We often hear about overnight success stories where businesses suddenly hit the big time out of nowhere. In reality, however, the majority of leading brands are years in the making. For those at the helm, it’s also a journey of self-discovery that tests your grit to stay the course; it’s what Peter Vogel, founder of Luxury Hospitality, would call purpose and passion.
Since working on board for the late Paul Allen, he’s made it his life’s work to empower others to be the best they can be, and in the process he’s learned a thing or two about himself, taking his training and development business from strength to strength.
Here we take Peter back to the very beginning, to what inspired him, what he has learned and what he hopes to achieve long term for those working within the superyacht industry.
How would you describe Luxury Hospitality’s offerings and what underpins your approach?
Over the past 12 years LH has evolved from a service training company into an organisation that helps individuals to grow by making them aware of both their strengths and their challenges, allowing them to excel in areas where they are naturally talented.
Using the same approach, we also work with businesses, helping to develop individuals and teams as well as the organisation as a whole. In essence it's a combination of skill set training and leadership training that empowers people to reach their full potential.
Where did it all start for you? When did you recognise that this is a training approach that you could turn into a business?
I think it started when I was still working on Octopus for the late Paul Allen. In his organisation, people were always recognised for their strengths; they allowed us to go through leadership development training and made sure that talent was recognised. I loved that and I thought this is what the whole industry should have.
Then I met Robert Watson, the owner of The Guild of Professional English Butlers. We hired him to come on board to inspire the team and, after a few hours, he said: “You’re a natural trainer”. I was 34 at the time and it planted a seed for me to explore and figure out. He became my mentor and he coached me into a framework for the superyacht industry.
I realised that I had to start small, delivering the hospitality training first and introducing leadership training later. We saw it work on Paul Allen’s boats where we brought Ken Blanchard accredited training on board to support the crew. That was the key, working with the crew, and that underpins everything we do today.
So, if we fast forward to today, what was the greatest challenge in transitioning from a trainer to running a training business?
The most challenging thing is to look in the mirror and acknowledge that you yourself need to transform before the business can transform with you. There was a time when the business was all about Peter Vogel, and to some extent that’s what people wanted. But I realised that to grow the business I needed a team but over the years it hasn’t always been easy to find the right people to take under the wing until they can fly alone. It's all about the mindset and finding trainers who can inspire the next generation.
I decided to let it happen organically, by bringing people into the company with a range of different strengths. For example, I'm strong on ideas and kickstarting things, but after a while I get bored, so it was important to acknowledge that fact and bring in people who like to take the ball and run with it.
What are some of the issues within the superyacht industry that create barriers to this approach?
The industry is growing up and becoming more professional, but we need to focus more on our human capital. We are still one of the only industries without any form of HR support responsible for people's professional development and wellbeing. Some companies recognise that this needs to happen, and obviously we're one of those, but that is what this industry is lacking.
As an industry we need to take responsibility and I truly believe that in a couple of years from now we’ll see certain positions on board having the dual role of human resource support. It’s simply not acceptable that we allow 50, 60, 70, 80 crew members to live together without any form of professional support when they’re performing jobs under such circumstances.
I have to say, there are some wonderful companies that are supporting their crew, and we're working with several of them to develop their human resource strategy at fleet level. It’s early days but ultimately we need individuals responsible on every single vessel who we can then support across the network.
What has been the most important thing that you yourself have learned?
I wish I had known it during my time working on board yachts, but I now truly believe that you can learn to be a great leader. When I started the business, I was pretty sure that my way was the best way, I was out and about working my ass off, and I was burning out because I was trying to do every single role within the business.
I remember a business friend telling me she had a PA and I thought that was ridiculous! But she was hiring people in the areas where she was not so strong, and that’s how I first discovered Talent Dynamics. It’s different from other profiling tools because it focuses on your innate strengths, and the deeper I got into it, the more I recognised that there were some wonderful people around me who were naturally better than me at doing certain things.
The greatest turning point was being humble enough to accept that I can’t do everything, and I had to start respecting other ways of looking at the world. Everybody has a different set of talents and therefore everybody sees the world in a different light.
It was emotional because you ask yourself “Have I been the problem?” Of course, I've also done some really good things, but I realised I could have been more successful sooner. I'm glad I learned that so now I can pass it on and inspire others.
How do you identify the right mindset and apply these principles within your own team?
It's been a journey. First I had to make sure that I wasn't bringing in copies of me; I've got very strong ideas about what I want, but I started to bring in different energies.
During the recruitment process we allow everybody to go through a questionnaire and have a full debrief with one of our specialists so they understand the value it has for themselves. It allows us to look at our own blueprint in terms of what we're looking for in people in the context of our organisation but, more importantly, it allows individuals to discover what talents they have, and what talents they might not be aware of. It’s also important that the whole team knows what they're good at and what they find a challenge.
We have constant open discussion around this and we live and breathe our methodology to make sure that we speak the language of the other person. It really improves communication and it’s a powerful leadership tool. If you're able to adapt to the other person's energy, you will get better results and faster results, people are more likely to go along with you.
So it’s a conscious exercise, like reading body language?
Yes, and it requires a shift. When you bring it into an organisation, or onto a yacht, you need to consider it as a change program. It will definitely improve communication and ensure that the organization becomes more efficient and more effective. Similarly with yacht crew, if you're able to adapt your language to your guests in terms of their energy, they will respond much better and love you for it. Obviously, it does require training but as people experience it, they feel a kind of magic.
I think we’re about to turn the page where this becomes common and normal. We’ve worked with early adopters in businesses as well yacht crew and it's an exciting time because now we’re in a position to roll it out on a much larger scale.
Aside from Paul Allen, who has most inspired you personally?
Paul Allen made such a difference in my life, but I’d say Napoleon Hill. His revolutionary book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ really underpins what we’re doing now. He said you are responsible; life is not happening to you, you make it happen, and that was such an eye opener for me. Obviously it’s something that has been written and rewritten over the years, but that lesson has spoken to me in many different ways. Most recently, I read the book ‘Miracle Morning’, and there it was again, brought to us with different words in a different way.
It’s very interesting because I always thought it was about money, and being rich isn’t my primary goal, but then I read it and it was all about personal growth and development rather than money per se. It’s a good book to read.
What is your ultimate vision for LH?
I would love for the businesses to flourish, to grow and continue to make the impact that I think we're currently making and, ultimately, I’d like the business to be able to operate without depending on me.
The most important message that I want to get across is that 95% of us are in service in one way or another – serving clients as well as colleagues – and the quality of this service impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty above anything else.
It starts with an understanding of yourself, so the first step in our programme is Insight which helps you to identify your natural strengths as well as your challenges. This greatly improves communication and trust within a team and enhances overall performance.
Excellence in any operation also requires effective leadership and one of the most important traits that all leaders must possess is a passion to develop and maximize the potential of others. When you transform people individually, you begin to transform your team or organisation as a whole. I believe that LH is bringing this message into the world and I’d like to do that on a much larger scale.