“I guess I’m a perfectionist” – Hotel manager Aisling Arnold on Love Your Work
Aisling Arnold is the manager of her family business – Arnolds Hotel in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal. After six years of working in Dublin in a high-powered accounting job, Aisling took her skills back to the hills, and revitalised her parent’s hotel – which is a member of Original Irish Hotels, a collection of 60 family-run properties – growing the business and developing it into a complete experience for its guests. On this week’s Love Your Work, we chat about unexpected career turns, family connections and misconceptions.
What was your favourite subject in school?
I loved maths and accounting, and I suppose that’s because I loved the problem-solving end of things.
What was your first job, and what other jobs have you had since?
I started working when I was 12 in the local hairdressers, making tea and brushing the floors. I think I spent two summers there, before moving on to the family business, which was the hotel, where I worked in almost every department. From pot washing to housekeeping to working on reception to the restaurant, where I eventually became a supervisor. I ended up moving on after that; I said I’d had enough of the hospitality industry and that I was never going back!
I headed to Dublin to follow my own career path and forge my own identity, and completed a degree and Masters in Accounting, before working for Deloitte and Touche. I worked with them for over six years, and got great exposure and experience and it left me very well-rounded in a lot of areas. It was my first taster of managing people and managing a client, and it taught me so much.
After six years, I started to veer back towards the hospitality industry; I got a phonecall from my mum to tell me that dad wasn’t in the best of health and the hotel was declining after the recession too. They were struggling, and they asked me to come home. I said I’d come back for 18 months, forge a turnaround for the hotel and hopefully bring them back to life. Those 18 months turned into six years, and I’m still here now!
I worked a lot on refreshing the hotel, opening a coffee shop and wine bar, because I feel it’s really important that people living outside of big cities can still enjoy the same luxuries, and it was my main goal to achieve that. The business grew and I was able to bring in more people to manage the team that had grown there, opening things up to step into the role that I’m in now.
What does your daily routine look like?
I always laugh so much when people ask me that, because anyone who works in hospitality will agree that no two days are the same, and that there really is no such thing as a routine. The main things I try to keep consistent are checking emails first thing on my shift, and then handling any issues that might have arisen while I’ve been away – whether it’s a customer issue, or a HR or a maintenance issue. I’ll then have a look at the figures from the day before, before planning out the day and the week ahead, making sure everyone is on the same page with any events or functions going on in the hotel.
My role is so diverse; you’re the marketing manager, the finance manager and the operations manager all at once sometimes. Anything can be thrown at you, so you have to be ready to handle anything that needs to be addressed. Routine goes out the window, but as long as you’re keeping on top of your strategy, goals and budgets, and of course, that the customers are happy, that’s the priority.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
The fact that no two days are the same and that I get a lot of variety at work is great. Another of my favourite things about the job is planning and executing a new idea or project and seeing it come to life and do really well. If you can see the customer satisfaction, and the reward that comes to the business from that, I love that. I also love seeing my team grow within their roles, and developing new staff is very rewarding.
What’s your least favourite part?
I guess I’m a perfectionist, and as a result, I’m hyper-conscious of things going wrong. Because this is a family business, and I’m so involved in it, I can get very emotionally attached to the job, which makes it hard to switch off and detach from problems or things not going to plan. You’re striving for perfection all the time, but that’s pretty much impossible to achieve, so I struggle with that a little bit.
What are the key skills you need to make it in your industry?
You need to have drive and determination, and stamina is definitely key. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle; it’s hard work, 24/7. It requires a lot of passion and love for what you’re doing and the industry, because if you don’t, it would be a complete stumbling ground to work at.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned for success in your career?
You’re never going to please everyone, and you have to be able to step outside yourself and trust your decisions about your business. I say this all the time, to myself and to my staff, that you are the captain of your own ship. You have a choice in the decisions you make, and you have to take responsibility for the consequences of them too. Learn when they go wrong and celebrate when they go right.
Try and put structure on your day, even when it’s completely manic. As a hotel manager, you’re everyone’s first port of call when things go wrong, and it’s hard to not get pulled in all directions. But your role is really important, and putting boundaries on your day and taking time to look after yourself is so important.
Absolutely none. I love my job.
What’s the number one piece of advice you would give to young people starting out who want to follow in your footsteps?
You need to try it out before committing fully. People have a misconception about what my job entails – they think I work 9-5 in an office. That isn’t the case at all. If you want to give it a shot, you have to get in there and start at the bottom, because it gives you a real taste of what the job is all about. It’s so highly rewarding, and there are so many positives, but it’s also difficult, so you need to have experience of all the ups and downs.