Although not yet 30 years old, Sir Rocco Forte’s son Charles has achieved much, working his way up to become Rocco Forte Hotels’ Development Analyst. Named for his grandfather, the original Forte, he’s inherited a legacy in more ways than one. We spoke to him to discover how he got into the business, what his plans are for the future and what he’s learned along his career journey so far.
Were there always expectations you would join the family business and continue its legacy? Did you have another childhood dream?
“At university, I studied history and for a period of time I briefly considered becoming a film-maker. My parents were keen for me and my sisters to follow our own dreams so I was never pressured. As it transpired, we all had a strong desire to join the business and I developed a strong passion for the world of hospitality which indeed I had grown up in.”
Your own father famously got into his father’s business aged 14, and experienced various roles. How you were first introduced to the business?
“My very first experience of working in our hotels was aged 15, as a waiter at Brown’s Hotel. On my second day I called the sous chef “mate”, which prompted the head chef at the time (a bald and burly man) to give me a full dressing-down. It was terrifying. I tried to avoid him for the rest of my time there! I continued to work in our hotels throughout my school holidays, in various operational departments.
My most memorable work experience was at the Principe di Savoia in Milan. Aged 18, I spent two months there, split between the kitchen and reception. The head chef there was similarly frightening to the one at Brown’s. This seems to be a reoccurring theme!”
What are some of the most important things you’ve learned since joining the family business?
“We have a very good senior team that collectively have a vast experience in the hotel industry. Aside from learning the ins and out of our business from them, I’ve learned to be much more patient! New deals take a long time to sign and even longer to see them come to fruition!”
Working with family members must present its own unique challenges. How do you get around these?
“We are lucky to all get along very well, so it has been much less of an issue than I might have originally thought at first. Each family member is focused on their own niche, although I work quite closely with my father who has a keen interest in new development projects. There is, of course, some overlap with my sisters that is always very welcome.”
What does your own role look like today? What sort of things might you do, day-to-day?
“I make up half of the development team and we are working on quite an ambitious development strategy, growing the business through new hotels. In lockdown, very little has changed, aside from not being able to travel to visit potential opportunities.
The day might start by looking at what type of a hotel could be created as part of a project we receive, working on floor plans to understand if it’s the right kind of property. Then we might work on negotiating agreements for projects which we’ve already decided are suitable. In between, I speak with everyone involved to make sure we’re creating and maintaining good relationships. One of the most interesting parts of my job is the in depth research we do on different opportunities and the countries which offer them. The financial outlooks, the national customs and the relationships with the local authorities are all part of a continuous learning process which is tremendously enriching.”
What are you most proud of achieving to date, and how do you intend to make your own mark on the business in future?
“I’m most proud of the deals that I have worked on that we have signed since I joined the business. These currently include Hotel de la Ville, Torre Maizza and Villa Igea. Moreover, I am very proud of having established Rocco Forte House, our serviced apartments concept.
Although I can’t be more specific, we are very close to welcoming several new properties into the family. Right now, I want to continue growing the business as I think it is where my efforts are best served. It’s also one of the most exciting and defining areas of the business, in my opinion.”
Who would you consider a role model?
“Within the business, I would consider the entire executive team role models. Outside of the business, my mother and Frank Lampard!”
Your grandfather’s roots in rural Italy were humble. Do you feel connected with your heritage? How do you stay grounded?
“I’ve visited Monforte several times and feel a deep connection with my Italian heritage. My aunt and cousins live in Milan and my maternal grandmother still lives in Rome so I visit often. Being surrounded by people who have achieved far more than me makes it quite easy to stay grounded.”
Finally, what would your advice be to young people looking to enter the world of hospitality?
“Experience is the most important element of a successful career in any industry. There is no substitute for time and so patience is a necessity. The first years are the most difficult when you are learning the ropes, but this gradually becomes less of an issue the more time you put in. I think in hospitality you should start by attempting to master the area within the industry you are most interested in. From there, your options should start to broaden.”