A day in the life: Director of commercial services

Gillian Almond looks after the accommodation, conference and catering services across Royal Holloway – and frequent visits from film and TV crews

How long have you been in your job?
I’ve been at Royal Holloway just over three years.

What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?
I think I make a difference and that is important to me. I enjoy being able to look at a challenge and break it down into achievable steps, meaning that even the biggest obstacles can be overcome.

What’s the first thing you do when you get into work?
I have a coffee, always coffee first thing.

Who are the two or three people you talk to on a daily basis?
I am always talking to Jonathan Main, head of premises and Jemma Morris, head of catering and conference services.

With his team, Jonathan is responsible for looking after our student accommodation. Jonathan keeps me updated on our major refurbishments and accommodation projects such as introduction of sustainability and student support initiatives.

Jemma updates me on the work of her team which includes running the catering for students, staff and events across the campus. They also deliver our programme of tailor-made conferences and functions. We also host commercial filming opportunities on campus which has seen the university appear in films such as The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and TV series including Downton Abbey and most recently Devs (masquerading as San Francisco).

What’s the best thing about your job?
I really enjoy the variety and working with people at Royal Holloway and across the higher education sector who are genuinely committed to delivering the best student experience. And, of course, the menu tastings!

And the worst?
The meetings and emails that sometimes take over my diary.

Your number one most vital prop/tool/piece of equipment?
A sense of humour! I’m not saying it solves any problems, but it does make them far easier to deal with.

How did you get into your job?
My background is in catering and hotels, but I have been working in university hospitality services for 30 years now, so it’s in my blood.

Over the years there are not many jobs I’ve not done; from chambermaid, waitress, receptionist and halls manager to peeling potatoes in a chip shop and dressing salmon in a field.

I wasn’t that good at all of them but I do understand how difficult and tiring they all can be. This all helps in my understanding of the daily challenges faced by the team.

Which five words sum up your typical day?
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a typical day. Currently [during the Covid-19 lockdown], I don’t think anyone is having a typical day, as we all learn to adapt and work in new ways, but if I had to pick it would be collaboration, great colleagues, ever-changing, rewarding – and, of course, coffee!

If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?
Probably an accountant … but I’d be a very different person if I’d followed that career path.


Gillian Almond is director of commercial services at Royal Holloway, University of London and chair of College and University Business Officers (CUBO).

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