The Interview – Sophie Lesnoff

Aviator interviews Sophie Lesnoff


Sophie Lesnoff heads up Customer Services at TAG Farnborough Airport, where exceptional service is of the utmost importance, despite the majority of customers staying barely a few minutes.

I began my career working in 5 * hotels on the Côte d?Azur between Cannes and Monaco, and later joined a helicopter transfer company. In Monaco the only way to travel is by helicopter, if you can possibly afford it as the roads are quite busy. I could organise a charter for anybody wanting to travel to or from Monaco, for business or on a skiing holiday, and basically did that as a non-stop operation. After doing this for 3 ½ years I went back to the hotel industry, came to the UK in 2000 and have been here ever since.

I started working in sales in London hotels, but what I really wanted was to be more hands on, and I soon was able to find a job in a small hotel group, still starting in sales but then moving into operations; this is when they asked me to open their first hotel in Edinburgh. This was an amazing experience, but also challenging ? as a French speaker I couldn?t initially understand a word the contractors were saying, and being French and female posed certain challenges. It took us 10 months to get the hotel ready for the opening, and then I stayed for a further year, before the cold weather beat me away!

I got lucky when I came back to London, securing a position with Firmdale Hotels as GM of the Charlotte Street Hotel. I learned so much from my time at Firmdale ? everything they do is perfect, and they spend a great deal on maintenance, staffing and training. For a small group in one location a clear brand was very important and Kit Kemp brought her strong design reputation to the hotel brand. People expect the same standards throughout a group, so it is important to maintain the service in all areas.

I think it is important in hotels for the owners to be hands on. A lot of the bigger groups just can?t keep that control. During my time at Firmdale we did lots of refurbishments and the restaurant was extremely busy, but after a few years I was thinking of starting a family, and I felt that the operations side of working in hotels was too absorbing for that ? so I decided to look for something different.

I didn?t know a lot about TAG prior to my interview and was amazed when I first walked in. What attracted me to TAG is their vision ? everything has to be of the highest quality and they have decided not to cut costs in spite of the downturn over the last couple of years ? in fact more has been spent, recognising the need to always look for ways to improve the standard of facilities and keep everything at the top. I have been here 4 years now, and the job is similar to what I was doing in hotels ? you don?t have the overnight stays but in essence the service side of things is exactly the same.

Aviator interview with Sophie LesnoffSophie Lesnoff, Head of Customer Services & TAG Farnborough Airport.

Everyone has taken a flight at some point in their life, and in many cases they have not had the experience they would like. One of the first things we did at TAG was to set up a concierge service, which had never been seen in private aviation before. The concierge is there to know who is who and what they like, very much as you would expect from a hotel concierge. The difference for us however, is that whilst you would encourage hotel guests to stay as long as possible, our goal is to help our guests leave as swiftly as possible! A huge challenge for us is to provide an instant ?wow? factor ? to make a guest feel that home away from home feeling within an incredibly short space of time. We all have to work together to make sure we don?t have the slightest hiccup. To deliver excellent service in such a short time is difficult ? the smallest mistake can be remembered for ages.

In owning or chartering an aircraft, people ultimately want the convenience of being able to leave when they like. If you have your own aircraft you have no checking in and no need to queue. You present to the security gate on arrival and drive straight to your aircraft. 80% of our guests don?t even see inside the terminal. This makes it difficult for customer services to get to know them, but luckily we have a clear team direction of what to do and how to treat passengers.

I think TAG?s image has become stronger and stronger. Most people outside the aviation industry will know TAG Heuer ? and whilst they were sold to LVMH in the nineties, there clearly still are similarities in our ethos of excellence and avant garde style which is instantly recognisable in TAG. We are also in a unique position as TAG owns everything at Farnborough Airport, including the land, which gives us more flexibility to meet and exceed our clients? expectations.

TAG presents an end to end solution – TAG Aviation, TAG Engineering and TAG Farnborough Airport – 3 companies working as one – you can charter your aircraft, sell your aircraft, manage your aircraft and now you can also stay in TAG Hotel, our range of services are unique and the owners have got that spot on.

“You can charter your aircraft, sell your aircraft, manage your aircraft and now you can also stay in TAG Hotel.”
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I don?t leave home without my iPad and Blackberry. I mainly read French books – I enjoy books by an author well known in France called Marc Levy. He writes short novels, but they are always a bit out of the ordinary – something supernatural often happens and they are well thought out stories. Otherwise I like crime novels and biographies, and I play a little tennis – or I did when I was younger.

Since I had my son two years ago I tend not to travel great distances, but I do like to go home and see my family in France. I was brought up in Normandy, near Mont St Michel, and I do like to go back there. I also like to go and see my friends on the Côte D?Azur. I find the pace of life amazing over there and I miss the beaches ? there is a beach where my parents live near Granville called Le Bout du Monde and all you can see is sea and sand, I love that!

I don?t have a favourite restaurant, but I do love simple seafood, caught just on that day. I notice that in England most fish is made into a dish, whilst in France they will just cook and eat the whole thing. I like to eat a whole fish on the bones ? it reminds me that it is fresh!

There is a tiny island I love called Chausey between Granville on the French coast, and Jersey. It is the only one of the Channel Islands to have remained French ? it has one main island and a stretch of archipelago of 365 islands that appear and disappear with the tides. On the main island where we stay, there are no shops or cars and nothing to do ? it is just an unspoilt and tranquil piece of land where people go to escape from their busy lives for a short while. For me it is one of the most wonderful places. I wouldn?t spend all of my holidays there but it is beautiful.

I also love Honfleur by the sea, it is a little harbour with typical Norman little houses, and old cobbled streets; it is an amazing place to walk around.

I had thought to open my own hotel one day. 5 or 6 years ago I was looking at places that I could transform into a B&B, but I found it difficult to find anywhere that had the right location and the right number of rooms. I still keep this in mind for the future!

I don?t think about fashion or the way I dress a great deal, but I do believe less is more. I don?t wear a lot of make-up, and I don?t like to look eccentric but I do like to look different. I?m not into branded clothes or high street stores ? I prefer the individual shops that I know.

I don?t think my style changed when I moved from France but it has changed with age. I do love the fact that in England you can wear anything ? they are on top of fashion. In my view, France is quite formal and they don?t like to go beyond what is deemed normal ? whereas with the British the complete opposite is true, especially in London! In my first few days in the capital I was amazed at the way people showed their personality in what they wore.

The French are very stubborn and I am quite a perfectionist ? we are not tolerant as a race. I think had I stayed in France I would not be where I am today. I think the French are more a nation of thinkers whilst the British are a nation of doers. In my time here I?ve found that if you work hard and you know what you want, you can get there. I think I would find it frustrating if I went back to France now.

Service is the one most important thing in running a good hotel. You can make any hotel succeed as long as you have good service. I also think people are moving away from the big factory style hotels. People want to be known by name, receive value and they recognise attention to detail ? give them something memorable and they will want to come back. At TAG we aim for all our customers to leave wanting to come back.

My most memorable stay stay was in a small boutique hotel called Le Sirenuse in Positano on the Amalfi coast. It was absolutely amazing ? the place itself is stunning, perched right up on the hill, and the standard of accommodation was outstanding. It was full of beautiful art and antiques, and the staff were remarkable. Within seconds of our arrival they knew us by name and did everything for us without being intrusive. They were there when we needed them, and melted away when we didn?t. We felt really special and the attention to detail in this hotel was incredible, definitely an address to recommend!