After a career break to raise a family, Maria’s professional life took a sharp left turn when she moved from industrial chemistry, pharmaceutical sales, and business advice to enter the world of hospitality. After helping out with local breweries and trying her hand at running a mobile bar business, Maria moved to Moogies, a growing Buckinghamshire-based community of pubs and her life has been on an upward trend ever since.
Brought up amongst a family of hard-working Cheshire farmers, Maria’s strong work ethic, varied career profile and switched-on business skills are a case study in how all experience is valuable. Today she is the company’s Head of Operations, playing a lead role in the company’s continued drive to create the perfect community pub.
BSC Chemistry (York University) - Pharmaceutical career as an Industrial Chemist, Technical Advisor and Trade Sales (Various) - Business Advisor and Director (Business Link, Bionow) - 10-year Career break – Trade & Retail Sales Manager (various local breweries) - Mobile bar business owner - then at (Moogies Ltd) promoted from Part-time Events Manager to Operations Manager - to Business Improvement - Manager to Head of Operations.
Heads of Operations can be found in hotels, pub chains, contract caterers and restaurants. It is often the second most important role after the General Manager, and they can expect to be hands on and busy. It’s their job to make sure the running of each department is smooth and profitable, and the decisions of the overall owner or CEO are carried out so it can be quite strategic. In chains, they typically manage multiple sites, and the managers of each site will report to them. They also manage finance, purchasing and sales, food and beverage departments, handle operational crisis and generally steer the ship.
Tell us about Moogies – that’s an unusual name for a pub business.
“Moogies is a community of 4 Buckinghamshire based pubs set up by Paul Mitchell in 2013 when he bought his first pub, The Eight Bells in Crendon. That was followed by The Black Boy in Oving and now we have four venues. All our venues have something fabulous and unique about them – amazing gardens, brilliant rooms and they were all struggling before we took them over. Our model is to create good pub experiences in places that are a little bit out of the way – open all hours, everybody welcome, not gastropubs but great community assets good enough to draw in a wider crowd – imagine you’re looking for a drive in the countryside, and think ‘Let’s go and meet our friends there!’ Oh, and Moogie was the Mitchell family teddy bear.”
How did you get started in hospitality?
“I used to have this entirely different career in the pharmaceutical industry as an industrial chemist and business advisor, but I’d taken a 10 year break to have children, moved to another part of the country and lost connection to the technical side of things. I figured I needed something that was flexible, accessible and on my doorstep. I juggled some part time jobs for a bit and my first hospitality job was with a local microbrewery, which was just the two guys who started it and me. I ran the shop, organised customer events, did all the business-to-business sales into pubs, even some tech support on the brewing side. That’s how I built up my connections with the local pub scene. I ran my own mobile bar business for a few years too doing festivals and weddings.”
How did you progress to Head of Operations at Moogies?
“Initially, six years ago I was just helping out part-time with events. Then Moogies bought a second pub, so things started to scale and because of my background I was good at project management, so Paul asked me to become Operations Manager. As it grew, I was instrumental in getting the new pubs up and running, my hours increased and everything else just dropped away. I focused on business improvement for a bit looking at the commercial side of things and now I’m back on operations to see us through our next stage of growth.”
How would you describe your current job?
“My job is to make sure everything is running smoothly across our 4 venues. That means managing the people side of the business. I oversee recruitment and performance. On the business side, I handle supplier contracts and finance and I’m the first point of contact if anything goes wrong from a broken oven to problems with our stocking systems. As a general rule, as soon as something starts to cost the business money, then I need to provide sign-off.”
Can does a typical day in the job look like?
“It’s so varied. Take today for example, I was interviewing new staff this morning, I've got events promotions to get out this afternoon. I've got operational issues to address, suppliers to place orders with. I have a venue meeting and then this evening I’m going over to one of our other pubs to run the charity quiz, which I wrote. Not bad.”
Do you have a good work-life balance?
“I probably work about 55-60 hours a week, but I think at my senior level that comes with the job. But it’s flexible and I enjoy the fact I can look after my own diary. If I need an hour off to take my children to the dentist or the doctors, I can make that happen without any stress.”
What skills do you think you need to be a good Head of Operations?
“Good business acumen because you’re looking at the business as a whole. You’ve got to be organised. But a huge part of the job is knowing how to manage people, whether it’s customers or your team – if you can do that you will progress. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about delivering plates of food or drink. You need to be able to figure out what people want and how to deliver it. Do customers want to be left alone with the rest of their party? Or are they looking to be wowed by their environment? It’s the same with staff. Some people just want to be well loved for doing a good job. Others want to push on and get as far as they can in life. It’s people management at every level.”
What qualifications and training have you had?
“Other than my initial degree in Chemistry I haven’t done any more studying although I try to take up training courses wherever possible. I did a leadership course during the Covid lockdown which was a turning point in learning how to support my team better. I'm very verbal though, so I'd much rather go to a conference or sit in a discussion group. I get a huge amount from that, much more than sitting and reading something.”
What do you enjoy most about the job?
“Working with the team and trying to get the best out of everybody. And the commercial challenge of making the right decisions for the business. You asked me whether I was driven by the intellectual challenge of it. You might be right. I do think I bring something to this business because of the experience I have behind me. There’s definitely a place in hospitality for people from other industries.”
What advice would you give to somebody interested in a career in hospitality?
“Hospitality is so varied that no matter what your skillset or strengths are, there is going to be something in hospitality for you. I would say jump in with both feet, but you must find the right person to work for who is going to nurture you. Be prepared to move around and expect to be surprised. You might end up in a different place from where you thought you would be.”