Stories of Brave – Padraig McGillicuddy


Padraig McGillicuddy, Ballygarry House Hotel, Co Kerry

When Padraig McGillicuddy inherited Ballygarry House Hotel just outside Tralee at 28 years old he was given a startling ultimatum by his accountant. His options were to leave the keys on the counter and walk away, or stay & fight for it and pay down the debt that accrued from inheritance issues. He chose the latter and became focussed on establishing the hotel as a world class product.

Ballygarry House Hotel first opened in 1958 and Padraig’s father ran it from 1968 to 2003 when he took over the hotel. In the last 15 years Padraig and his team have trebled the footprint, diversified into leisure & spa, developed very successful casual and occasion dining options, doubled the bedroom stock, and increased the lands from 10 to 100 acres.

Growth of such a proportion takes huge ambition and confidence in the future of your business and Padraig’s development plans aren’t finished yet: “We are currently pursuing a transition from a Country House hotel to an Estate hotel. This will see the development of more onsite activities where a guest can arrive for a three day stay and have plenty to do. A courtyard development of lodges and a further enhancement of the spa and leisure offering is soon to be underway in the medium term. This change in business direction along with the original wedding-based business has helped treble the net profits in this time.”

A hotel business of this size needs a substantial team and Padraig’s is made up of over 150 employees, some of whom have been with him for over 20 years and includes a management team and Heads of Department that report directly into him.

“I’m someone who likes to see it done right every time, so I am regularly nurturing staff to understand the true meaning of hospitality and helping them to understand a true quality offering. I take great pride in ensuring that our guests have a superb experience at every opportunity, and I’m a firm believer that you get back what you put out into the world and ensuring our guests have first-class interaction with our hotel every time is always my number one priority. It’s the simple power of reciprocity and it guides me in all my business dealings.”

Padraig is ambitious, forward thinking, and brave in his beliefs, and his management style truly reflects that. “The mantra ‘decisions, decisions, decisions’ is what I live by, you cannot allow yourself to be paralysed by overthinking. True leadership comes in the form of backing yourself first and foremost and you’ve got to keep moving, maintain that control on things while empowering your team to be progressive, to serve and back themselves in turn.”

In travel terms 2020 is the year of the staycation but Padraig has always known the value of the Irish holiday maker so the lack of international visitors this year isn’t having too negative impact.

“We sell to the international and domestic markets. Undoubtedly the Irish are the best customer and the locals are the backbone of our business. They are very grateful for the small things. My motto is to treat every guest as an individual and pursue the goal of excellence in hospitality, the financial reward will naturally follow!”

Of course, business won’t be plain sailing for the rest of this year, but Padraig is approaching things with pragmatism and from an experienced business position. “We are now heading into our second downturn of the sector in 15 years. Managing any operation, the scale of mine alongside the backdrop of a tough economy like we’re experiencing is always going to be a challenge. There’s no doubt that an element of luck is needed in every business and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been financially well positioned at the right time over the more recent years. We have invested €11million in capital developments and €3million in refurbishment programmes in the past decade.”

It takes guts, determination and bravery to run a hospitality business at any time which Padraig has in spades, but he also appreciates the team that support him in his endeavours. 

“I love my team many of whom have been with me for over 20 years. I’m very proud of our culture, to serve both each other in a supportive manner and then in turn our guests to ensure they have a standout experience with us. Collaboration is key for us. No man can do this alone and that’s why great credit is due to those I work with daily; they truly bring to life what Ballygarry is and have shown great loyalty to me during the years.”

That bravery extends beyond business for Padraig and in his spare time he climbs mountains including Mount Kilimanjaro and is a helicopter pilot who happily surfs the clouds whenever the opportunity allows, if that’s not a metaphor for climbing high in business what is?

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