charlie macgregor (88-91) Founder, The Student Hotel
‘Enjoy the moment, be happy and smile’.
I loved my time at Merchiston: I really enjoyed it and being with some great people who are still my best friends. The biggest thing I learnt at School was to keep challenging myself and thinking outside the box, and of course, manners. I got so many punishments for not holding doors open or being polite, that I now do this very well…it’s very nice to do.
My buddies from Merchiston are still very dear to me and these friendships are an important symbol of what life is all about. Friendships made at this time of your life are very special and I love seeing the guys. We never see each other enough though as we are all now dads and busy, but I know these friendships will never die. When we do see each other we all fall back to where we left off. I have amazing memories from Merchiston and I would not change them for anything. It for sure helped me form who I am today….and, of course, my good manners have helped.
Since leaving Merchiston I have started my own student accommodation company in Amsterdam, called The Student Hotel. My inspiration was born from frustration. I saw student accommodation being built in the UK which was all the same. Nobody put any design into the projects or really cared about it. I had developed a few student projects in the UK before moving to the Netherlands and I always found it hard to get my bosses or banks to allow me to do things differently. When I moved to Amsterdam in 2003, I saw that there was a huge structural shortage of student accommodation, and also that nobody was doing it, or even knew how to do it (like we did in the UK). As such, when I started, I had a blank piece of paper, a blank canvas if you like, nobody around me knew any different...I made the project as I wanted to, focusing on the student experience. I wanted to make the best student accommodation in the world!
We largely focus on the customer experience, and since a lot of our student customers stay with us for five or ten months, they really use the spaces we provide. They end up knowing the building so well, they can really relax. The young professionals and the day travellers (regular hotel guests) feel this vibe and love it. We call this atmosphere ‘The Student Spirit’. What I love so much is this great vibe and energy that the place has: it attracts the locals and other visitors. They all like to connect with each other. Ideas are born here and we see that the student spirit is alive in all our guests, not just someone at university. Each of our guests is open to learning and meeting other people: this is fantastic to see and feel. As such, we are now able to grow very quickly. It is proving to be very popular. It was brilliant to have some of my Merchiston friends come and stay with us.
I fly around 160 times a year. This is to enable our EU expansion. I am away each Sunday night until Wednesday. Schiphol Airport is really an amazing airport and, as such, it’s not too hard with all this travelling. I will be happy when I am able to enjoy the cities I visit a bit more. Right now it is usually in and out.
My biggest achievement for work is creating this company. There are today ten hotels open, 12 being built and another 13 going through the acquisition process. The company will have over 2000 team members and over 17,000 rooms, so I’m kind of proud of that.
My personal achievements are, of course, my two boys, Cameron and Jake, and trying to bring them up and see them as much as possible. I’m divorced so only have them 50% of the time but I make sure I’m there for them. This I enjoy very much.
If you want something you have to work hard for it. Even with the qualifications, you will need to work hard once you’re in the door; it is just maybe easier to get in a few doors.