The Wheatbaker Lagos: Mastering the Art and Craft of Hospitality

The Wheatbaker, Lagos is proud to call itself an Art Boutique Hotel that has turned into an iconic hotel in a decade of its existence. Their core product is much like every mainstream hotel in the world. However, their ‘uniqueness’ is something very special. Their people are the USP of The Wheatbaker. Not only are they highly trained, specialists in their individual fields, and loaded with personality and energy, but they also work hard to perfect the concept of fluid teamwork.

Apart from that, they have an exceptional art collection, built over the years of their history that sits comfortably with modern amenities like internet, amazing exclusive coffee, exceptional security structure, and luxury beds. “But above all that are the people of The Wheatbaker, and we are proud that we are such an example of the old saying, look after your staff, and they will look after your guest,” says Paul Kavanagh, General Manager.

The Guiding Vision

The team at The Wheatbaker is guided by a simple statement, which is to be the best version of themselves at all times. For them, it is never about how they compare or compete with others, it is always about how they grow individually, and from that, collectively. They focus on that which they control and can influence. They do take a good look outside, monitor, and gain inspiration from others in the industry, however, their primary vision is inside ‘their’ business and most importantly, on ‘their’ guests and their needs and expectations.

This empowering of staff and trusting them to handle every situation keeping the core ideologies in mind is what Paul believes differentiates them from others. He doesn’t believe in enforcing changes just because it is trending or competitors are doing it, rather he trusts the staff to uplift themselves every day and present the best version of themselves.

“For me, it is never about me. It does not matter my position, or my skill, knowledge, or experience, the key to growing a business like the hotel is everyone else. So perhaps my key difference is the belief in others. My job here is to empower, energize and encourage everyone around me to be the best version of themselves. To encourage them to be the ones who grow the business, and develop the product. To let them ‘own’ the business,” he says.

A Different Take on Technology

As an industry, Hotels have seen a surge in new technology, new software, new apps, and a whole range of newness. And yes, The Wheatbaker uses it a copious amount within its business. They have invested in new software for both their HR and Accounts departments in recent months.

However, here is where Paul takes an unconventional path and shares an unpopular opinion. He has worked in hotels for nearly five decades and personally holds a very different view on this particular subject. Not afraid to be called old-fashioned, he doesn’t, as yet, see any real benefit from the tech inside the hotel industry. One issue he sees is that tech is built by tech, not by Hotel. So much software is built with a range of features that are never used. Secondly, tech

appears to always be built with a lifespan of only 18 months, and then you have to buy the upgrade, which is so annoying. Lastly, tech is slowly removing the human touch from the industry that he loves, and is creating the next generation of hotel people who can’t think for themselves, but instead rely on tech to do their jobs.

Novel v/s Familiar

Innovation is good and The Wheatbaker team spends a vast amount of time looking at and looking for the next idea. However, in their world of hotels, the majority of their guests want ‘familiar’. “Our returning guests want to return to what they know, what they like. So, there is a balancing act to be done with innovation, with any change. Of course, you have to keep abreast of new things, of new guest needs and wants. I believe it is important to study aspects of our industry even if they don’t directly apply. But innovation must fall into your own brand and business. It should not be innovation for the sake of it, and it should not be innovation to follow the latest trend, innovation needs a purpose, it needs to fulfill a goal,” clarifies Paul.

Dealing with Challenges

The challenges for the hotel here in Lagos are pretty much the same as every hotel in the city, with one exception. They all face the local challenges of power, human resources, and maintenance. For the Wheatbaker, there is an added issue of an ever-increasing level of Guest Expectations. “We set a high bar for ourselves when we opened, and we live with the pressure of always staying ahead of that,” says Paul.

Lagos can be a fantastically challenging city to do business in. It forces you to always look at a challenge from every direction. It demands creativity, invention, and buckets full of patience. “It needs a level of resolve and an understanding that not every challenge is as first presented. But what this ultimately provides you with is a real gift, as it enables you to look at any challenge and find interesting and rewarding answers and solutions,” he adds.

Catering to New Age Expectations

The new-age travelers today want a holistic experience. This perception is based on the hotel and destination. Paul feels there is both a need and an environment for such things. However, he also feels that the primary need for today’s traveler is still driven by the destination and the reason to travel. Of course, as a city center business hotel Wheatbaker can add a touch of this holistic experience and they do so via their Art, food, and the authentic nature of their people.

Views on Diversity and Inclusion at the Workplace:

“This is a very interesting question when asked of a business in Nigeria. I am tempted to even ask, what is ‘diversity’? Does my staff represent our country, the people, the culture, the regions, yes of course we do. Do we pay respect to the diverse nature of our country, yes, we really do. Are we collectively proud of who we all are and who we all represent, yes, we do.

But do we have policies to force this into place, no we do not. So, I guess the answer to this question is simple, we don’t ‘encourage’ it, we just are it.”

Resolved to Sustainability

As a business operating on the continent of Africa, the staff at Wheatbaker can see, and live with the consequences of global climate change. It is all around them on a day-to-day basis. Malaria is one of the biggest health risks in the nation, and this has increased due to climate change. So, sustainability is something they do focus on. Having said that, it is also something that a business like theirs cannot really impact, except in one way. Their ‘sustainability’ goal is to inspire others through their actions.

They have substantially reduced the number of products they import, especially food. They are removing plastic, despite the additional costs, from across their business, and are in the process of building their own food garden to produce normally imported food items. They are doing everything they can to add to the global efforts.

Receiving Accolades

The collective team of the Wheatbaker seriously excels at receiving accolades. On average, either Paul or the business wins at least one award per month. They win from their core industry, or from areas such as HR, Innovation, or general business practice. They celebrate everyone who wins such recognition, especially those who win in a more specific area of the business. For them, getting awards from international organizations or institutes means that little bit more, and the recognition gained is actually important here.

Plans for the Future

Where does the team see the Wheatbaker in years to come in? The same place it is, and has always been since inception, at the Top! Locally in Lagos, they call it “swag”, a certain level of super confidence. They started as number 1 in the city, and they remain there. Each and every day they get just that little bit better, and that enables them to have the confidence to be able to say, in the future they will still be there.

“Such words may come across as a tad over the top, but it is because we apply that extra pressure to ourselves, to always push forward, to always train and learn, to always put our guest, the Wheatbaker guest, first and foremost in every choice and decision we make. The extra pressure is so worth it because it inspires us each and every day,” concludes Paul.