of Cardiff's leading licensed premises.

I am aiming to maximise the business opportunities that The Philharmonic will present, ensure profitability of the business and make sure that the Directors' investment choices were the right ones!

I am looking forward to developing a management team to meet the challenges of a 364-day a year business in the centre of ‘Event-City' aka Cardiff. The bars and restaurants in Cardiff city centre set a very high standard of hospitality and my challenge at The Philharmonic will be to match and improve on those high standards. But as customer service is the name of the game in our trade, the only major challenges I think we’ll face will be the high standards we are setting ourselves

Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently? 

I think I would have started to develop skills in business management earlier. I can’t emphasis enough the importance of these skills in my sector. But they are a great skill for anyone in the world of work to have.

An important thing for me has always been to learn from each and every business opportunity that presents itself, and use that experience to improve the offer for the customer. Working on both sides of our industry, independent and managed sides, means that I have learnt best practice from each side.

Along with that goes the crucial art of developing and managing a team. I have managed teams in business and in sport, I was a keen rugby player, and there are cross-overs from each to the other and it is in the team-building process that I have learnt the most.

What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

I believe having clear communication, allied with an equally clear understanding of the aims of the business are crucial. In my experience, the more people who share the ‘line of sight' the better. The Directors of the business set out the broad aims and targets and the management team delivers them.

Also, attention to detail – whether it is the perfect gin & tonic or the layout of furniture, customers like consistency and are willing to pay for a high standard of both service and the product on offer. That can never be underestimated.

In the hospitality sector, communication with the customer is crucial. Whether it be the well-trained and knowledgeable bar person serving the customer, or the sophisticated technology used to email our customers. Good, clear and consistent communication is essential.

What are your top three tips for success?

  • Listen to your team and your customers;
  • Plan your time and supervise every aspect of business planning;
  • Understand your business inside and out – learn from other businesses but also use what you know works. Use technology, but never lose sight of the fact that you work in hospitality

Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?

I believe that Welsh hospitality businesses are at the forefront of delivering high standards to customers. We know what we are doing and we do it very well.

I do think that our industry could take a leaf out of the Irish hospitality industry’s book. It sets great store on investing in training and career development for those working within the sector, so a job in the sector is regarded as a career and not merely a part time job. I think we would do well to invest our time and energy doing the same in Wales.

Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?

The challenges for Welsh businesses remain broadly the same:

  • Maintaining levels of investment;
  • Maximising business opportunities through enhanced levels of service and training in the face of strong competition;
  • Striking the right balance between business compliance (regulation) and trusting operators/investors to ‘do the right thing'.

What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?

We live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world – and visitors almost always come back again and we also have world leaders of industry and innovation in Wales and our workforce can match any in the world.

I believe that the Welsh Government and local authorities are mindful of the challenges that business, industry and commerce face, but they could perhaps look to further tap into the resource and expertise that live and work in Wales.

What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?

I think that more could be done to support the hospitality and service industry sectors whereby qualifications within these industries are more highly recognised and regarded.

How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?

I think it is very important. The nation's future rests with those attending higher education and going on to train and work in business. We need them to have qualifications that match the jobs out there and so that relationship has to be nurtured.