David Levin and The Capital Group
The First Steps: Up to 1969
The initial desire David Levin was born and grew up in the close Jewish community of Pollokshields, a leafy suburb of Glasgow, Scotland, the son of an electrical wholesaler. Home life was comfortable but constraining and the young boy longed to escape its confines. He resented school and admits to being a difficult student, thinking that it was a complete waste of time; few of the subjects taught seemed to have any relevance. Family holidays in the resort hotels of Britain after the war provided the young David Levin with his first glimpse of hotel life and the possibilities that it offered. He was fascinated by the Hotel Patron; master of all he surveyed, never accepting anything less than perfection in order to deliver a memorable experience for customers. His father and the friends of his father were in business and David grew up understanding the values of working hard to achieve personal goals. This led to him seeking work, whilst in his midteens and still at school, at the local Central Hotel’s Malmaison restaurant, which very quickly reinforced his view that this was not only a world he wanted to be part of, but also something at which he could excel. It became his ambition to not only get into the hotel business, but also to one day own his own luxury hotel. In those days, although there were four-year apprenticeships for chefs, a career in hotel management could only be initiated by a spell at a Hotel School. Therefore, against the wishes of his family, in particular his father who went ‘mad’ at the news, having harboured ideas that his son would study for a more professional career; David attended the Glasgow Hotel School (now the Scottish Hotel School, University of Strathclyde). The Hotel School proved to be a reprise of David’s experience of school, boring and irrelevant. From his brief time working at the Central Hotel, he was only too aware that learning how to unblock a vacuum cleaner and 120 ways to prepare potatoes was going to be of little practical assistance to him in future years! Hopeful that things would look up when it came to the study of wine, he was disappointed to discover that it involved identifying and learning 35 soil temperatures from the wine growing areas around the world. A career in hotels The learning really began for David Levin when he joined British Transport Hotels (BTH). The company were quick to acknowledge his talent, enthusiasm and his knack of knowing what customers wanted and delivering it. As part of a large hotel group, opportunities to be entrepreneurial in these early years did not present themselves too readily. However, experiences were reflected on and analysed, and the lessons implemented wherever possible. At the age of 27, David rose to be BTH’s youngest general manager - of the humble Lochalsh Hotel in the north of Scotland. This promotion had all the indications that it was a poisoned chalice. Before his arrival, the Lochalsh Hotel was notorious within the company as having the worst food and was indeed the worst performing hotel in the company. However, it
Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Network, May 2005
was to prove the pinnacle of his career with them. His turnaround of this location, in a single season, remains something of which he is still tremendously proud. During his time with BTH David learned key lessons, the benefits of which have stayed with him throughout his career and which were distilled into his philosophy of providing high standards of service with a very personal management style. It was at Lochalsh that David Levin developed a passion for food. Since his early days of part-time employment at the Malmaison he had always been interested in foods from around the world, but in Scotland this interest grew into a passion. In addition, the confidence gained from his personal success at the Lochalsh was to prove a strong influence on...