His involvement in the Skylane, which is near Gatwick Airport, started in 1971 when he was commissioned by a Jersey businessman to build the hotel, working with a local builder.
He recalls: “Following completion of the hotel build, I was keen to learn all aspects of business. Today, a hotel opening would be far more structured than in the 70s, with gantt charts to ensure every eventuality is catered for. However, as was my style, I hit the ground running and, having never operated a hotel before, I started to run reception, chambermaid, front-of-house and maintenance, a short, sharp ‘degree’ in the hospitality industry.”
He soon bought the hotel, followed in 1979 by Highley Manor Wedding and Conference Centre at Balcombe and, most recently, Tottington Manor at Edburton. He sold the Skylane Hotel in 2007.
He says: “Both Highley and Tottington are beautiful wedding venues and Tottington Manor is gaining a reputation as a fine restaurant. For me, it certainly has the best tasting beer in the county. It’s a competitive market, but we pride ourselves on doing what we do well and consistently.
“Looking back, my family life did suffer and I’m sure most successful business people will relate to this. The upside is my daughters have recently joined as Directors and it is a whole new experience working together. Business and family need to be separated, but we see more of each other and talk out problems together. We all have different strengths and make a great team.”
He says he has continued to learn throughout his career, not least that major challenges can happen at any time. Bruce said: “The miners strike in mid-80s plunged me into a very unexpected and massive overdraft due to the three-day week the country was forced to endure for almost nine months. It was a truly frightening experience and one that nearly sunk the business. I was amazed at the support I received from my team who took pay cuts to help us pull through.
“More recently, we struggled with planning permission for Tottington Manor’s 4000 foot wedding and conference extension. After seven months we were granted permission and the build is now complete. Forward bookings have justified the £400k investment and I sincerely thank the support of our wonderful customers.
“Tottington Manor is proving to be a worthwhile investment. Many of the staff from the previous ownership remain and are a very professional and hardworking team.”
He also appreciates the support of Sussex Enterprise. He said: “Almost doubling the head count, meant Skylane’s HR function was stretched. Sussex Enterprise’s flexible Emerald service allowed us to bridge this gap cost-effectively.”
And his advice to new entrepreneurs? “No alternative to hard work – vitally important to know your product and your competitors’ products and ensure a proper control of accounts. Always have a cheerful face for the customer and the staff and quality must never falter.”
* The Group purchased BEST WESTERN Salford Hall in 2011.