Luxury lifestyle, behaviour and etiquette coach Paul Russell is the managing director of luxury training company Luxury Academy. To mark the launch of Luxury Academy’s new Virtual Finishing School teaching manners, the art of conversation, body language and personal branding, the Sybarite caught up with Paul to find out more.
What kind of experience do you have in the luxury sector, and how did your career lead you to this idea?
I actually grew up in India and came to the UK for school when I was quite young. Even at that early age I could immediately see the cultural differences between India and the UK, and I think that it was at that point that I really started to become fascinated with people, culture and behaviour. Some of the differences were very subtle, such as how to respond to an invitation, those nuances of what is left unsaid as well as what is said. Others were more obvious such as dining etiquette and what would be considered polite or impolite. The interesting thing was that people were not even aware of these behaviours, it was simply their culture. Wanting to further understand behaviour, I undertook undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in psychology and occupational psychology, and was drawn to the luxury industry. I worked for Four Seasons, Renaissance Hotels, St Regis and Marriott International as a hotel manager at their locations around the world. Of course, staff development is a huge part of hotel management, but I simply couldn’t find the type of training I wanted for my staff; training that was specifically focused on luxury and that helped staff to understand those intricacies of behaviour like manners, etiquette and communication.
When and why did you launch Luxury Academy London?
I launched Luxury Academy in 2012 alongside my business partner Shanine. Initially we focused on the luxury hospitality market, but that quickly developed across retail, banking, automotive, travel and many other sectors. Luxury Academy is focused on training on aspects such as leadership, sales and communication, primarily for luxury businesses and professionals, but most recently we decided to introduce the Virtual Finishing School which is for any individual who wishes to understand social protocol, etiquette and customs. It’s all completed virtually and delivered in real time by trainers in our London and Mumbai offices.
What is the importance in the services that Luxury Academy provides, and what motivated you to pass on this knowledge and expertise?
It all goes back to my early experiences and what I observed when coming to the UK for school. When you are put into a new situation and everyone else knows the rules and you don’t, it can be extremely inhibiting. You constantly worry about whether you are doing the right thing, or you inadvertently offend through what you say and do. There is this expectation that you reach adulthood and you have all of the social skills and graces that you need to successfully navigate life, yet many adults don’t have these skills. It is unusual now for young people to attend finishing schools, but if they had they would have learnt the kind of skills that Virtual Finishing School teaches, such as behaviour, confidence, personal branding and the art of conversation. Virtual Finishing School bridges that gap in knowledge and provides essential confidence in professional and social settings.
What kind of clients do you train?
For Virtual Finishing School, it is primarily individuals who book themselves on the course. Perhaps they want to feel more adept at small talk, more confident to network at social events, or understand the importance of body language. They undertake the course over four weeks and look at a different topic each week. I often say that you would have no qualms about booking a course to improve your accounting, marketing or other technical skills, so the same should be true of the softer skills like communication and behaviour.
Why did you decide to take Luxury Academy London online?
It was a very deliberate decision to make Virtual Finishing School an online, virtual programme, not merely because of the convenience factor, although that is of course a benefit. But because those that would really benefit from Virtual Finishing School would probably be quite daunted to attend it face to face. People can actually be extremely embarrassed to say that they are anxious about meeting new people or worried about what to say.
How interactive is the training and service you provide?
When I started Luxury Academy, it was always on the premise that our training would be extremely interactive. We’ve all sat through those interminable training sessions, but people learn best when they are engaged. So when it came to Virtual Finishing School we utilised the same principle of interactive training and we made it as close to face to face training as possible. Those on the course have to be there at a set time to partake in the live session, and can raise a virtual ‘hand’ to ask a question just as they would in the training room. They can also interact and see the others on the course and the trainer has the ability to put attendees into smaller groups for break-out work.
How do you hope that Luxury Academy will positively affect people’s lives?
I’ve had clients come on training courses who I’ve seen literally grow in confidence as the days go on. It’s like a switch has been flicked and they finally have those tools that they need to communicate effectively with others. The training we provide is incredibly powerful, it can be the difference between building strong relationships with others and avoiding them, excelling in social situations or finding them extremely difficult. I hope that with Virtual Finishing School, we are providing that opportunity for individuals to proactively improve their social skills and feel empowered about their ability to converse with others and project the type of image that they want to project. And I hope that those that undertake the course reap the benefits of the improved confidence, assurance and social ease.
Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, www.luxuryacademy.co.uk, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.