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Interview with – Neil Burton, COO for Holmes Place Central Europe

Who are you and what is your current job role? Neil Burton, COO for Holmes Place Central Europe. Responsible for the management and expansion of health clubs in mainland Europe and the distribution business of lifestyle products. How did you get to this position…what was the pathway and what did you do before? My current role was by invitation from the owner of Holmes Place and my previous role at Deloitte came in a very similar way. Having a background in both operations and financial analysis has given me a very unique perspective on running my business. The units within a business often don’t see eye to eye and my background gives me the right amount of empathy to bring stakeholders, investors and management together and get things done. What are the challenges in your current job? Certainly the multi lingual, multi currency environment presents challenges that you wouldn’t find in an English speaking environment. Developing a team that blends the skills of expats and local management is a real art. Balancing the make up of the management teams and good communication is critical to ensure that strategy and business goals are executed at the front line. A British sense of irony is best left at home! Who has influenced you the most in your career and why? My time working as an Outward Bound Instructor in Australia, has had the longest lasting impact on ‘how’ I do things. The German Educator and founder Kurt Hahn, (1886-1974) who also founded Gordonstoun school, utilised the outdoors to teach the soft skills of leadership. The Outward Bound motto ‘To Serve, To Strive and not to Yield’ still has a profound impact on how I manage my teams. What do you do to switch off? Travelling a great deal, I have become the world’s best cat napper; a great skill for staying fresh and keeping my energy levels high. I love photography and the outdoors. Any Pearls of Wisdom or strategies for success that you would like to share? If you trust yourself as a manager, hire challenging people with different backgrounds and skill sets. Bringing together a disparate group together as an effective team, is more challenging and profitable than hiring people who think like you. My team at Deloitte had technology, sales and operations functions from 11 different countries! How has the leisure industry developed during your career and what are the challenges going to be in 2013? The two most significant developments that present challenges and opportunities are ‘Talent’ and ‘Technology’.

Starting out, I was totally unaware of the future explosion in the global leisure industry. With the growth of emerging markets, there is fierce competition for good people to fill the growing number of opportunities world-wide. A western ‘brain drain’ toward China, India, Brazil etc has started to leave a gap in management roles where expertise critical. The leisure industry will need to develop measurable training and development programmes that give a real time picture of talent in a business. Why – the talent in your business is a real predictor of current and future business success.

Technology – Many Generation X executives are missing the boat in this area. I have worked hard to develop myself in understanding this field, particularly on social technologies. Whilst Generation Y is leading the use of these platforms, it takes sound judgement and experience to know what technologies are best applied to reach clients. The leisure sector does not lead in technology development and I encourage my teams to ‘follow’ other industries to ensure we are ‘first followers’.


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