Careers advice > Features > Olive Barnett award interview with Assia Riccio Smith

Olive Barnett award interview with Assia Riccio Smith

Assia Riccio-Smith

The Olive Barnett award is given to front-of-house staff in recognition of their hard work and contribution to the hospitality industry. Last year’s winner, Assia Riccio, guest service manager at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, spoke to about winning the award and what it’s meant for her career.







You competed against seven other finalists last year, how did that make you feel when you won?

The competition was very tough, and all the other finalists were extremely talented and committed to the industry. I felt overwhelmed and privileged at the same time. It was amazing to be given a prize for being a rising star in hospitality in front of people that for many years had inspired me including my husband Gary, Philip Newman-Hall , Director and General Manager at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Julia Murrell, Human Resources Manager.

The hug I was given on the stage from Philip is one of those special moments I will remember forever. His support and help have guided me throughout the past 5 years and a life time will not be enough to thank him for everything he has done for me.

I remember leaving my hometown in 2007 with only €300, no job, no accommodation but with a dream to work in hospitality and there I was; standing in the ballroom at the Savoy Hotel about to receive the Olive Barnett Award.

I felt a sense of accomplishment and peace, finally all the hard work I’d put in and everything I had done since leaving Italy was finally paying off!

You received a career development grant (£1,750 for two years for a total of £3500) what have you used the fund on?

I used a small part of the 1st year grant to cover the expenses for a trip to the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland. I attended a ‘Woman in Leadership and Key to Personal Effectiveness’ course. The leadership program was a very enriching experience and I learned a lot about the industry and myself.

Part of the prize was also to become a trained Springboard ambassador. The experience in Lausanne and the willingness to give something back to the industry, made me decide to work as a mentor for students and colleagues that share my passion for hospitality when I came back to England.

This led me to work with schools, colleges and universities in England and Italy to promote the industry to students who were attending career in hospitality days. In February 2012 I took part in a consultancy project with hospitality management students at Bournemouth University which involved supporting them in the development of a luxury hotel spa.

Part of the grant was used to undertake some cross-training in FOH at the Crowne Plaza London to gain a greater understanding of how a large corporate city hotel operates.

The last part of my development grant went on a Hotel Revenue Management and Hospitality Financial Management course at Cornell University. I was also awarded a Cornell Scholarship which helped with further development and led to spending some time cross training at Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) with Danny Meyer’s team who I have been following for years. Each year, one scholar is selected from Cornell's to work at USHG - the Olive Barnett award has given me the opportunity to be one of these privileged scholars.

The financial support offered by the award is only part of the benefits I have enjoyed though; it’s the opportunities that come along that make the award priceless.

What has the award changed for you?

This award has given me the right tools to move forward in my career. I have built a priceless network of people that have been guiding and supporting me throughout the last two years. These are people that were in my position and understand my needs, worries and fears and are always available to help.

The experiences I’ve had have enriched me with new emotions and knowledge to pass on to younger generations and as a Springboard ambassador I am able to introduce hospitality to young, talented people who have the passion to succeed.

What did you take away from the Executive Education Summer Programme, provided by the École Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland?

The week I spent at the École Hôtelière de Lausanne was very constructive and empowering. It encouraged me to break down my personality in order to understand my strengths and weaknesses.

It gave me more confidence at work and home and I started to believe more in myself and what I can achieve, which has also benefited those around me.

It was such an inspiring course and made me appreciate even more all the professional and personal goals I have achieved so far. I believe It was a wakeup call for me and it is a “must do” for all women!

What’s the best part about your job?

I love creating memorable experiences for our guests - it’s all about the details which stay in our guests’ memories. Giving them something to remember us for so that they feel welcome at our hotel is everything.

A genuine smile can be the most welcoming gesture and the sense of feeling at home and cared for can make all the difference. Sharing special moments and perhaps a tear with our guests make all the hard work worthwhile.

My very first experience in hospitality was in my family home in the south of Italy. The homely warm atmosphere, the desire to be together and look after each other are gifts from my childhood that made me become who I am today. My parents showed me hospitality in its pure form and it has become for me the way I live my life.

It is a privilege that it has become what I do for living and it is extremely rewarding to be in a position where I have the opportunity to deliver hospitality to hundreds of people on a daily basis. My job is an experience itself that keeps adding something new and exciting to my life every day.

What are your aspirations for the future?

Over the past five years I have had the honour to work for and be inspired by two fantastic people M. Raymond Blanc, Chef Patron at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Mr Philip Newman-Hall, Director and General Manager. They have both opened my eyes to a new vision and I have seen how quality, consistency and people come together to deliver real hospitality.

My plans are to move to the next level and learn about the financial side of the industry. Once I gain this knowledge, I would like to move a step further and work for a hotel group and be involved in the research of new business opportunities and start-up of new properties, eventually becoming a board member and a CEO.

I want to grow with the industry using my passion, creativity and desire, be inspired and taught by the best hoteliers. One day it would be my dream to win a Life Time Achievement Award and be recognised for making significant contribution to the industry - if you don’t aim high, you will never hit high!

I have benefited greatly from this award and I sincerely hope this year’s winner will enjoy similar experiences to those I have been enjoying and will benefit from them to the same extent that I have.

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