Shaper: Robert Nadler

Show aired on 1st October 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Dave Brubeck with Unsquare Dance – a great way to start the programme here on Jazz FM. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Thank you so much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and we put them right alongside their equivalents in the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. My Business Shaper today I am very pleased to say is Robert Nadler; he is the Chief Exec and founder of the Nadler Hotel Group and there are four of them and there are more coming and they are a really interesting concept and they have kind of re-defined the category and you are going to be finding out lots about what he is doing and really interestingly what he has been doing in the past. Lots coming up from Robert. In addition to hearing from Robert you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we’ve got the music of course from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul. We have got Louis Armstrong, Branford Marsalis, Alfredo Rodriguez and this from Dee Dee Bridgewater.

The jaunty sound of Dee Dee Bridgewater with Whoopin’ Blues. Robert Nadler is my Business Shaper as I said earlier; he is the CEO and founder of the Nadler Hotel Group. He has also been the CEO of publicly listed Compco Holdings, that’s a real estate company if you didn’t know, that was a while back and he has also been a policeman in Soho apparently. Robert, thank you for joining me.

Robert Nadler
It’s a real pleasure, lovely to be here today, thank you.

Elliot Moss
Now tell me about your hotels. Let’s start there and then we will go backwards. They are a bit different. Explain the difference to me. Explain why there is no bar, there is no restaurant, there is no swimming pool but there is just this really cool space? Where did that idea come from and give me a little bit more about what the actual thing is?

Robert Nadler
The idea came from actually a problem solving exercise that I had invested in a scheme that went wrong and the solution to it was to create what we have today and it’s a mini kitchen in every room that differentiates us from a conventional hotel. It’s not a full kitchen, it’s not a dining experience but the real heart and soul of our business is sustainability and in particular social sustainability. I mean you have got to be green today, you’ve got to be crazy not to be green. You have got to be on another planet. But in terms of social sustainability that’s an aspect that a lot of businesses don’t take on board and that’s working with the local community and if you are in a hotel in a central location what do you need a bar or restaurant in a hotel for. They should be all around you. We are very fortunate in our locations and that’s key to where we grow, Soho, Victoria, Kensington and all round us we have a plethora of amazing restaurants, bars, gyms, other facilities. Why would we need to replicate those. Guests don’t want to eat in a hotel restaurant. They want to enjoy the best that is around them and that’s what we offered them.

Elliot Moss
And you are in Liverpool as well?

Robert Nadler
We are in Liverpool in the Rogue Walks which is a fabulous part of Liverpool, it’s a little bit like the Soho of Liverpool but fabulously central, dynamic, growing and interesting.

Elliot Moss
And this sustainability thing you talk about, I love this very social sustainability. When you opened your first hotel, when was that?

Robert Nadler
That was in 2006 in Kensington.

Elliot Moss
Was that a new idea this idea of actually intentionally connecting externally rather than trying to bring in more revenue because people, you don’t build a bar for fun, you want to build a bar to make money don’t you?

Robert Nadler
I don’t know if we were the first, there were probably other people who can claim that but it was certainly an unusual idea. My whole concept is based around what I want in a hotel and what I find irritating in a hotel and what drives me mad and I think drives most people mad are extra charges. Hotels love to monetise. Monetise is the hoteliers favourite word, additional charges – how can we drive revenue from this other source. I absolutely hate it. My favourite word is free. Can I give that facility for free. In 2006 we were giving Wifi for free which at that time you were lucky to have Wifi and if you had Wifi it was normally plug-in and you then didn’t have a plug in the room and you have to unplug the standard lamp to plug your computer in. So lots of power points. All the things that irritated me as a guest and the social sustainability part is about community and using the facilities around you and becoming an economic multiplier locally and it’s one of the Brundtland reports three articles of sustainability, economic sustainability, environmental and social and the social part is often forgotten about and thought of as the less important but actually when you look around community is incredibly important. It’s about communicating with the people around you, being aware of the people around you, having that wonderful local feel when you walk into the shops, you know who is behind the counter.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper today, he is Robert Nadler, he is the CEO and founder of the Nadler Hotels and they are in to connecting you with the community rather than hiding you away from it and by the way all the rooms are going to be free forever for everyone listening – Robert is now not giggling. He likes the word free and so do I. Time for some more music, this is Louis Armstrong with the brilliant Mack The Knife.

The iconic Louis Armstrong with the iconic Mack The Knife. Robert Nadler is my Business Shaper today and we have been talking about his take on the problems to solve in the hotel business and what he went and did about it. Before you opened that first hotel back in ’06 I think you said…

Robert Nadler
Yes.

Elliot Moss
…2006. You had done a number of things. I know you are a, I believe you are a qualified chartered surveyor.

Robert Nadler
Correct.

Elliot Moss
I mentioned earlier you were a policeman in Soho.

Robert Nadler
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
In the 1970s and you were the CEO of a public listed company. Obviously being a policeman in the 70s is much more interesting than being Plc Chief Exec, that bits easy. Talk to me about the policeman. How did a guy like you end up being a copper?

Robert Nadler
I was I suppose what you might say a toy copper. I was a special constable but it is, you are a fully accredited police officer, you have a warrant card, you carry that 24/7, it’s rather like being in the territorials so when you are on duty you are, you are not a community support officer, you are a police officer.

Elliot Moss
But what made you do that Robert? What… because obviously you are doing other stuff at the time…

Robert Nadler
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
…was it the sense that you talked about community and my instincts are as much as you are very good at making a profit you also have a really deep feeling that community is important. Was it that?

Robert Nadler
It came from a number of different things. I had been burgled. I’d come into contact with the police service during that particular occasion and I found it very interesting and I found I wanted to understand them a little bit more and working within an organisation you get a very different feel from that of an observer on the outside. So it was in a sense an experiment. What did I really think of them? I admire them hugely. I did then, I still do now but you also saw some of the warts and you understood why they were there and they were explainable and understandable because it’s not a perfect service but my God do we do it better than just about anybody else.

Elliot Moss
You mentioned the word experiment there and it strikes me again that you from a chartered surveyors on the whole a pretty structured and it’s a pretty clear career and you’ve got, it’s a point in important thing you have to do, you have to be precise and so on. Running a big Plc there is a lot of precision, there’s not much room for error. That obviously you let the experimental side of you blossom and you have done in the last ten years. Was it always in there though? Was that desire to express yourself and be creative there from an early age?

Robert Nadler
It might have been but I never had the opportunity to let it out. I was put in a position that I had to start work at a certain age. I had to be earning money and I couldn’t do perhaps the things that I might have wanted to do. At school I thought I’d be a marine biologist at one point. I’ve done a lot of scuba diving. I thought I might be a journalist. I love writing but I found myself in a more prosaic career. Not that I regret it, I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve enjoyed everything I have done. A few years later I became a salmon smoker. Running a business that my family had been involved in and which I didn’t have a lot of choice about getting into. It wasn’t a lifestyle choice, it was again problem solving. We had issues in the business and I went in to run it and being a salmon smoker is a very different role from being a chartered surveyor. At the time in the mid-70s I was the assistant to the senior partner of Jones Laing where I was working and then one week I was working at Jones Laing, the next week I was delivering salmon to Scots down the street. In fact one of the partners had bumped into me and he said, ‘when I heard you were going I didn’t realise you were doing this’. He just couldn’t get his head around it. But the reason I was delivering was it was a small business and that day the driver on that route was ill and so you did your morning, you did what I had to do in the morning and then picked up the van and did it because you have to do everything. A small business you do what you have to do; cleaning the floor whatever, gutting the fish, which I can do pretty well.

Elliot Moss
Well if we need you to gut some fish we will get you back in later. Stay with me for my Business Shaper today, Robert Nadler, the man who has literally seems to have done more things than most of us do in one lifetime and he is still going. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me Elliot Moss; every Saturday morning from 9.00am I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business, whether they are shaping the world of smoking fish or being a policeman, even that’s I suppose a shaping in a way or whatever it might be, it’s all here and I have met some fantastic people in the past and indeed I have a fantastic guest today. His name is Robert Nadler and if you were listening earlier he is the CEO and founder of Nadler Hotels and he has done a lot of things, a lot of things indeed. All these different experiences Robert, I guess they unconsciously add up to something. In your case what has it given you as you look now at building your, you know, X million pound business and you’ve got the four hotels and it will be five, and it will be six. What perspective do you think you have gained from all these different views of life?

Robert Nadler
I think there is some very clear messages that I have learnt. Probably the most important is you have to be committed with whatever you do and in whatever you do and it is extraordinary how when you commit yourself to something, how much you get back. If you are not committed you don’t get the feel of a business and I remember talking about a police officer briefly, after a while when you are passionate about what you are doing, you enjoy what you are doing, you’d walk out into… because I was at Vine Street, SE12, at Vine Street Police Station which no longer exists and you’d walk out into Piccadilly on a Friday evening and the streets are crowded and you can almost tell what time of day it is or what time of the evening it is by the kinds of questions you are asked but you walk out and you sense the atmosphere and it almost comes through the pores on your skin and you can feel ‘nope tonight’s going to be a quiet night’ or ‘no there is something in the air I can just feel it’ and most of the time you were pretty accurate. Same with the fish business. One day very early on you’d go down to the market, I’d open the factory at 4.30/5.00 o’clock, you’d go down to the market just before 5.30, the bell would go in Billingsgate and you can start buying fish then. You can’t buy before and one day I decided to sleep in because getting up at 4.30 when you are in your twenties and you’ve still got a social life was pretty tough. I thought ‘what the hell, I’m not going to come in till 9.00’ and this was the day’s well before the mobile phones or anything like that and fish was difficult to come by. It was in the days you only had wild salmon. Farmed fish was only just coming in and I come into the factory and there were frantic people around me saying ‘Robert where have you been, where have you been?’ because I didn’t call anybody – one of my colleagues had opened one of the… the foreman had opened the factory – ‘They have been trying to get hold of you down at the market’ and I thought ‘What’s happening?’. I ring the guy he says ‘We’ve had a parcel of fish, we had a big parcel of fish I knew you were desperate to buy, I’ve been holding on to it for you but I had to sell it because I didn’t want to put it in storage, you ain’t got it’ and I thought ‘My God I can never ever sleep in again’ and it… you have to have that commitment that it doesn’t matter how tired you are, whatever is going to happen you are going to do it and you put yourself 100% into anything. That’s lesson number one and when you do that, you get a lot back. You find that you put yourself into a position where people around you see you are committed, they are going to follow you. If you are not committed they are not going to follow you. The other thing is life is about giving, not taking. There is so much more to life than accumulating, owning more, possessing more. Possessions, possess you. It is one of my wife’s favourite sayings. Giving is so much more fulfilling and you can do that in business. You know, you give to the left, it comes back from the right and you give without expectation. If you give with expectation you spend all your life waiting for it to come back and then you have a hole that you are never going to fill. You give because it is pleasurable to give. In a way it is egocentric and selfish perhaps to do it that way but ultimately that is what is satisfying and that’s what we are hoping to do in our hotels. We give and we care.

Elliot Moss
These are wise words. I am making notes, quite a lot of them actually. Stay with me for much more from Robert Nadler, my fantastic Business Shaper today. Time for some more music, Branford Marsalis Quartet and Kurt Elling are coming up right now with Doxy.

That was Branford Marsalis Quartet and Kurt Elling with Doxy. Robert Nadler is my Business Shaper today and he is the CEO and founder of the Nadler Hotel Group and there is four of them and they have kind of redefined the way that hotel business works. They don’t have all the extraneous things. They don’t like charging for stuff. They like giving it to you for free whether it was Wifi from 2006 or a nice bit of a probably a pod of coffee in the room and all sorts of other lovely juicy things so when you get your bill there you know what you actually spent it on and it is much clearer. Robert you’ve been talking about lots of things, about commitment and about giving and about sensing the atmosphere. As you have built a team that wisdom that you have developed, how have you inculcated that across the different businesses? Has it informed the way that they operate or am I being a bit too sort of romantic about the whole thing?

Robert Nadler
You are not being romantic about it. It’s what we want to achieve. Obviously as you get bigger it becomes more difficult but in a strange way a Chief Executive or leader gives a sense of what people should be doing and his presence, the way he conducts himself tends to trickle down so in a leadership role, it doesn’t matter that you are always there or not, you should leave a presence and I hope that I achieve that. Certainly when you look at the Trip Advisor reviews on our hotels it is clear that one of the really key elements in our business is the staff and the way that we have trained them and the way they respond to guests. I want my team to be incredibly friendly but never familiar. I don’t want them to be haughty or standoffish. We are not a five star hotel with white tie, we are very much a contemporary but very inclusive brand and I want my team to be the friendliest people there, the most helpful people there but without being in your face and without ever being familiar which is what I hope I give to them and obviously we have training programmes and we have get togethers and it is important that they enjoy what they are doing. Above all else, if they are not enjoying it they are not going to be able to do it with heart and we all sense whether people are doing things genuinely. Being genuine and being transparent are key to what I want from my team. They’ve got to be doing whatever they are doing because they are enjoying doing it and they care about it. The fact that they care about giving guests the best is really important.

Elliot Moss
Have there been any fundamental obstacles to delivering this vision of care and this vision of being generous and all those other things because it strikes me that the business has grown steadily, you haven’t gone crazy and tried to expand it to thirty. You’ve got plans to build a few more but there must have been times when it wasn’t so straight forward. You make it sound straight forward?

Robert Nadler
That’s quite a difficult one. Is it… has it… I can’t think of specific obstacles because I have been very fortunate in that my investors and partners, Western Heritable particularly have been very understanding of the brand building and the business building which isn’t about maximising short-term returns. That’s something you need in a business, you need a congruency of objectives and they are into building a business and a sustainable business. That’s what sustainability is about. It is not about can we squeeze a bit more out of here. Can we pay people a little bit less. Can we work them a bit harder. No it’s about having a great team, having a great business, giving back – as I said, giving back to the guests so that the guests love you and want to come back and actually enjoy being in your premises. We are now in an industry that it is incredibly transparent with Trip Advisor and Booking.com that have reviews on their website and on their booking engine. Whatever you do is out in the public domain whether you want it there or not. So it is important that you do what you do in a genuine manner and you are happy that it is out there on the front page of whatever publication or other medium is available to the public and pretty much everything is available to the public now.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with my guest today, Robert Nadler plus you will be hearing a track from Alfredo Rodriguez, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

The Cuban sound of Alfredo Rodriguez with Ay, mama inés. Robert Nadler is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes and we have been talking about the new take on the hotel world, the reality of squaring our desires as people that stay in hotels for authenticity, for, not familiarity but that warmth and for just the stuff you need, not the stuff that you don’t and I love all of that Robert. Do you think in five or ten years everyone will follow your lead? Is it just inevitable that eventually the word sustainability, a bit like technology, will be absorbed into just the way we are and the way that this industry works?

Robert Nadler
Well certainly environmental sustainability had better follow. As Obama said, the consequences of climate change are already terrifying today. We have to be green so that aspect of sustainability certainly. I hope the social sustainability will form part of that though it doesn’t have the same existential pressure that environmental sustainability does. I think, I personally think it is important. I don’t think it will be everybody, there are horses for courses. You can’t do what I am doing perhaps in a resort. I suppose there is the element of the full service or fully inclusive price and I think people do like that. We all hate mini bars. We like the convenience of them, we hate the prices we have to pay but actually mini bars probably don’t make money for most hotels because the cost of servicing them, filling them etcetera is too great. So no I don’t think what I have got is genius, the only route. There are lots of others whether it is a sharing economy which has very important, particularly the genuine sharing economy which is a room in your flat or a bed in your room where the host is present and can give you a taste of the real taste of local which is doing something that hotels can’t do in the same way and it stretches us as it should but no, I don’t… there is always going to be the array of different offers and there will be new things and new requirements. The new generations look for different things, want different things and have different tools with which to access them.

Elliot Moss
Now it is a very vision, you have a clear vision. You’ve got values under pinning it. We haven’t talked about money per say because you said it is about giving. Obviously at the end of the day you are running a business. The business is growing. At what point do you individually say, thank you very much it’s enough or is it not like that?

Robert Nadler
No economic sustainability has to be at the core of a business. If it is not economically sustainable it’s a waste of time, it doesn’t last and you want, clearly you want to make a return and in a sense it’s the business judgment of whether what you are doing is worth doing or not. If it is not economically sustainable you are doing something wrong. I am a businessman in my heart as well. At what point do I say it is enough – when I stop enjoying it. Other than that there is no reason not to continue. I think replicability is difficult because what we like to do at the moment is have every hotel with unique features, unique elements. Once you start getting into a certain critical mass what you are looking for and certainly the big brands are looking for to grow is replicability and then you lose some of the originality of each unit which is why I think some of the big restaurant brands are struggling because they grow to a level where suddenly you see it on every High Street, it’s homogenisation, commoditisation of a product and then you are into something, a completely different business which is not what I want to be in. It is not exciting then.

Elliot Moss
So it sounds like it is going to be a few more but not millions more and as long as Robert is enjoying himself, Robert is right in the driving seat. That’s the gist of it?

Robert Nadler
That’s the gist of it. There may be others behind me coming up in my footsteps who probably want to take… and I hope will want to take it on but I think I am probably at an age where I want to be enjoying what I am doing as well. At the moment I am having a ball.

Elliot Moss
You look like you are having a ball. Listen it has been fabulous talking to you. Thank you for your time.

Robert Nadler
It’s a pleasure.

Elliot Moss
Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Robert Nadler
Okay, my song choice is My Old Flame by Keith Jarret and Charlie Haden from their album Last Dance. It is one of those songs that when you listen to it you stop and you think I am sure I have memories around this but as it happens I don’t but it is one of those songs that makes you feel I ought to have memories and maybe I am just going to create those memories around it. I love it.

Elliot Moss
Here it is for you and hopefully you will be creating some brilliant memories around it.

That was My Old Flame from Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Robert Nadler. Someone who has created a new way of building hotels and servicing us, the general public and he talks about the notion of social sustainability. Someone who expressed how important the idea of commitment is if you are going to be an entrepreneur, really believe it and really do it. And finally someone who believes fundamentally in giving, not taking – that has been Robert’s model for building his business and long may it continue. Do join me again, same time, same place that’s next Saturday, 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers in the meantime stay with us here on Jazz FM because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Founder of Nadler Hotels, Robert worked in a number of industries before commencing his hotel business. Originally a qualified chartered surveyor, he has done everything from smoking fish to policing the Soho streets, founding two research companies and holding the position of CEO of a public company.

Robert opened his first hotel in Kensington in 2006. Inspired by what he wanted as a guest, he created an individual and original concept in designer boutique hotels based around an ethos of sustainability. The Nadler Liverpool opened in 2010, followed in June 2013 by The Nadler Soho. The Nadler Victoria, by Buckingham Palace, opened in December 2015, and a site in Covent Garden for a fifth hotel has just been acquired.

In keeping with Robert’s vision, Nadler Hotels edit out the typical hotel restaurant, gym and bar. Instead, the expert concierge team focus on encouraging guests to benefit from their in-depth, local knowledge to experience the neighbourhood’s top dining, leisure, and fitness offerings – many of which offer exclusive discounts for Nadler’s guests.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertthenadler.

“You have got to be green today, you’ve got to be crazy not to be green. You have got to be on another planet…”

“What I find irritating in a hotel and what drives me mad – and I think drives most people mad – are extra charges. Hotels love to monetise.”

“The real heart and soul of our business is sustainability and in particular social sustainability.”

“Being a salmon smoker is a very different role from being a chartered surveyor.”

“…life is about giving, not taking. There is so much more to life than accumulating, owning more, possessing more. Possessions possess you. It is one of my favourite sayings.”

“At school I thought I’d be a marine biologist at one point. I’ve done a lot of scuba diving.”

“…a Chief Executive or leader gives a sense of what people should be doing and his presence, the way he conducts himself, tends to trickle down.”

“I want my team to be incredibly friendly but never familiar. I don’t want them to be haughty or standoffish.”

“If it is not economically sustainable it’s a waste of time…if it is not economically sustainable you are doing something wrong.”