Making change through respect at The Capital

Joanne Taylor-Stagg has led the famous Capital hotel through some change in the short time she’s been at the helm. Aesthetic changes can make a positive impact on the experience but any alterations in hotels can cause ripples within the culture. With one built under 45 years of family ownership, it can be naturally challenging. EP met with Joanne to find out what motivates her and how, as the changes takes place, the pace is different from one she’s used to.

A passionate hotelier with a self-confessed curious nature, Joanne recognises both the needs of her guests and employees. With further change afoot, how does she plan to tackle the future and ensure her desire for perfection is achieved? 

EP met Joanne in the recently refurbished Capital Bar tucked away within the heart of The Capital Hotel. Where once there were mahogany walls, chairs the shades of azure and mystic red and an imposing bar which crept into the seating area, today’s guest finds almost the polar opposite. It is light, fresh and simply feels like a larger space. Its clever design and colours, paired with well-placed mirrors, make for a welcoming and comfortable space for a pre-dinner aperitif or a nightcap. It’s the first tangible mark left by go-getter General Manager Joanne Taylor-Stagg.

When you meet Joanne, you are greeted by someone who is relaxed, companionable and has time for you. Often hoteliers are spinning so many plates but are highly experience at hiding any notion of being flustered. However, with Joanne there is no such illusion. This is possibly driven by not only a belief in her own abilities but equally a respect for her team.

“The Capital team have been formidable in the five months I’ve been at the property. Many have been here for over 20 years and their knowledge of the guests, the hotel and the area are unmatchable. This has made my role a lot easier as I’m charged with making positive changes to the property to ensure we continue to be known as a quintessential English hotel.” Joanne explains. This is the first of many plaudits for her team who she genuinely holds respect for given their commitment to the hotel. When asked if this loyalty is also matched by the guests Joanne disagrees and argues it’s not loyalty but something stronger, more a relationship. “Our Head Concierge, Clive has been here for nearly 30 years, our Deputy Concierge is just a few years behind and our Front of House Manager has been here over 20. If you were to take all the employees I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a combined millennium of years.” Joanne jokes and adds, “They know the guests incredibly well, to the point where if someone who usually stays at this time of year, isn’t here or hasn’t booked, we’ll call them to make sure they’re ok. I’ve not known a relationship with a guest that strong before.”

The team also have equal respect for Joanne and have been ensuring she meets certain regular guests. “They know who I need to meet and develop a rapport with. On one occasion I felt like I was being interviewed by a guest, but I believe I won them over, as they kindly donated to a charity event I was taking place in. This culture within the hotel has in many ways been driven by the Levin family who were the owners for some 45 years. They created something special at the 49-bedroom property and that continues to this day.” Joanne is full of praise for the impact David Levin and his daughter Kate have had on the property. It means today Joanne is also running not only The Capital hotel but also The Levin Hotel, Outlaw’s at the Capital, The Knightsbridge Metro restaurant and The London Bakery.

As well as discovering all parts of the business, Joanne has also been working closely with the team to learn more about the culture within the boutique grand hotel. As someone who believes in creating positive change and a bit of a perfectionist, she is careful to note how they work, communicate and enjoy things. This is one of the reasons the changes taking place at the hotel are at a more gradual pace than Joanne is used to.

“I often say hospitality is like a magic trick: we’re keeping eye contact whilst moving things with our hands and at the end the guest is surprised and delighted and hasn’t seen our subtle movements.”

“The employees can feel change happening, there’s a new General Manger, family owned Warwick Hotels and Resorts are now the owners of the hotel and we have already made refurbishments to the property. I need to ensure stability and use my experience plus tools in my leader’s toolbox to ensure success. Ultimately, we are all driven by the same craving – to do our very best – and my role is to listen to all, articulate the necessary changes and ensure the pace is right.”

For this to happen Joanne places herself at the centre of the hotel and ensures she is both approachable and adaptable. “I have been involved in regional roles before but have felt too far away from the culture when in these jobs. However, in my most recent role I was able to be at the heart of change which involved a multi-million-pound renovation. Those experiences are key for moving things forward in The Capital.” Joanne was General Manager at The Trafalgar St. James hotel which came out the other side as a stylish art deco property, a new look which reflected the overall ethos of the hotel. It wasn’t all plain sailing and Joanne points to a time when the building was shaking, due to work on the foundations, and she bought her team noise reduction headphones. “After a few weeks of the inevitable guest complaints we changed the way we approached the situation. We went from saying sorry to working on our behaviour and treating every guest as a VVIP. I often say hospitality is like a magic trick: we’re keeping eye contact whilst moving things with our hands and at the end the guest is surprised and delighted and hasn’t seen our subtle movements.” This is where Joanne thrives – she enjoys projects with heaps of challenges.

“We create memories in people’s lives and mustn’t ever forget that. We have a powerful gift where we touch people’s souls and make a connection that no other industry can.”

It’s important to note that Joanne isn’t defined by stylish transformations. Talent development is core to her approach and she notes two emerging stars who could reach the very top of the game. “I use the experience to ensure I promote, train and support people in the right way. One of the biggest mistakes I made was over promoting someone, I never did it again. You have to be careful and I often say to the team we’re not brain surgeons, what we do isn’t life and death, and we can fix just about anything.” Joanne has promoted one young Edge Hotel School graduate into running the 12-bedroom Levin Hotel; the early 20s individual is being given an opportunity within a supportive framework. It makes one ask why other potential leaders aren’t given the same opportunity? “The world has changed so much.” Joanne argues and adds, “I remember when you could write a memo on a typewriter and place it in various pigeon holes. It gave you time. Today, the processes and increased workload mean we have to do the same in a nanosecond.” It’s an interesting observation and shows Joanne is also thinking deeply about how best to support the employees, especially during times of change.

Whilst she does operate at a high pace, Joanne recognises that for properties with such a strong culture, a steady boat is important. “At times I do feel like I’m holding back but we must take our time. This is just the beginning. In 2019 we’re looking at the restaurant, designing a mock-up room for others to hopefully follow suit and looking at the public areas. We’re doing the boring but essential bits, such as cabling for faster internet and improving the air-conditioning system.” Joanne is also revisiting the food and beverage options to ensure they match the guests’ desires. “We’re fortunate to have both Michelin star Outlaw’s at The Capital and The Knightsbridge Metro where we’ve tapped into offering a menu of small plates. The core for me is ensuring things happen at the right pace as every hotel has a different heartbeat.”

Joanne is clearly embracing her short time at The Capital and whilst focusing on future developments, is keen to ensure she’s doing her bit for the industry too. “We create memories in people’s lives and mustn’t ever forget that. We have a powerful gift where we touch people’s souls and make a connection that no other industry can. We eat delicious food and enjoy lovely drinks, stay in amazing places and make a lot of friends along the way.” It’s a fitting final point from Joanne whose determined nature means the hotel is in safe and innovative hands.