Having enjoyed an outstanding 30-year career in the luxury hotel industry, it’s unsurprising that Darren Gearing already had a strong sense of vocation when he came to City College in 1983 to study Hotel, Catering & Institutional Management. ‘I always knew I was suited for the hotel business and I think being from Brighton greatly influenced this,’ he says. ‘I would never have achieved my goals without the support and excellent influence of my tutors and lecturers at City College, many of whom I’m still in touch with today. I’ve got fond memories of my time at the College and can still remember my first very nervous service in the training restaurant with a smile. Also, our famed ‘winery visits’ to France were legendary!’
Feeling well-prepared to go straight into industry after successfully completing his studies and clearly making an excellent impression on would-be employers, within a year, Darren had secured a position in America, working in Boston for Marriott Hotels. This led to an opportunity to open a new flagship Hotel in Hong Kong in late 1988 and then, in 1990, while still based in Hong Kong, he was head-hunted by the Shangri-La Hotel Group which led to a distinguished 25-year career with the company. ‘My time with Shangri-La was quite prolific and opportune,’ recalls Darren. ‘I was lucky to come on-board as the company was going through enormous growth.’ By 1996, and aged just 31, Darren had been appointed General Manager and subsequently progressed on to Senior Director of Development and Vice President & General Manager roles with the company, which involved tenures in Beijing and Singapore. There were many career highlights for Darren during this period but he takes particular pride in being recognised by the Beijing Government in 2005 as one of just 5 exceptional ‘Foreign Experts’ and also achieving 3 Michelin Stars at the Island Shangri-La Hong Kong.
After many successful years in East Asia, 2012 brought the lure of a return to the U.K. and a fresh challenge to lead on the opening of the prestigious Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard in London. From his new London base, Darren, as Executive Vice President for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, oversaw 17 hotels and more than 8,000 colleagues, all encompassing many new hotel openings and renovations in London, Qatar, Mauritius, India and Sri Lanka. The level of responsibility that he has taken on throughout his career may sound daunting, but Darren seems to take it in his stride: ‘I‘ve always enjoyed working with people, be they clients or colleagues, and always wanted to travel the world. I therefore feel fortunate that I’ve chosen this career and the wealth of travel opportunities it’s given me so I don’t ponder on the challenges too much. That said, opening and managing hotels is definitely not for the faint hearted so I have to admit that being in China in the early 90s and opening hotels in Qatar, India and Sri Lanka within a six month period really did test my fortitude!’
In summer this year, Darren decided to take his career in a different direction and he now owns a small group of gastro pubs in Worthing and runs a Sussex-based plant hire business: ‘I think within my 30 years working for others there was always a burning curiosity to ‘do my own thing’ at some point and when I turned 50, I started putting serious plans in place to make this happen. In the immediate future, I aim to continue with my entrepreneurial endeavours.’
While enjoying being his own boss, Darren also finds time to actively consult and work with several London and Internationally-based hotel-owners and doesn’t rule out re-entering the corporate luxury hotel world at some stage – working in NYC’s corporate luxury hotel scene remains an ambition that he’d love to fulfil. As for his interests outside of work, Darren says: ‘I have a reasonable wine cellar that gives me great joy to share with friends and my other interests include swimming and travelling. My entire family love to travel and I suspect this has been a result of my somewhat nomadic, international hotelier life! I feel that the personal achievement I’m most proud of is marrying a lovely Japanese lady and having two great children who make us very proud and keep us young.’
When it comes to Darren’s words of advice to City College’s current Hospitality and Catering students, he says: ‘Once you are certain of your chosen field, remember your goals and go for it. If these goals change as you progress that’s great as one thing is for certain – you must embrace change and continual learning.’