Q&A with Chester King, Managing Director of Stoke Park, UK

Roy King, was a famous British Jeweller in the 1950s. His son, Roger King, inherited his father’s entrepreneurial spirit and set up the International Group of Companies in 1964. The group is involved in hospital construction and management, property development, sports marketing, packaging and leisure operations. Roger King has three sons: Hertford, Witney, and Chester (all named after towns in England!). An interesting chapter of the King’s family business story began in 1987, when they decided to rent the top two floors of the Stoke Park clubhouse, a Palladian mansion designed by James Wyatt, architect to George III, in 1789. The Kings set out by using the space for their offices, having outgrown their previous setting. Little did the family know that this was only the beginning of their journey with this charming white building. In 1993, Roger King bought Stoke Park in its entirety where after the family made a considerable investment into renovating the old structure to its former glory. The success was notable: Today, Stoke Park has historical status and is not only a sought after clubhouse, but also a 5-star hotel. It has served as the film set of James Bond movies as well as comedies such as ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ and is a ‘Grade I listed’ building with historical status.

A Family Business in Hospitality – Stoke Park
Image courtesy of Stoke Park

It seems that in the case of Stoke Park, all it took was a family business to take care of it.

Chester King and his brothers have taken the role of Stoke Park’s Managing Director in turns for nearly two decades. From 2006 onwards, Chester has retained the MD position and is also a Director in all the family’s other companies. His group focus is marketing and HR. Chester King speaks to Tharawat magazine about what it is like to manage a historical estate and about the success factor that the family can be in hospitality.

Stoke Park has once been described by the King family as a ‘family hobby’. Today your family has recovered it to its former glory; has its strategic priority in your family business changed?

Yes, we acquired the Stoke Park estate in 1993 because my father loves old buildings (The Mansion was built in 1795 and is a Grade I listed building). We initially had a completely different vision for the estate. However, once we fully researched its history (it was the first country club in 1908), importance, and potential, it was clear it was going to become a core business within our family companies. By the end of 2011 the annual revenue had increased by 2,000% since 1993.

I was very excited when my father bought Stoke Park; being a huge James Bond fan I loved the fact that we owned the golf club from the famous movie “Goldfinger” with Sean Connery and Oddjob’s flying hat! My father always raised us with the understanding that we would manage and take over the family businesses one day.

A Family Business in Hospitality – Stoke Park
Image courtesy of Stoke Park

Your family is active in various industries. What makes the hospitality sector special to the Kings?

We have been very lucky with Stoke Park, as its success has allowed us to build incredibly strong relationships in Britain’s hospitality and sports industry. We now work for Wembley Stadium running their VIP Club, Lord’s Cricket ground and most of the main sporting governing bodies.

Over the last 18 years we have been approached by a large number of individuals from various countries, so we decided to set up a consultancy business helping people create their own Stoke Park (We work with them mainly on a “white-label” basis). There is a huge benefit in having a club and a hotel resort concept due to the guaranteed revenues from the memberships.

What do you believe are the main advantages of family businesses working in the hospitality sector?

• Trust

• Passion

• Shared vision and knowledge (which can easily be passed down from generation to generation).

• The ability to make quick decisions and act on them.

Can you tell us more about the way you and your brothers Hertford and Witney rotate responsibilities regularly and why?

We all have very different skill sets and management styles and so when the businesses were developing it was good (in our opinion) to try them out to see what style suited which company. This happened for the first 15 years – but as we have become more established and our contacts have become stronger, we now have decided to stay put!

We consistently communicate as a family. We speak and see each other almost every day. We have regular board meetings and discuss the results and ongoing issues. There would always be a hand-over period of a few weeks, but if there is information needed we just pick up the phone!

Do you believe that the fact that you are a family business contributed to the success Stoke Park has seen under your management?

Yes! I feel there is more success if you “hunt in a pack” as opposed to trying to do everything on your own. Because we all have a different viewpoint we can bounce ideas off each other. Then whoever is in charge (of that business at the time) makes the final decision.

We are fortunate to have been able to build a great network of guests and suppliers over the years. Due to the varied interests and hobbies of our family we have a great cross section of clientele. We are also an unusual English family in hospitality as two facts make us stand out: None of us drink alcohol and since our names represent three English towns people always remember us.

What recommendations can you make to other business families in hospitality?

• Listen to your family!

• Each member of the family has a particular skill set – you need to capitalise on them.

• Try to create a united vision (once agreed with your family) and then communicate it to all your staff.

• Be consistent on your delivery of service and facilities – irrespective of who is in charge at the time.

• Talk to other family businesses – most people are happy to share information.

Tharawat Magazine, Issue 13, 2012