For Craig Markham, the secret to career success and longevity is to follow a path that makes you happy.
“I think it's very simple, and that is: love what you do,” he says. “We spend so much time at work; it's so important that we really and truly are passionate about what it is that we do.”
Markham is Director of Sales, Marketing and Public Relations for Firmdale Hotels, a luxury boutique hotel group celebrated for its unique and stylish properties. He has been with the company since his arrival in London 28 years ago, and though his responsibilities are to sales, marketing, public relations and brand identity, he’s very much part of the family and is involved in every facet of the business. It’s a varied and exciting role; he says that after all this time, every day is still different.
“Every year we’re working on a different project – there's always something else to do. To a certain extent my world revolves around the Firmdale world; it's hard sometimes to distinguish between my professional and personal life.”
In a crowded international travel market, Firmdale Hotels have carved out a successful niche that has seen the group grow significantly since opening its first property, the Dorset Square Hotel, in 1985. Owners Tim and Kit Kemp now have nine hotels across London and New York, each attracting a high-end global clientele: international arbiters of style, captains of industry, and travellers seeking a distinctive, luxurious experience.
Though known for their exacting standards in quality and personal service, Firmdale’s crucial difference lies in their signature sense of design and style – the personal domain of Kit Kemp. As design director, she infuses a carefree and colourful spirit into each property. Her fresh modern interpretation of British design creates a home-away-from-home environment, delivering a luxury experience without the stuffiness and lack of character found in many other high-end hotels.
I think it’s really important for you to be constantly looking for and thinking of new ideas, and embracing what’s next.
“I think people look to Firmdale Hotels for style and design,” says Markham, who confesses a life-long love affair with interior design, art, and the good things in life. “Kit Kemp has a very individual and personal point of view when it comes to her style and how she sees the hotels, and the world has really stood up and noticed. People seem to love what we do, and we've been very successful doing it.”
Though it maintains its boutique roots, Firmdale’s growth shows no sign of slowing: the group is working towards opening their second New York-based property, the Whitby Hotel, in December.
Markham has most certainly found the perfect industry in which to put his vibrant personality and exceptional skills as a communicator to good use – travel is close to his heart and deeply inspires him, both personally and professionally. The group’s ventures in New York, and London’s proximity to Europe, offer him the chance to indulge his passion regularly.
“I travel quite a bit for my job and I enjoy that enormously. Living in London is great because you're at the centre of the universe here, and you have the ability to be in a completely different culture, with a different language and a different currency, quite possibly within two hours. I love that ability to be caught between Europe and New York City.”
After almost 30 years, Markham still sees London as an incredible adventure. But Wollongong will always occupy an important place in his heart, and he relishes his annual pilgrimage to see family and friends at Christmas. “Wollongong was a great place to grow up,” he recalls. “I think it gave me a great grounding, and although I've not lived in Wollongong for a long time I still feel very much the same person.”
As a high school graduate, Markham – like many young people – had no firm ideas on a life-long career path. He enrolled in UOW’s Bachelor of Arts program and found his direction. “I think any form of education at that level is very important; it defines you and it does change you. So the University of Wollongong changed my life.”
To those outside the industry, a career in public relations and marketing – particularly in the realm of luxury hotels – can seem a whirl of glitz and glamour. Markham says there’s certainly an element of that, but behind it all is a great deal of responsibility, long hours and sheer hard work. There’s also the ever-present need to keep innovating as the way we communicate rapidly evolves.
“The digital world and social media have changed our communications quite significantly over the long period of time that I've been doing this role. When we opened the Crosby Street Hotel in 2009 in New York City, I noticed a real shift; I really saw the beginning of that digital age in terms of communication.
"There’s less of a reliance upon the more traditional forms of electronic or print media. What we now have is the ability to send a message independently within our own particular mediums; we can have our own voice.”
Making it to the top – and staying there – in such a competitive industry is no simple feat. It’s clear that Markham’s passion for what he loves, and the way his career and life are so closely integrated, are fundamental to his success, and that of Firmdale Hotels. He also believes that staying on top of your game means always being mindful of the next step.
“It's about staying relevant, it's about looking to the future and referencing the past. I think it's really important for you to be constantly looking for and thinking of new ideas, and embracing what's next.”
Bachelor of Arts, UOW 1987