For Tej Walia, it’s been a circuitous 20-year route from serving drinks as a waiter in India to becoming the general manager of Foxhills Club & Resort in Surrey.
Previous stints with the renowned brands of The Oberoi Group, Grand Hyatt, Kempinski and Hilton have also been interspersed with spells at independent hotels in a varied career.
It has taken him from New Delhi to Surrey via Guernsey, the midlands, Devon and Scotland.
While his career path may not have been planned with military precision, despite his family’s long association with the armed forces, the target was always to progress towards the position of general manager.
Walia was appointed to the role in August 2018 by the Hayton family, who have owned Foxhills for 35 years. And on the back of his scholarship from the Master Innholders, he is now ready to embrace the challenge of an ambitious £25m investment programme.
It’s certainly a far cry from his fledgling steps in the hotel industry.
He said: “My father was a colonel in the Indian army and at that age, I was preparing to join the military. I still might do it one day, although my wife might not agree with me!
“Hotel management was an up-and-coming profession and I was a practical kind of person, rather than academic. The aim was to keep progressing and to become a general manager one day.
“Originally, I was a food and beverage assistant. Basically, I was a waiter!
“I was also a butler in one of the Oberoi properties in New Delhi for a couple of months.
“But I’m an ambitious person and this is an exciting opportunity because of the challenge here. The investment plans will shape the future of Foxhills for generations to come.
“We are committed to invest in a very uncertain time economically and I think that says it all about our robust standing.”
Plans are already agreed on a revamp of the popular leisure facility, which has around 3,000 members, a thriving hotel and corporate arm of the business, two Championship-standard golf courses, award-winning spa and gym facilities and a family feel to a club in a tranquil setting.
A restaurant refurbishment will be the first step in early 2019 before a new youth club is built as a two-year plan becomes reality. The new building will have a new restaurant based on a deli theme, while a new yoga cabin will be built in a glade beside the award-winning spa overseen by Blue Forest, the company behind the tree houses at Chewton Glen.
And Walia is well aware that the business must continue to hit its customary high standards, even during the works.
He said: “It is business as usual for the majority of the resort but over the next two years there will be some disruption as the works take place. The challenge is how we balance that so that we don’t compromise the experience for the members and guests during that time.
“My major task is making sure that the disruption is as minimal as possible.
“As well as the new restaurant, there are other plans: new car parks, spa reception, youth club and 20 more bedrooms.
“You have to invest consistently into the property but this is probably a once-in-a-generation investment plan so it’s vital we get it right. I’m confident we will.”
The Manor Restaurant, situated in the 19th-century Manor House, will be given a makeover and a new slant with Walia keen to steer the dining into a more welcoming proposition, with input from Michaelis Boyd, designers of members’ clubs Soho House and The Groucho.
He said: “The Manor Restaurant was always described as fine dining but we want to take it another direction and make it more accessible for everyone.
“The emphasis is on good food and good service. We are not trying to get Michelin stars here but we do expect to enjoy top-quality food in a welcoming environment.
“If the décor is too formal, it can put people off. We want to make sure more people enjoy the great food here.”
And while there will be further challenges ahead, Walia insists he does not expect it to change his management style.
He said: “To me, it is more about educating, celebrating the successes and learning from the failures. If you empower the team, that is the key.
“Of course, there is a fine balance. I prefer to encourage and coach but you may need to have a few stern words when it is required, although I don’t shout or swear – I’m not that type of person, although Foxhills might change me. Time will tell!”