Julie Grieve, Founder and CEO of Criton, is the first intuitive app builder for the hospitality sector in the UK. Criton allows hoteliers to digitize their guest information and wrap all their guest-facing technology into a branded portal that guests can download on their own phone. Before starting her own business she was the CEO of Lateral City, a luxury serviced apartment operator in the heart of Edinburgh. Before moving into hospitality she was Managing Director and shareholder of Abbey Business Centres, an EU wide serviced office operator, which she successfully sold in 2011.
Q: You have a demanding job. What made you accept a seat on the Culture & People Advisory Board?
A: I founded Criton to help hoteliers and serviced apartment operators face the challenges of our time and provide them with an easy-to-use, affordable solution that enables them to embrace technology, enhance their guest experience and drive more revenue. I believe that technology can only improve the guest experience, when it is implemented and embedded correctly into a hotel’s processes and that our people will play a key part in that, hospitality will however always be about the people, so therefore I am interested in how technology can drive efficiencies without losing the heart of our product.
I am honoured to be part of the Culture & People Advisory Board and to be able to play a part in supporting the industry through the many activities HSMAI runs every year, from professional development to sales growth, revenue optimization, marketing and branding.
Q: You have a background from another industry, too. How do you see the travel and hospitality industry can benefit from that?
A: Having not come through the traditional route, I will approach issues from a different angle. It’s important as an industry that we don’t get stuck thinking “we’ve always done it this way” and I bring 16 years of experience from the serviced office industry, which is highly cyclical, meaning the industry has to be light on its feet. Many industries aspire to treat their customers like guests, so we have a lot to be proud of. I am interested in how we continue to improve our margins whilst maintaining the highest level of service, even in light touch environments.
Q: What do you consider to be your personal strengths?
A: My resilience. I come from an entrepreneurial family, which went well on the whole, but occasionally didn’t; one business ended up in bankruptcy and we lost everything and yet survived. It was a very good grounding for my career, where I have been involved in turnarounds and start-ups.
Q: What does it take to become a successful executive in today’s travel and hospitality sector?
A: A thirst for knowledge and a network. Successful executives will always be looking forward, wanting to learn from within their industry and from outwith. They will also have a strong network on which they can rely.
Q: As member of this Advisory Board you will also be helping out with the Mike Leven Mentor program and the Service Pledge. Please share your experiences in mentorship.
A: I started mentoring in 2000, working with women who were returning to working life and had decided to start up a business. I then moved into mentoring via The Princes Scottish Youth Business Trust, where I mentored many startups led by young people, eventually becoming the Chair of the Edinburgh Region.
In my experience the mentor usually gets just as much out of the relationship as the mentee, that’s because working through someone else’s issues is often a good way to work subconsciously on one’s own. And finally, through mentoring I have made some friends for life.
Q: How may HSMAI members benefit from the Advisory Board’s work?
A: I will work with other Board Members to encourage members to consider how they can influence their culture. As a start-up I am often asked about our culture and it’s hard to define because it’s constantly changing and growing, as we add new and more members to the team. However, I can impact on it significantly, I focus on key touch points with the team, how we onboard them, do they need a mentor, reviewing their first week, month, three months, do they have the right tools, and more.
Within our industry, recruitment and retention is continually an issue. Working on your culture and not taking it for granted is going to be crucial as we all work to change the perception that hospitality isn’t a profession. Personally, I don’t know any other industry where good people can progress as quickly. So I’m keen to see our messaging change as a whole.
Q: Could you tell us what a day at work looks like?
No two days are the same, which is just how I like it. I meet regularly with members of the Senior Management Team to discuss our strategies, current and future activities in different areas of the business, from sales to marketing, product development and recruitment. We launched Criton less than two years ago and the business is evolving quickly, which is exciting and challenging at the same time. I travel to London at least every second week for meetings, to work with our London sales team and we are attending a lot of industry events where I present and we can demo Criton to raise awareness of our product.
Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: Although relatively new, we have been able to promote internally on several occasions and that is very satisfying, a testament to the determination and passion of our team. And our clients, some of them have been with us since the very beginning, and their belief in the product and how they use it has been humbling and fascinating.
Q: Is there anyone you’ve been looking up to?
A: Within the industry I am fortunate to call Peter Lederer, ex CEO and then Chair of Gleneagles, my mentor. I can’t begin to explain how much of an impact he has had on my career since meeting him. He really is truly inspirational, someone who thinks outside of the box. I also hugely admire David Bowd of Salt Hotels and how he is revising the model, engaging with the community, bringing locals into his hotel and turning them into a real and identifiable segment.
“We are very pleased that Julie, with her background from mentoring and also her great entrepreneurial skills, is joining our new Advisory Board for Culture & People. One of the future challenges will be how to attract enough talent in the hospitality and travel related organizations, so this new Advisory Board will be very important for all of us moving forward,” says HSMAI Region Europe’s CEO and President Ingunn Hofseth, adding:
“In addition The Culture and People Advisory Board will be set up in relation with the two new initiatives that are now finalized for Europe: Winning for Customers – The Service Pledge program and the Mike Leven Mentor program.”