Inspirational Women

International Women’s Day IS ON SUNDAY MARCH 8, so THIS MONTH we take a look at some of the Scottish women in the industry who are making an impression on the world at large.

Carina Contini
Director, Victor & Carina Contini

continisHaving studied for a Bsc in Estate Management and qualified as a surveyor, it may have come as a surprise when in 1996 Carina joined her husband’s family business with the opening of The Caffe Bar. But she had landed exactly where she was meant to be with her love of cooking shining through. In 2001, she was awarded the accolade The Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Food Personality of the Year and was hailed as one of Scotlands Most Influential Food Personalities. Her love of cooking led in 2003 to Carina and her husband leaving the family business to open their first stand alone restaurant, Centotre in Edinburgh’s George Street (rebranded Contini Ristorante last May). Within a few years of opening it had won both Restaurant of the Year and The Judges Special Achievement Award from The List Eating & Drinking Guide in 2005. By 2009 they were ready for a fresh challenge and opened The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant at The Scottish National Gallery and only last year they opened Contini Caffe & Gelateria and their showcase Scottish restaurant Contini Cannonball. It also has a dedicated events and marketing team Contini Events which keep everything running. Carina Contini’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook which featured over 100 seasonal recipes reflecting produce grown every month of the year was published last year and Carina was the first female chef to be appointed to the Slow Food Alliance and last year she was named a Scotland 2014 Food and Drink Ambassador.

Carina still enjoys the trade because as she says, “The industry is more competitive, our customers are more knowledgeable and more informed so there is more room to drive to be even better. We love sharing great food with family and friends – can’t ever imagine not doing that!”

The drinks she relaxes with “I relax with Campari and blood orange at this time of year or if you know my weak spot a cosmopolitan.”


Karen Forrester
Chief Executive, TGI

T.GI. Friday's - Karen Forrester 1Scots born Karen Forrester joined TGI in 2008 after a career which saw her rise through the ranks of the licensed trade. She started off in the industry at 18, and was 23 when she joined Tennent’s Taverns, at the time a division of Bass. In 1994 she became Bass Leisure Retail’s first woman retail director, and was responsible for opening the company’s first O’Neill’s in Aberdeen before rolling the brand out. By 1997 she was the company’s first female director and general manager looking after the O’Neill’s chain which by that time had grown to 190 pubs and some 1,800 staff. She also, during the same period, got herself an MBA. When the pub division of Bass listed separately to become Mitchells & Butlers in 2003 Karen was still there and by the time she left she was divisional director. Her move to TGI Friday in 2008 was a step change for the American group. She has been credited with bringing the brand back to its former glory with record sales. Last year the company was sold to Sentinel Capital Partners and TriArtisan Capital Partners who put the UK franchise up for sale. It was acquired by Electra Capital Partners in December and Karen and her Exec’ team are staying with, and have bought into, the business.

On why after all these years she still enjoys the industry Karen says, “I still wake up every morning excited to be part of THEE most dynamic, fun and exciting industry and am constantly inspired by the unique and caring people it attracts.

Her favourite drink “My drink of choice at home is a nice glass of Italian Red but at Fridays it can be any one of our five hundred brilliant cocktails.”


Carol Fowler
MD, PRime Events

carol fowlerAberdeen-born Carol Fowler originates from a hotel background. Trained by Stakis she began her career at the Royal Darroch Hotel before moving on to the Aberdeen Treetops Hotel, rising up through the ranks to the role of General Manager. She left the hotel industry to take up a role in PR & Promotions with Aberdeen Journals and spent eight years with the media company before setting up a business of her own. PRime Events was established in 1998 and this year celebrates 17 successful years in business. Carol has grown the company into a substantial player in the Grampian market with turnover in excess of £1m. Carol’s passion for the hotel industry led her to expand her business and along with two business partners, purchased The Dunavon Hotel in Dyce in 2004. In 2011 she followed this purchase with a further buy, as part of a consortium that bought Banchory Lodge Hotel (pictured below). Since the purchase of Banchory Lodge the group have invested close to half a million pounds creating a first class country house hotel.

Carol’s passion for the industry has never waned over a 35 year period and that is because she says “It’s hard to describe but there is just something about the hotel and event industry that gives you a buzz like no other-I love it”

“My perfect way to unwind would be sitting down with the team after a busy service enjoying a locally brewed Gin and Tonic with a slice of apple.”


Laurie Nicol
Principal Hayley

laurie nicolLaurie has been responsible for driving through the transformation of the Central Hotel to the Grand Central Hotel, and along the way has not just picked up the accolade 2012 Scottish Hotel of the Year but a further 15 other prestigious awards.

She kicked off her career as a banqueting waitress at the Moat House in Glasgow and then moved on to be the Banqueting Operations Manager of Leith’s at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. In 1995 Laurie joined Stakis Hotels in Falkirk as Sales Manager. She then moved to Stakis in Aberdeen as Business Development Manager before joining Hilton Aberdeen Treetops and Hilton Craigendarroch as Area Sales Manager.

In 1999 she was short-listed as a finalist for Young Sales Person of the Year 1999 by the Institute of Professional Selling. Her journey continued when she was appointed Area Director of Sales Hilton (North of Scotland) with responsibility for sales at five hotels. In 2002 she was awarded Hilton Hotels Sales Award for Continual Outstanding Achievement in the UK.

She continued onwards and upwards with a move to Edinburgh the same year as Director of Sales for the Hilton Edinburgh cluster and in 2005 she made a move back to Glasgow as Director of Business Development.

During her time here Laurie had her first taste of hotel management when she was seconded to the Grosvenor in Glasgow for seven months as GM. The was a taste of things to come, and in 2010 she took on the position of GM of the Central Hotel, which was at the time undergoing a complete refurbishment to re-emerge as the Grand Central. Over the last five years Laurie has not only created a force to be reckoned in Glasgow, but she has also completed a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at Strathclyde/Lausanne and Cornell Universities. Her next challenge will be to oversee Starwood Capital’s 5 Scottish properties.

Laurie says, I stay in the industry because “I laugh every day and I learn every day”. I relax with “a large Bombay and Tonic.”


Angela Vickers
MD, Apex Hotels

Angela Vickers_MG_7964Now Managing Director of one of Scotland’s most successful hotel companies, Angela Vickers started out her career as an chartered accountant with KPMG and moved into the hotel business in 1993 when she joined Stakis as Group Financial Controller moving to Hilton Hotels when Stakis was bought over. She stayed there for 8 years before moving to telecoms company, Damovo. She joined Apex Hotels in 2004 as Financial Director before becoming Managing Director the following year. In its last set of figures the company reported a 37% increase in profits to £9.57m with a turnover in excess of £50m, in September it revealed plans for a £35m hotel development in Bath which will see 177 bedrooms created alongside extensive conference facilities and at the end of 2014 Apex revealed that it had added Marks Hotel in Glasgow, to its eight strong portfolio which includes three hotels in London.

Angela, has achieved an Executive Masters in Hospitality Leadership and in 2010 Apex was awarded the AA Small Hotel Group of the Year accolade.

Says Angela, “If I was being very truthful my favourite drink to relax with is a cup of strong tea! That’s not really living on the edge I know.

I love the industry because there is always so much going on – from the ever changing (and challenging) hotel distribution channels, accommodating new legislation, keeping on top of and responding to customer feedback, seeking the opinions and ideas from our employes to sourcing new acquisition opportunities for Apex and ensuring that as a family company we can still out-perform the larger chains.”