Jacinta Phelan (Harvey Nichols as Director of Restaurants and COO at Chiltern Firehouse) spoke about her personal career journey at a recent event at Searcys venue 30 Pavillion Road to celebrate International Women’s Day. During the talk she touched on why women need to make their own game plan and not play only by men’s rules in order to succeed and get ahead in business. Here’s some snippets from the talk.
What’s your secret to career success?
JP: I learned that you should always have a game plan.
Why is this so important?
JP: Life can be amazing but if you don’t have a game plan you can just drift along.
What did you want to be as a child?
JP: I really wanted to be a chef but my parents weren’t impressed.
How did you get into hospitality?
JP: It was one Christmas and my parents asked what I wanted. I asked for a single ticket to Australia.I found a course in hotel management. It was really, really hard. I love restaurants, I love bars, I love entertaining but it took me a while to connect the dots. I moved back to London in the end and got a run-of-the-mill job. I was in the right place but I wasn’t in the driver’s seat for a while.
What was your breakthrough moment?
JP: Every Sunday Michael Winner wrote a review. He continued to slate Marco Pierre White’s new place in Knightsbridge. For some reason, I saw this as an opportunity. I put together a menu about everything Marco should be doing and sent it to him in a letter. Amazingly he found me and invited me in for an interview.
I noticed he didn’t employ any women at the top level. I asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be manager. For the next couple of weeks, I dined at his place almost everyday and solved every problem I could find. He offered me a job. That was the point where I made the conscious decision to be in the driver’s seat.
Where did your career take you next?
JP: I went from Marco Pierre White to the Conran restaurant chain. I started realising there were lots of entrepreneurial businesses where I could be useful and add value. The next stop took me to restauranteur Oliver Peyton. Within 18 months I was the operations director and that was an amazing experience. I truly believe that everyday you should be learning and I was. After I helped grow the business there, I did Cecconi’s in Mayfair. People started coming to me and Harvey Nichols called me to do all of their hospitality. In each of these instances I had a game plan. Generally with every job I take, I’m already on to he second job and looking ahead to new opportunity.
Where are you now?
JP: I help run all of the André Balazs Properties as COO – which includes the famed Chateau Marmont in Hollywood and London’s Chiltern Firehouse – and I also have my own consultancy business, PhantasticUs.
What drives you?
JP: It’s literally as simple as just having a job. I’m very competitive. When you find something that really ticks the box don’t let it go, run with it.
What’s you life motto?
JP: You have to be a little bit fearless. Sometimes you have to have a bit of faith.
Jacinta Phelan spoke as part of Searcys’ sell-out Women Winning Their Way event to mark International Women’s Day. The luxury hospitality brand, established in 1847 by the Duke of Northumberland’s pastry chef, now operates a number of special venues in London and the UK including: Searcys The Gherkin, Searcys St. Pancras Grand, Inner Temple, Kenwood House and Blenheim Palace. To learn more visit www.searcys.co.uk.