General manager, The Listel Hotel, Vancouver
You could call him the artful lodger. Jim Mockford, the 45-year-old manager of Vancouver’s Listel Hotel — known for its beautiful art and luxury surroundings — understands the importance of finding a niche and running with it.
“We’ve been developing our arts initiatives since 1997,” says the B.C. native. “For the first number of years it didn’t have a significant impact on business, it simply allowed us to display great art in the hotel.” However, in recent years the marketing efforts have paid off. “We’ve used our arts connections in unique marketing projects; for instance, we’ve produced two jazz CDs under our own label, and last year we published a book — an anthology of Vancouver stories.”
While customers of the 120-room hotel, located on trendy Robson St., may not choose to stay exclusively because of its unique art, it helps differentiate the hotel. “We partner with the local arts community, transforming our rooms into individual galleries and museum extensions.” Each of the hotel’s rooms is designed as an individual gallery featuring original and limited-edition works.
“Whenever possible we devote our hotel and restaurant to furthering various arts movements in the city,” says Mockford. The hotel recently worked with the Bill Reid Foundation to bring the Totems to Turquoise exhibit to the Vancouver Museum, featuring native jewelry from the American Southwest and Canada’s Pacific Northwest. The property also serves as host hotel of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
One might expect a hotelier focused so heavily on the arts to have a creative background, but that’s a far cry from the truth. “I trained to be a sheet metal worker, but discovered I lacked even the basic skills to make a go of it,” says Mockford. The father of two teenagers managed to get hired as a bellhop at the Chateau Victoria Hotel, quickly realizing the hotel industry was his true calling. “No cuts on the hands, no hard hats and substantially better dining opportunities,” he quips.
Having been at the Listel since 1989, Mockford has risen through the ranks enjoying the freedom of working with an independently owned, off-shore hotel. “It’s allowed hotel management to have a great deal of input into the core direction of the business.” Although Mockford had no formal leadership training in the industry, he recently earned a degree in Hospitality Management through Vancouver Community College.
It’s certainly a long way from his first job scrubbing plates in the dining room of the Provincial Legislature in Victoria. “I didn’t necessarily enjoy washing dishes but it was a great place to work given the clientele: Bill Bennett, Dave Barrett, Grace MacCarthy and others regularly came into the kitchen to thank us for our efforts.”
It’s a lesson Mockford, who employs 110 staff, has never forgotten. He knows the importance of hiring good people. “I employ excellent managers, who employ excellent staff. I let them know what I expect, and then get out of their way so they can make it happen.”