Romance is usually the last thing on a person’s mind when doing a job interview, and no doubt it didn’t figure in their thoughts when Tim Whyte and Breda McEnaney met, yet it was on just such an occasion that they first clapped eyes on each other.

Tim was the one applying for a job, while Breda was one of the interviewing team. In fairness, no ethical boundaries were crossed. Tim got the job, and stayed in the company for two years, but it was purely a professional relationship. Tim and Breda’s next encounter, a chance meeting, was a full three years later. They got together then, and married soon after.

Now, not content with just living together, they are about to start a joint business, with plans well underway to set up a hotel management company in Paris, where they’ve lived for the last four years.

At the time of the fateful interview 20 years ago, Breda was working for an accountancy firm in their department dealing with the hotel sector; the job advertised required someone with finance knowledge and experience of hotels – it transpired Tim, with a degree in banking and finance from UCD, and experience working in bars and hotels under his belt, was perfect for the position.

“I’m from Ennis, and my dad was a singer who toured with the Kilfenora Ceili Band,” the genial Tim, who is one of eight siblings, notes. “He was a great entertainer, and I think that sociability side was passed down to me. I really liked the people side of hotel work.”

After university, Tim worked in bars in Latvia, Malta and the UK, and then decided to concentrate more on hotelling, and got a job in London working for The Milestone, part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection (Ashford Castle is its only Irish hotel). “Beatrice Tollman is the owner [of Red Carnation],” Tim says. “To me, she epitomises the hotel business; she’s a very elegant lady, and her attention to detail is extraordinary.”

After two years with Red Carnation, Tim came back to Ireland and took the job offered by Breda’s firm. “What I did was called transformation. I’d go into a hotel that was not doing well, and I’d look at the corporate structure, the pricing, etc,” he notes. After that, the prestigious Radisson group came calling, and Tim was on the move again. He stayed with Radisson for the last 18 years, gradually moving up the ladder of seniority.

Breda’s trajectory, though also hotel-related, was slightly different. Originally from Kingscourt in Co Cavan, she was the third eldest of 10. “Mum had a retirement home and Dad was a house husband. I always wanted to go into hotels – maybe it was because I wanted to be boss. I was always bossing the younger ones,” the bubbly Breda notes with a laugh.

Her first job was with the Randolph in Oxford; after two years there, she came home and worked full-time for the Ryan group, studying hotel management at the same time. “It was a very lean business; they were excellent at marketing and cost control, so it was a great training,” Breda notes.

After graduation, she worked for 18 months in a five-star in Washington. “I had been in operations in Ireland; in the US, I ended up in reservations, and I realised revenue management was where it was at,” Breda notes, adding, “When I was doing my training, it was all about food, service and hospitality, the cead mile failte; in America, the big focus was all on maximising revenue, and they had the technology to do that. I realised this was going to come to Ireland.” So she came home and decided to go back to college and study business. “I had a fantastic foundation in hotels and catering, but I decided I needed to understand the business model,” she explains.

She got into the Smurfit Graduate Business School to do a master’s, and afterwards, she got a job which involved the grading of hotels in the south east and south west, deciding which gets two stars, three stars and so on. Breda did that for five years, then moved into consultancy with various accountancy firms. “I would help owners and hotel groups who wanted to build hotels, and help them with their management structures,” she says. “It was 2001 to 2004, the peak for Ireland, when a lot of hotels were being built. I would advise on concepts, room size, that kind of thing.”

In 2008, she felt the writing was on the wall, that the crash was coming, and there’d be less hotels being built. As it happened, she had bumped into Tim, and so decided he might be a good person to get advice from, so she contacted him. She got the advice, but she also got a life partner; they got married 18 months later. “When you know, you know,” Tim says wisely.

As it happened, the crash did affect Breda, but differently to how she expected – she started being called in by banks to assess the performance of stressed hotels.

Then, in 2014, Tim was promoted to the position of regional director of Radisson Western Europe, which involved moving to Paris, and, of course, Breda moved with him; she was able to continue doing consultancy work from Paris.

Moving required huge changes, not least becoming proficient in the French language. It was essential for Tim, as by pure fluke, he had boned up on the answers – in French – to possible interview questions, and he had got them all right, so the interviewers had the impression he was already fluent.

“Once I got the job, I immersed myself for a month,” Tim says. “Within two weeks of arriving in Paris, I could address the staff at the Christmas party. It took two years more to understand it all, but it’s like marriage: at no point do you think you’ve got it,” Tim says with a laugh.

The great thing for them was they loved Paris from the moment they got there, and this was greatly helped by the fact that without knowing much about the different areas, they settled, quite by chance, on a buzzy area they adore – Bastille.

“At the time, I was working in Disney, just outside Paris, and Breda said, ‘Let’s drive for 35 minutes and settle on that place’. What we didn’t realise was it was the school holidays and the journey normally took twice as long, but it’s such a great area, I didn’t mind,” says Tim.

It helped when they found the perfect apartment for themselves in one of the much-coveted Haussmannian buildings there. “We had decided we wanted at least 800 square feet – everyone said we wouldn’t get it, but we did. It was within budget, and it’s 920 square feet. And it’s only minutes from a great market, great shopping and great restaurants,” says Breda. Needless to mention, with their decades of experience of getting to the bottom of what guests like in terms of comfort, they’ve created the kind of home their many guests like to visit.

Obviously because they’re both in the same business, they have talked shop, shop and more shop over the years, and they’ve realised there is a gap in the French market, and they’re going to exploit it.

“We’ve decided, with our combined 50 years in the business, we’re going to create a new brand to appeal to the younger European customer,” says Tim, who left Radisson in August to concentrate on this project. “In France, there are a lot of five-stars and a glut of very basic tiny hotels; there’s very little in the middle. Design that resonates with them is becoming very important to customers – they want to go places that they see as cooler,” he says, adding, “They want to be able to think, ‘Yes, this reflects who I am’. We see an opportunity to do something there for the person we call the older sibling of the millennial; affordable luxury with soul.”

A bit like the home they’ve created.

Edited by Mary O’Sullivan

Photography by Tony Gavin

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