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Blog : Purple Interview - Julia Murrell, Director of Human Resources - Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons


Purple Interview - Julia Murrell, Director of Human Resources - Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

At the heart of a picturesque Oxfordshire village, one of the UK’s most intimate and original hotels is quietly creating a people revolution. Partnerships with Nottingham Trent University, a focus on growing local talent and of course the enigmatic Raymond Blanc all ensure the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is a business to watch and learn from.

We met with Director of Human Resources, Julia Murrell, to talk people strategy, award wins and monitoring the kitchens salt loss…


Having met Le Manoir Director / General Manager, Philip Newman-Hall, and seen your Michelin starred Chairman and Chef Patron, Raymond Blanc, at various speaking engagements, it’s clear you have an extremely close relationship with both. How has this supported the success of your people strategy?

I’m very lucky at Le Manoir because Raymond and Philip’s first thoughts are towards the people. So when I present a new HR idea or initiative, they are incredibly supportive. Both of them always consider how an initiative will effect wellbeing which Philip refers to as ‘pastoral care’ and so it has become a fundamental part of the business. Even before I joined, people were at the heart of the hotel and engagement strategies just happened without a system. My role, therefore, was to bring these things together - putting in place a structure so they can consistently happen and deliver measurable results.


And you clearly are delivering success as in the past 18 months Le Manoir has won a number of high profile awards for its excellence in people – what do you think it takes to be an award-winning employer?

It’s all about doing things that you say you’re going to do, therefore you need a plan. So a clear strategy of what you have in place and what you’re setting out to achieve. Next it’s about demonstrating the impact of this strategy, so all about the numbers – turnover, absence, engagement, recruitment – closing the loop on what you have done and what it has achieved.

We base every initiative on what the numbers are showing and because of this we can quantify what we do. For example, we have won several awards for our approach to future talent. We had a high recruitment spend and wanted to put in place a plan which would grow and attract local talent. We were mainly looking for entry level employees and so focused on building relationships with local schools and colleges; promoting our work experience opportunities and inviting people to come and visit Le Manoir. Even the local nursery comes to pick vegetables in the garden! So whilst this was a lot of investment in upfront time, it has paid off and last year this was our main source of recruitment with 40% coming from schools, college and work experience.


That’s an incredible turnaround, so what happens through your internships, work experience and placements?

We want to give people a lasting opinion of Le Manoir and so we ensure that their experience is impactful. All individuals are asked what they want to achieve, regardless of what programme they are on, and then we work with them to create measurable objectives so they have a clear focus and that they get something out of the experience. If they are giving their time to work with us, then we want to make sure they get something back. From these objectives tailored programmes are created and shared so that anyone in the business can see them. We’re a sharing business and will always go out of our way to support each other in order to help accomplish their goals and this is no different for those who are with us on these programmes. 

When they finish they leave with a certificate stating the completion of their personal objectives signed by Raymond Blanc and a little card with all of our details on it, welcoming them back again soon. We’re proud of our approach and as mentioned, it’s delivering real results in terms of recruitment and retention.


Communication obviously plays a huge role in retaining talent however in our 2014 people engagement trends report, it remained in the top spot for improvement area for the 8th year in a row. What will it take for businesses to get this right?

What’s really important is that businesses, and most specifically managers, understand that their teams want to know what’s going on and want to be included. We’ve all been guilty of thinking ‘Oh they don’t need to know that’ or ‘They won’t be interested in that’ or worrying about telling our people too much, however people would rather have the option to know all the information than feel they’ve been left out of the loop. So it’s about making sure that the information is available and is communicated through the business; starting from the very top.


What’s your next big project?

We’ve been working for the last year with Dr Kirsty Hunter, a professor of nutrition. She came from Nottingham Trent University for a week of work experience in the kitchen to see what we do. In that week she carried out some studies with our chefs to find out their salt loss because we knew that they were drinking water but weren’t replacing the nutrients that they need. So she created a special drink which the chefs now put together every morning so that they’re replenishing the nutrients throughout the day. She then looked at what we could do on a longer timescale and started seasonal testing on our people as they believe that the conditions experienced by those working in hospitality – so the heat, sweat and cognitive responses – are not dissimilar to those experienced by high-performance sports teams. From this they will collect data and put together a report revealing their findings and the impact on wellbeing. We’ll use this information to work with local fitness and nutrition providers so we can have a great wellbeing policy for our people. I’m excited by the possibilities this project offers…


We’ve worked with Belmond for several years now, how would you describe our partnership?

Le Manoir isn’t the first company I’ve implemented Talent Toolbox in and whilst it takes a little while for people to understand it and what it can bring, when you get to the point where everyone is actively using the system to manage career progression and performance it’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve also always found that Purple Cubed take the time to understand you and your business, plus there is always someone to pick up the phone who will support and help you.


Orient Express recently rebranded as Belmond – what was the decision behind this and what impact have you seen at Le Manoir?

The decision to rebrand was taken because when we asked our guests what they associated with the brand name, it was always the trains. And as the name was never fully owned by the organisation we felt it was the right time to review our global marketing strategy and find a name which would bring together all of our hotels, trains and experiences together under one umbrella. And so Belmond was born. At Le Manoir whilst we have kept our unique identity, we have a new logo demonstrating that we are a part of this great global brand. It’s had no effect on our standards or service though – we do everything exactly how we did it before; creating an individual and unique experience for our guests.


Based on your Twitter feed (@JuliaMurrell) it looks like you and your team love what you do – what’s the best thing about working for Le Manoir?

When you see people promoted and developing their management skills, improving each day it’s powerful. For example we took on a young man when he was 15 years old for work experience. He successfully applied to our apprenticeship programme and has completed his NVQ in multi-skilled hospitality. Now he’s 18 and just been offered a job in our guest relations department so I’ve known him for three years and watched him grow up. Those are the moments that you go home and think “Yeah, that’s why I do this”.


Do you have a mentor? If so, who, and what have you taken from the relationship?

I don’t really have a mentor as such, however the person I learn the most from and gives me the most guidance is Philip (Newman-Hall). He keeps you on your toes and challenges you; stopping you becoming complacent in a very positive way. He is incredibly supportive and very approachable, encouraging us all to pick up the phone, pop into his office and even tweet him!


What do you do outside of work which you believe makes you more successful in work?

My father has some old cars, including a 1952 Morgan, which I have driven on the MCC car trials which are 18 hour endurance driving challenges consisting of various hill climbs. You drive through the night and can have some really interesting experiences, plus it’s time with my Dad. It can be pretty hairy, challenging and exciting though it helps me in work because it’s all about dealing with pressure. You don’t have time to react, you have to always be thinking of the next step and in a split second. So your focus is on keeping control, staying awake and communicating.


Can you share your greatest life lesson with us?

Try not to assume and always go back to check the facts. I see this happen a lot, where it’s easy to jump to a conclusion which can get you into trouble. I’ve made myself go back to the information at hand and now encourage others to do the same so that decisions are made logically and based on fact, rather than being emotive.

Quick fire questions

If you could do any job in the world – what would it be and why? F1 driver for McLaren

What’s the one thing you can’t live without? People believing in and supporting me – you need your ‘cheerleaders’

Greatest achievement? HR Manager of the Year at the 2013 Hotel Cateys

Biggest regret? That I didn’t meet Gary Barlow before he met his wife…

Finish this sentence: In 10 years’ time, HR will be…. at the heart of every business, with people as the priority and the value of the function continuing to grow

Ready to get in touch?