MADRID—Javier Friera Acebal earned his hospitality chops waiting on Queen Elizabeth II. And Prince Charles. And the late Princess Diana, among other royalty, aristocrats and celebrities.
He never sought out the opportunity. The waiting gig was a mere stepping stone in Acebal’s law career, an opportunity to learn English while pursuing additional studies in London. While there, he needed a side job to pay his way, so the affable Spaniard applied for a position serving the rich and famous in the Great Room of the city’s Grosvenor House hotel.
“It was so exciting for me. I was working as waiter. Then it was the typical job for Italians and Spanish. I was working as a waiter, and I was working at the right place and the right moment,” he recalled. “I saw the glamour in the hotel industry.”
Acebal only worked at the property for three-and-a-half years, but he was never able to shake the allure of hospitality. He eventually sought formal training in tourism and signed on with NH Hoteles as a receptionist.
Some 20 years and seven GM positions later, Acebal is now running the show at the 440-room NH Eurobuilding in Madrid.
Like that career in hospitality, he never sought out the head position at NH’s flagship. When the company came calling in 2010, Acebal was happily running the NH Constanza in Barcelona. His initial reaction was not to accept, but the opportunity was too enticing.
“You never say no to this kind this kind of challenge,” he said.
A natural fit
And what a challenge indeed.
The Eurobuilding had gone 14 years without a refresh, leaving its rooms, lobby and meeting spaces in dire need of a contemporary update. NH was about to embark on a €25-million ($32-million) overhaul, and they needed an experienced leader to oversee a seamless renovation.
Acebal was a natural fit. At 49 years old, he opened two NH properties previously and has directed operations and renovations at several others. Yet even with such experience, the GM said such a massive project can prove daunting.
It’s not as simple as refurbishing one guestroom at a time, he said by way of example. Renovations are done a floor at a time. And it’s not just that floor that’s impacted; the director also closes the floor above and below to minimize the noise and impact for guests.
Keeping guests happy in an active construction zone requires a certain level of finesse, Acebal said. Exhaustive planning and preparations are a necessity, but so too is the flexibility to address unexpected roadblocks on the fly.
At this, Acebal said he excels. Such adaptability has been a recurring thread in his life.
“I’ve never planned my life, otherwise I would have been frustrated every day because everything changes so fast,” he said.
That change, Acebal said, is what makes the job so much fun.
“There is no day exactly as the one before. We don’t have routine. This is wonderful. I never get bored.”