Newcastle-born Stuart Birkwood, 36, is a Six Sigma black belt at Starwood Hotels. It doesn't mean he can kill people with his thumbs, but rather that he works as project manager across the company's four London hotels. Six Sigma, developed by American manufacturing giant GE in the 1990s, is a management approach that's
about working smarter rather than simply harder.
So any Starwood hotels which have identified a problem such as a need for a clear client point of contact, undertake projects to determine the best fix and improve customer service and satisfaction.
Group hotels can then access the ever-growing pool of projects to see if there's a ready-made solution to their individual problem. This saves time and helps boost efficiency.
Birkwood took on his full-time management role in September, and has had to adjust to having less contact with customers. But there are advantages to his project management role. "I'm going to take Christmas off for the first time in about 15 years," he says. His weekends are also free, and the role has introduced him to areas of hotel operation and new skills he wouldn't have experienced before - valuable experience ahead of his eventual aim to become a general manager.
"My advice is not to be blinkered about opportunities that present themselves. Its tempting to think you're already on the path to where you want to be, but taking on extra responsibilities can help you gain insights into the business and benefit you long-term."
Birkwood graduated from Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh, in 1991 with an HND in hotel management and joined Hilton UK's management training programme. After working as assistant conference and banqueting manager at the Hilton National Coventry hotel in 1992, he joined Starwood in 1994. Starting as conference and banqueting operations co-ordinator at the Sheraton Skyline hotel, London Heathrow, in February 1996, presented him with the opportunity he'd been waiting for and a job at the new-build Sheraton Warsaw Hotel & Towers.
"I travelled a lot when I was younger and really enjoyed meeting people," says Birkwood. "Joining a global company such as Starwood allowed me to fulfil this ambition."
In January 1999 Birkwood moved to Helsinki's newly refurbished Sheraton-owned hotel Kamp as food and beverage manager.
May 2000 saw him return to the UK and the Skyline hotel as food and beverage director before he won promotion to executive assistant manager in May 2003.Career highlights
Joins Sheraton Skyline hotel as conference and banqueting operations co-ordinator1996
Convention services manager at Sheraton Warsaw Hotel & Towers2004
Becomes Six Sigma black belt