THIS week’s My Kind of Job is Susan Smart, group purchasing manager at Hastings Hotels
What’s your job?
I am the group purchasing manager for Hastings Hotels and responsible for the main purchasing decisions for food, beverage and sundry items associated with all seven hotels.
How did you get there?
I studied A Levels at Down High School in Downpatrick and then went on to study a HND in Hotel Management at Jordanstown. My parents owned the Bucks Head in Dundrum back in the 1960’s when it was a pub so I always wanted to work in the industry and all my work experience was in bars and restaurants. After I left Jordanstown I worked in the Scandia in Belfast before going to America to work for a couple of years. When I came home I studied an A Level in Accountancy and at the same time I worked shifts in various bars, one of which was the Percy French. I then started working as a part-time receptionist at the Slieve Donard Hotel and in 1982 when the manager of the hotel at the time, the charismatic John Miskimmin asked me to help manage the hotel when he went on holiday and this then led to me becoming the assistant manager of the Slieve Donard. And then in 1988, Sir William Hastings asked me to move to head office to become the food and beverage stock controller. This roll has evolved over the years to my current roll of group purchasing manager.
Do you have a typical working day?
Every day is different. An example of a typical day could be going to one of the hotels and counting bar stock and chatting to the heads of departments to make sure everything is ok with suppliers, catching up with the group’s seven general managers to find out what activity is taking place and if they have any requirements for new purchasing and generally If there is anything I can help them with. The role is varied and I buy so much for the hotels – for example we order 13,000 eggs a week so it’s important that we are on top of all stock requirements.
What skills do you need in your role?
It’s vital to have strong accountancy skills and important to have good communication skills as you deal with a lot of people. Also good negotiation skills to get the best price for the produce. Patience is important – especially when it comes to counting stock.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The relationships that I have developed with suppliers and staff. Because I am regularly in all of our hotels, II get to know a lot of the staff which is nice. I also do a lot of supplier visits and enjoy great relationships when them – I could be in the middle of a field with our vegetable supplier Harry Crawford or picking tomatoes with Bob Colhoun from Drumbeg Tomatoes…or I could be in Spain tasting wine with Miguel Torres.
And the worst?
The very many unsolicited emails and cold calls I receive as I am in procurement – it comes with the job!
What do you think are the greatest challenges/pressures of the job?
My job in purchasing is to make sure Hastings Hotels makes a profit. I have to keep costs under control while still ensuring quality on all levels. I also keep an eye on the competition, now more than ever with so many new hotels opening.
What did you want to be when you were at school?
I always worked in hospitality. I love industry and just wanted to work in a hotel – and now I actually work in seven!
What advice would you give someone considering a career in your profession?
Work hard. In the hotel industry you have to be dedicated, flexible and be prepared for bad days and good days.
What’s the most common question people ask when they find out what you do?
Can I come and see you? Or can you get me a rate in the Europa?
How do you like to relax outside work?
I play golf at Royal County Down – usually twice a week during the summer and once a week in the winter. I enjoy walking and live in Newcastle so am spoilt with beautiful walks on my doorstep. I like to cook and spend time with my daughter Fiona, son Scott and three grand-daughters. I also support Man Utd and Real Madrid and have a house in Spain and family there so I like to visit as often as I can.