Stephen Nash

MUSICSTYLING MEETS - In conversation with Stephen Nash.

Meet Stephen Nash

Not many famous global landmarks are able to combine contemporary luxury with rich prestige and heritage – which is why for this next episode of MUSICSTYLING MEETS we had to sit down with Stephen Nash, General Manager of the upcoming Escapade concept at Silverstone. Join us to discover more and understand how Stephen’s vast experience in the industry is bringing this audacious vision to life.

Read Transcript

We are here today with Stephen Nash, friend of mine and a very exciting, interesting, and successful hospitality professional. Thank you so much for joining me.

Thanks for having me, Axel. I appreciate it.

Thank you very much for bringing us to a super special environment as well, Silverstone racetrack. And thank you for bringing the weather.

My pleasure. We put on the weather today and as you can see in the background, we've got the Silverstone Wing which is the International Paddock in the background as well.

Fantastic. And, but we are also here because of a very, very special project that you're involved in, that you run the Escapade Silverstone. Do you want to tell us more about it?

Sure. So Escapade is really a super interesting concept that has been developed. So it's a high-end premium quality hotel resort style at the side of the track. So covering the copse, maggots, becketts complex on the circuit, one of the most renowned complexes on the Formula One grid in the world and it's really a hospitality concept that goes right to the very heart of Silverstone, which is on its own journey at the moment as well. So it's not about being a resort, just plunked on the side of the racetrack, if you, for want of a better word, but it really goes to the very heart. So the offering, the service, everything that we will get at escapade comes from the Silverstone heart.

Amazing. And what about Silverstone and the position here? What drew you to this place. What is that goes to your heart?

Sure. Well I think I've alluded it to it before. I grew up in a in a family of petrol heads of different capacities. Silverstone, as we know, is a legacy circuit. It's the only grade one listed circuit in the United Kingdom and it's growing. It's on a very staunch journey so we've got Escapade that's gonna drive a very unique hospitality concept there. We've got a new go-karting track that's been developed for next year, in the next couple of years that's gonna be one of the world's best. So it's really on a growth and a trajectory that's gonna make a big difference in the UK scene. So if you add the hospitality piece to that and kind of create a unique resort style complex that kind of, like I said, goes to the heart of what they're doing, then that's what made it so interesting for me to come and get involved in.

Ah, that sounds absolutely amazing, like a dream come true. And sitting next to an F1 track, are you actually an F1 fan?

So, I've always, I'm not an F1 fan. I cannot sit next to the thousands of people that come to this circuit on an annual basis and claim to be an F1 fan. I've always followed it from a distance. So in the late nineties when you had the Nigel Mansells and whatnot. So we used to follow it from a distance that obviously reinvigorated the interest as Louis Hamilton and Jensen Button previous to that came back to the fold as a British driver. So I've always followed it from a distance, but I really kind of champion all kind of motor sports, the grassroots level. What happens here for me on an everyday basis is as important to me than what happens on the formula one weekend.

Fantastic. And I know you grew up with Motorsport from literally day one, your dad being involved with Motorsport. Do you want to tell us about that growing up in your dad's garage maybe?

Sure. So my father was involved in drag racing. So in the seventies he was helping put together Santa Pod Raceway which is not too far from here. And so he was a drag racing mechanic, up at Santa Pod Raceway. He did Banga racing. He was into Speedway, so we were at a racetrack of some kind from a very young age, helping to, he said, fix his banger cars, but essentially we were just hitting them with a hammer as a child. And that kind of, you know, coming back to Silverstone really kind of gives the air of motor sport, the culture, that kind of petrol head vibe that you get when you're growing up. So that dust and that kind of feel that you can only get a racetrack on the weekend, I would say. So that's a big part, but Silverstone's very different to that. It's a lot more elevated than that. It's, you know, it's really on its way to be in a very strong premier circuit, the kind of events that it's holding. You've got the wing in the background here, you know, a 4,000 up to 4,000 person conference and exhibition center, which is holding lots of unique events annually. And then when you add the carting, when you add Escapade to that, you know, and you add all the other facilities that have been reinvested into the circuit, it's like it's on a path that is super interesting. So it's why you would wanna be part of it.

So in your journey with this, with this amazing project, what was the most enjoyable moment so far?

So we're still in a pre-opening phase right now so we are still working very hard to put the concept together and to make it work. So far I think it's been part of the Silverstone culture overall. It's been driven by the managing director, Stuart Pringle, who is a very calm head for the circuit and he drives a very inspiring culture to work with. If it's not clear already, I'm employed by Silverstone as the management company for Escapade. And even if I've worked for some international brands, hospitality brands, some of the people that are running this business are really leading when it comes to keeping a grown-up sophisticated culture. And I think that's been the most enjoyable thing and surprising thing I have to say, because, you know, when you work for companies like Marriott International, et cetera, you're kind of working for very experienced brands. You know, people that know how to treat people, people with strong ethos, and so you come into a race circuit and you kind of assume maybe, and wrongly in this case, that it's not as elevated in terms of its culture and it's operation. And in fact it's a lot more elevated because not only does Stewart and his management team keep a tight ship at the circuit, but you're not operating a hotel per se, you're operating a city. So you've got petrol stations, you've got grand stands, you've got conference and exhibition centers, you've got so many things, roads… there's so many things that are happening. And so I think the most enjoyable thing so far is being part of that culture overall which stands out amongst some of the best, I would say.

Wow, thank you. And is that enjoyable part also the most trickiest and challenging part - being out of your comfort zone sometimes?

Yeah absolutely. You know, Escapade in isolation is within the payline, so that's a big point of difference. You know, it's part of Silverstone, it's within the racetrack itself. So putting together a hotel that needs to kind of blend in seamlessly with the track operations, it provides its own complications. So I think it's a very complicated project to put together, and it's my job and it's our job to make sure that the guests that will come to stay with us from next year doesn't experience all of those complications at the very end.

Fantastic. All the best for that. Sounds super interesting. While we are passing the building site currently there were a lot of interesting other brands literally in the surroundings there. Do you want to tell us a bit more about these experiences?

Sure. So we have within Silverstone, within the payline, we've got Aston Martin who operate there, Stroll complex. We have the Porsche Experience Center who are essentially our next door neighbors to Escapade but around the circuit there's a number of companies that are growing with us. So there's some really innovative companies around us. So Aston Martin are also building a brand new complex on the side of the site as well. So they're growing significantly. We have people like Lunaz - so Lunaz are electrifying cars, and so they're in the news quite regularly as well. We've got the tech and innovation park right next to us. We have a university which is also beside the track as well. So the innovation park is growing substantially. So there's a lot of growth around the area, kind of tied into what we are doing at Silverstone. So you're gonna see a lot more growth where that came from as well, I'd say.

Amazing… growing area and really cool experiences all around. What is your typical guest that you target that you think will be, will be buying the condos, will be staying with you, will be coming over?

Sure. So we've got two sides to the business model. Of course, we've got the ownership piece where we have investors or owners that can purchase the residences for their own personal use, and they have their own personal aspirations or use. So some of them have people or family racing in championships. Other people love Formula One, other people love the investment side of it. So everyone's got their own personal motivation. One thing that they all do have in common is the love of motor sports. So you've got those guys, they are mainly UK based - we do have some overseas owners as well. The sales are going very well so they're running out quite quickly. And then you've got the stay element of it which is in very important. So once these are sold and the owners get their privileges and the benefits that they get then we operate this like a resort essentially, so any one of the general public can purchase, can stay overnight, and can book it like a regular hotel. So we anticipate most of those being UK based as well. You know, we are kind of within the hour and a half to the majority of the UK population so it's easy to get to for most people from London, from Birmingham, from Manchester, etc. So mostly UK based of course for the major events; the motor gps, the Formula Ones, we'll have more international visitors of course but it's mainly UK based. Everyone with motor sports at heart, you know, it's gonna be very experiential as well so if you want to get a real taste of Silverstone, then Escapade is the place where you'd want to get that.

Fantastic. I definitely want to check this out. Just being out at the building site it looks already amazing. You can envision the pool, the rooftop terrace, the bar overlooking the racetrack directly. I read a lot about sustainability within Silverstone - and what are you doing at Escapade especially to target subject?

Sure. So there's a couple of different viewpoints I suppose. There's the build in isolation. So, you know, as part of this development, we are gonna be putting in 400 new trees, so not replaced. They were not there previously. So 400 new trees. We've got green roofs on all of our single tier residences and of course we follow bream standards to kind of match the sustainability piece operationally. So as we operate it, as Silverstone, we obviously tie into the racetrack. So you'll see the building right opposite us now, which has got full solar panel roofs. So Silverstone on the whole, including Escapade, are really driving sustainability. We have a Head of Sustainability employed that drives sustainability at the race circuit and so everything that goes with it - so in terms of innovation, and not many people are really innovating in that field fundamentally, but we are really tying in with what hospitality are doing. We are really tying in with what Formula One and the race championships want to achieve. And I would probably suggest at this point that we are at the very forefront of what those championships and what hospitality are doing.

Fantastic, I can only applaud you for that. Do you see within the whole of hospitality, do you think, or do you feel that, sustainability is a major subject going forward?

Sure. I mean I wouldn't say it's just for hospitality. I think it's very clear that sustainability has to be at the forefront of everyone's minds, fundamentally. It's not just because we are told to do it, of course. I mean, there's two elements to it. One is kind of government and local government really needs to be pushing and making things happen very, very quickly, probably quicker than we would like to do them, or what's convenient to do. And at the very back end, we need to make sure that we are also innovating, we are complying, we are thinking for the government too, at the other side, and making sure that, you know, we've got somewhere to enjoy in 10, 20, 50, 100 years time, right? So that's what we're doing at Silverstone here. We're trying to really think about our stage one and what we are doing on a day-to-day basis, but we're also thinking about the stage three, around trip generation. How can we make people take shorter trips to the circuit? And we are changing our fuel and all those kind of things that we can do to kind of reduce as much as possible the impact and like I said, and make the place, make motorsport, make the location, make hospitality more sustainable for the future as well, so we can keep operating it.

Brilliant - and building a team for such a unique project is not easy. What are you looking for in terms of people; what they can deliver to the project, to the team? What is the main focus?

First of all, the main focus is in that we have - the characteristics of the new staff that tie in with the current circuit characteristics. So, you know, what you'll find at Silverstone is you have extremely hardworking, dedicated staff, a great teamwork ethic, you know, and I think you need to have that to operate a circuit of this complexity. So I think that escapade is no different to that. Fundamentally, I think hard work and teamwork are two things that come naturally from the hospitality industry in any case. So those are definitely characteristics that we're looking for. Of course, we're operating a high quality premium hospitality offering, so we need to also elevate that level of service and offer the best there is to offer at Silverstone.

Brilliant. Having had a long and very successful career in the hospitality industry so far, living in different countries, seeing different cultures and experiences and influences, what would you give as advice to young people that want to enter the hospitality industry?

I think what I would say is that the hospital industry is very, very diverse, you know, so you hear in the media that it's long hours, you know, hard work and all of the kind of negative computations I come with here, but it's a very open, inclusive industry. You know, you can start in it without any particular background. It is an unskilled from the line staff perspective, it is an unskilled industry, which opens it up for a lot of people. So it's open and the other thing I hear a lot is that people would say to me, I don't wanna work in hospitality that, but then we'll name an industry, or we'll name a job that actually does anyway exist in the hospitality industry. So you would have someone that says, I wanna be a social media executive, or they say, you want to be a plumber, or they say that they want to be a cocktail waiter, or they say they want be, you know, a whole array of different, you know, revenue analyst, business analyst, you know, digital marketing person, where all of those things exist within hospitality. So, and the other thing that you would get with hospitality is that we'll actually train and help develop you through that process. So if you are in your 17, 18, 19, 20s, you know, late teens, early twenties, and you're looking for a direction, looking for a place to call home, well, hospitality offers you all that and they actually take you on that journey. So that's what I would say to them. Don't be afraid to look into hospitality, look at all of the different array of careers that you can get from it. And like me, you know, I've been working in hotels for more than 20 years now and it's taken me across the world. It's taken me across lots of different disciplines and I can say that's the same for many, many colleagues of mine. So I would say give it a chance.

Fantastic. And within the hospitality, within your experience working in that industry, who really inspired you?

Oh, wow. That's a difficult one. First of all I think that inspiration comes from so many different places, you know, so it is very difficult to attribute it to one person or a group of people. You know, it would be from some of the line staffs, it would be people that have given their role to work for me or with me as an example. But if you take inspiration from a career mode, a hotelier that inspired me today, there's a couple of people that kind of live long in my memory of my career. One would most probably be Stuart Bowery at Grosvenor House in London. Stuart still to this day upholds luxury hospitality in all its guises, which something that's very quickly diminishing in today's world, you know, so he knows the luxury hospitality world. He manages a vast team and it's very difficult to find someone with a bad word against him. I think equally to that was his old hotel manager, Morten Skumsrud, who now works for the Marriott global team. And again, a really strong operator, really knows how to drive high performing teams. So he's another person, but I want to add in somebody else in the equation as well, which is in my current room of work, which is some of the leadership team here at Silverstone, which again, you know, I didn't maybe expect to be at the same level of some of these international brands, but people like Alex Lacey, who's the operations director at the Circuit, who is running a small town here at Silverstone very, very well and very, very efficiently. And again, Stuart Pringo, I think I mentioned before, leading a vast circuit with a massive growth span with a very, very calm head. So there's just a few names that I could have probably, you know, listed out a long list of people ultimately, but there are some people in the industry that kind of lead by example and when they do, I think they deserve to be called out for it.

Brilliant. I totally agree. That's fantastic. And what is the best piece of advice that you've been given and maybe you shared?

Wow. That's a really difficult question for me because I think that I've probably given out a lot of rubbish advice in the past, so I think it's very personal to everyone. But equally, I think I've given some great advice to other people. I don't think there's one piece of advice that stands out for me as being good. I think each individual person would've taken advice. What I can say is there's been a lot of people that have grown with me over the years. You know, people that were line staff in the beginning alongside me and who are general managers today, or people that have grown under me, etc. So I think that it'll be a question for them fundamentally, but nothing that really stands out for me as an individual answer.

Brilliant, thank you. So we touched upon your career already and you worked in different countries, not only within Europe, but also overseas in South America. When you lived there, I know that you really wanted to learn from the different cultures and even learn the language. So did you end up speaking the languages of the countries you lived in?

Yes and no. So I did speak kind of upper intermediate Spanish when I was out in Argentina, kind of, you know, maybe 20 years ago. So I spoke that very, very well at a certain point then when I learned Italian, and I do speak Italian now, I kind of lost the Spanish. You start to kind of get lost in translation as you go across languages. So I speak Italian now and then when I went to Germany, I didn't learn German. I retrospectively picked up a German beginner's class which is very difficult to maintain at the current stage. But yeah, so some languages I did - not as strongly as I would like to have maintained over a long period of time. But my children have kind of latched onto that. So they do speak Italian and English and my oldest son is picking up on Spanish as well at the moment, at five years old. So it kind of, hopefully that is the inspiration for them as well to kind of start that process.

Fantastic. And over the years, you spent a few years within Marriott with different brands and different regions, and different projects. What did you pick up, especially from Marriott in terms of principles? What stood out? What did you learn, especially from, from their brand mentality?

Sure. Well, you know, I've worked for Marriott as a company, as a management company, as well as their franchisees and different ownership models. And it's something that really flows through the business from the very core. You can start with a Mr. Marriott kind of phrase, which simply says look after your staff, they will look after your customer and your customer will return. And I think that's the principle. I mean, you say the principle of a brand, the principle of a company, that's at the very root level that translates across everything that you do. So, you know, if you look after your people, then you will grow your business, and you see it today where there's shortages in the hospitality and you're forced to kind of put extra pressure on people and those companies that are not looking after, those are kind of facing the biggest recruitment challenges, right? Because the biggest problem is more retaining the staff than recruiting them in the first place. So I think that learning from merit, the principle of looking after your people will take you a very long way before you start talking about the flashy lights and the niceties of a guest experience. You need to kind of really bring your staff on that journey with you. So I think that's the main principle that would stand out for me.

Wow. Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And working within Marriott in different brands, what do you think is the main element to create really distinguished and distinctive brand image?

Yeah, it's a tough one in 2023 because, you know, brands are everywhere now. You know, kind of the brand development over the last 20 years has been magnanimous. Even the local coffee shop is super branded, right? So I think that be true to yourself, really understand who you are as a brand and what you are there to deliver, what your purpose is in life, you know? And so if you look at the Marriott brands, of which there's 30, 31, every time I look, there's a new one. How do you operate say a W brand versus operating Regis, which, but they have the same principles, they have the same hospitality foundations. It's kind of the backend, the experiential piece that changes. And I just think if you know who your customer is in the first instance, you know it, then it doesn't matter if you have a logo, if you have a brand, if you have a playbook, you know, if you know who the person is that's gonna walk through your door and what you're gonna give them to make them turn up on a day. Then that's - for me - the foundations of a good brand. You know, not worrying about tickbox exercises of do we have a logo or do we have a catch line and a slogan? I think it's really stay true to what you are actually doing and don't lose sight of it.

Wow. Yeah. Amazing. Now we're getting to the easier part of the interview. I think so far it was eye-opening for me. I learn every time I meet you, I learn new things and I'm really excited to see your journey with Escapade here and can't wait to come back when it's finished. On the easier questions; do you like to travel and if yes, where do you go on your own or with your family? What kind of your bucket list?

Sure. So yes, I think I like to travel like most people do over the last few years. We travelled quite a lot over the last few years to different places, had the benefit of living in some of them, of course, and it really is eye-opening. On the bucket list right now - it's more my wife's bucket list than my one, you know, I kind of have to go along with her list - which is South Korea at the moment. I think South Korea is a that is inspiring at the moment and they really are driving a lot of the trends actually in Europe. So if you go to Berlin, if you go to London, you look at all the food and beverage, you know, the Bulgogi beef and all the Korean kind of driven food and beverage offerings. So I think South Korea's on the bucket list. And I think that's the key one right now. I think we need to get there before moving on to the next one on the bucket list.

Absolutely, totally understand that. But when you travel and you visit new places, what do you expect from your stay?

So I'm a pretty easy guest in a hotel, so I would never complain to the staff. In the background, I'm always looking for inspiration, so I kind of do note what's good, what's bad. I am the kind of person that would lift up the bedsheets and look for bedbugs in a hotel but I would never, unless I found them, of course, which I haven't to date, luckily. I'm very easygoing and I kind of enjoy the experience as much as I can, but I do take learnings in the background, so when I see something great, I do take note of it. And equally, if I see something that's not quite going, I also learn from that as well, make sure that I don't apply that to my own operation.

That's good advice really. In your career so far what's the proudest moment of your achievements?

I think it's the long term strategy really. So when I got into hotels at 17 years old, you know, so I was out of school. I started in a reception of a three diamond hotel in London, Houston. And I worked there for about, I think I got promoted after about five months to a supervisor. You know, I was very young, very enthusiastic and I remember at that time saying to myself and saying to everyone for the following 20 years, I wanted to be a hotel general manager, you know, and I didn't know which hotel, how big, how small, how many stars, how nice, which location. I just knew that I wanted to be a hotel manager. So everything I've been doing over the last kind of 20 years-ish has been on that journey, on that path to be a general manager, which I've achieved. So I think that the long-term goal strategy, if you like, has been the proudest moment is when I got that first general manager position or senior position, kind of knowing that I'd achieved the long-term goal from when I was a teenager.

Fantastic. And well deserved. That’s a great goal and congratulations for the achievement so far. I think there will be many, many more merits to come in future. Apart from the stress in your job - and it is stressful, and especially with a project like that - how do you relax? How do you really get your head free again?

I mean, to get my head free is more the journey to and from work. So I'm lucky to drive to and from work where I drive through the Buckinghamshire countryside every morning, every evening, and usually that's the time to kind of decompress. And that's where the best ideas come from, usually on that car journey. But I have two young children who don't usually, when you get home, let you decompress and unwind, which is a beauty in itself, of course. So I think it's that the downtime for me - that kind of hour home and hour to work where it gives me the kind of the time to decompress by the time I get home, or by the time I get to work and kind of refresh myself. Really.

Brilliant. That leads me to the next question and probably I envision you might say. So if you have a, a film, a podcast, or an album that you could pick right now, what would it be?

Yeah. Well with children it's probably gonna be between Ice Age 2 and Santiago Off the Sea or something like this. There's nothing really much time where they'll give you the time to kind of look into what you want to watch, I would say. So I don't have many inspirational kind of recommendations at the moment, but it'll probably be end up in a children's program of some capacity.

Fantastic. I'm a huge fan of Ice Age anyway so it might be a great recommendation if you got children, right? Yeah. I have a few. Ultimately, so let's envision you would have two weeks and do whatever you want, travel wherever you want, and can be yourself. Where would that be?

I think in the current moment in time in life, it would have to be kind of like a Bali beach oasis of some capacity, right? I think, you know, like I said, with young children the last thing I can think of is kind of like a children's entertainment place. So I think it's that kind of oasis style, a Bali Maldives, something where you can completely get away and kind of disappear for two weeks mentally and physically and reset. So yeah, something like that would be my place to go right now.

Sounds lovely. And what will be the soundtrack you will take with you?

So what's kind of hot on my Spotify account? What's going through the motions? I'm listening a lot right now to an Italian artist called Madam. She's kind of a pop hip hop kind of artist in Italy so she does some really cool soundtracks. So we are going through that quite a lot at the moment. And then it sounds very strange cliche, maybe even sad to some extent, but I actually listen a lot to hotel playlists, so things like W Hotels living room or the Mondrian or even Soho House playlists, etc. I kind of like to listen to those kind of vibes when I'm at home. So if you've got a hotel playlist and just send me an email to it and I'll probably be listened to it over the weekend.

I might be able to dig something out! For my next episode I'm going to interview Stuart Bowery, an icon in the hospitality industry. And just out of interest is there a question that you would ask Stuart?

Well, Stuart, that's a difficult one. So what do I want to know from you, Stuart? So now you are managing Grosvenor House and W Hotel - so we spoke before about the different types of brand and types of experiences… what are the challenges, or how do you maintain the two different brands separately when you're the manager of both at the same time?

I think that's a fair question! We will make sure we pass that on. Stephen Nash, thank you so much, it was a privilege. Thank you. And an absolute pleasure.

Thank you very much.

Thanks. Excellent.

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