Julie Hammond likes a challenge.
In fact, by her own admission, she would find life hard without them.
Whether it is the disruption caused by a kitchen porter going down with the flu, a flood in the basement or the bigger picture of the strategic direction to take over the £57m acquisition of The Lensbury, Hammond has an astonishing appetite for problem solving.
“Yes, I love it. I actually like all the challenges that come with the job. Everyone imagines that this is such a glamourous role – and sometimes it is but what I really love is the ‘all hands-on deck’ approach our team has.
“We are all here to help each other – roll up our sleeves and get on with the job. Each day is full of curve balls, requests and feedback from members which can be very diverse. It is not always easy but we aim to be the best private members’ club in the South West – so we expect to work hard.”
Hammond has a great point when she says that a priority for the club is its ability to help people make memories. This, she says, is an essential part of its offering. It should be a home from home – yet one which is fully enhanced for life in the 21st century.
The Lensbury has been a key feature in our neck of the woods for decades. My own children learned to sail there, I tucked in to a hearty Sunday lunch after I ran my first aqualthon and – in the dim and distant past – I remember driving the Wallabies captain, Nick Farr Jones, back to his lodgings after an event I covered as a young reporter on the Mail on Sunday as part of their tour of 1991.
My own family history is not so different to that of many families living in and around Teddington. It is very hard to over-estimate the part played by the club in our lives. Its core appeal remains undiminished by the decades – but Hammond realised almost immediately that there was still plenty of potential left to play for.
The London and Regional Property Group, owned by Richard and Ian Livingstone, clearly saw a huge advantage in acquiring the Club and paid £57m for it in May of this year. Integration of staff from other areas of the group started in June and by August work on a new strategy was well underway.
The L&R Group, despite being owned by siblings who prefer to remain well below the celebrity radar, own world-renowned hotels including Chewton Glen in Hampshire and Cliveden, recently the hotel chosen by the Duchess of Sussex on the eve of her wedding to Prince Harry. There is – needless to say – a significant pool of talent from which to draw.
Hammond is key to enterprise. Besides being the CEO of The Lensbury, she is also Asset Manager for the group with excellent credentials within the hospitality industry. She is charming – in the best sense of the word – and highly efficient with an ability to assert herself with a light but firm touch. Her ambition is clear from the outset.
In her role as Asset manager she is also overseeing the development of the Hilton London Green Park, where she aims to double turnover by 2012.
She is clearly making progress at The Lensbury with residential booking for the 155 bedrooms rising from 68 per cent to 87 percent since she arrived this summer. The introduction of The Summit an Indoor Team Building programme led by the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, is attracting attention from the corporate world and the introduction of Dragon Boat Racing has proved a hugely popular addition to the other water sports offered by the Club.
“It would be fair to say that we are offering a totally different culture. The Lensbury had become very set in its ways and was operating with a silo-based outlook. There were still the remains of the Shell Petroleum Culture and we need to have a very different outlook.”
Certainly, it is true that the emphasis at the Club is on excellence and the to that end the gym has been fitted out with state of the art equipment. During our photo shoot, it was impossible not to spot members of the England Sevens team – men and women – rugby coaches, elite fitness experts – even a member of the Royal Marines passed through. This is a place for serious athletes and for those with a serious approach to fitness.
It is still early days. Hammond wants to retain the club’s home from home feel. Everyone wants to know they can still order a jacket potato and tuna but she also wants to cater for those wanting a fine dinner. An orangery alongside the pool is being talked of and the public space around the gym may include a new juice bar.
One thing is for certain, Julie Hammond is not a woman to be put off by a challenge. She would rather eat them for breakfast – alongside a power shake of course.