How Birmingham’s ‘oldest entrepreneur’ turned £35k ‘old people’s home’ in to £11 million hotel business – Birmingham Live

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Sitting on the terrace at one of Birmingham’s landmark buildings and businesses, life was returning to ‘normal’.

Staff at Moor Hall Hotel were busily serving customers, a crowd was gathered in a function room for a racing event and guests were checking in and out at reception.

And among those visiting was the man who made Moor Hall the stunning four-star Sutton Coldfield venue it is today.

Michael Webb, known as Mick, bought Moor Hall 60 years ago this week, with the idea coming after enjoying a trip on the slopes at Austria.

Apres ski in Sutton

He said: “We went skiing twice a year and took the children to St Anton in Austria. We went in 1960 and I said wouldn’t it be great to have something like this in Sutton!?”

Moor Hall, was then a ‘gentlemen’s residence for former soldiers’ – a cross between an ‘old people’s home and a hotel’ Mick said.

The original Moor Hall dates back to the 15th century and there has been a building on the site since the 1300s. Its most famous owner was Bishop John Vesey, in the times of King Henry VIII and who once taught the future Queen Mary there.

Entrepreneur Mick Webb, 91, is celebrating 60 years of owning Moor Hall Hotel in Sutton Coldfield

The hall has had several incarnations, with the current venue built in 1903, by Ansell’s Brewery owner, Colonel Edward Ansell. The Ansell family auctioned it in 1930 to the Streather builders family. And the historic hall was bought for ‘just’ £35,000 by Mick and Whittalls Wines on June 21, 1961 from Mrs Streather by Mick.

The entrepreneur quickly turned it into a late-night drinking venue in August that year with it becoming a private members club chiefly so it could serve alcohol on Sundays.

Then Moor Hall had 17 bedrooms, with only three having bathrooms, and a further 22 staff bedrooms. It now has 83 bedrooms, six conference rooms, two restaurants and a leisure centre and spa and is worth an eye-watering £11 million.

From failed schoolboy to business tycoon

But Mick, who is 91 years young, did not start in the hotel business.

He had a tough time as a youngster, having been to 14 schools by the age of 14. He moved around the country with his dad Arthur, who was a salesman for the Daimler Bus Company. Mick said his dad would arrive in town – stay until he sold a fleet of buses to them and then move to the next destination.

After being on the road for some time, his family settled in Streetly, with his dad serving in the RAF during the Second World War. Mick went to Streetly Youth Club, where he met his first wife Janet.

Mick Webb sits in a 1961 Austin A35 van, made in the year he bought Moor Hall and decorated to mark his ownership's 60th celebrations

With a disjointed school life – he studied Pitman’s shorthand at a college in Walsall and became a reporter. First on the Walsall Times, then the Sutton Coldfield News and the Sports Argus.

But after a couple of year’s reporting Mick’s dad’s entrepreneurial spirit seemed to spark him to change tack, in to the world of sales and business.

“I went from being a journalist floor to the circulation floor,” he said. “I was going around selling newspapers to newsagents.

“And I then started a manufacturing agency initially selling car parts to garages. I was pretty successful in the Midlands and took on reps.

“I went into business with friends with car showrooms and petrol stations. I had an exhaust centre business [like a pre-cursor to Kwik Fit].

“I had an aircraft company, training people to fly. I learned to fly while I was a manufacturers’ agent. I had eight or nine reps all over the country and I wanted an aircraft to get around like an air taxi. The owner of an aircraft said don’t buy the aircraft – buy the company!

“I also owned Broads Travel.”

At one stage Mick had 14 businesses. But he soon decided Moor Hall Hotel was THE one.

Moor Hall transformed

He said: “I had this place 10 years and proceeded to sell everything in the group except the travel business and concentrated on Moor Hall Hotel.

“I liked to see people happy and provide things for them. We have function rooms and a leisure centre.

“Up until 2000 we were only investing in this.”

At Moor Hall the 60s were spent partying at the private club and in the 70s Moor Hall became a hotel, with The Bracebridge conference room, a coach house, stables and kennels transformed into 31 more bedrooms.

Moor Hall in the 1960s was transformed from a gentlemen's residence to a private members club and late-night drinking venue under Mick Webb's stewardship

And in the 80s a new block and the old hall were joined together with a new reception. Mick said the best moment was when this missing piece of his hotel expansion jigsaw fell into place.

He said: “My proudest moment was when I opened the reception area – before that we had two separate blocks and that linked them. The first expansion of the hotel to the left of the reception then was joined to the hotel.”

In 1991 former Aston Villa and then England manager Graham Taylor opened the new fitness centre. While in 2003 Graham returned to open the new leisure centre.

The neighbouring Moor Hall golf course which a terrace area at the hotel looks over provides the perfect backdrop. Mick said he has the advantages of the view without the politics that goes with running a golf business!

The hotel has changed over its 60 years from being turned from an old people’s home, to private members club and then hotel, with the addition of conference rooms and a leisure club.

Mick said “I got consistent satisfaction with developing it!” While his daughter Angela Burns said: “It’s constantly evolving.” Now it’s evolving experiences more than more bricks and mortar as it ‘can’t be extended anywhere’.

Mick was instrumental in bringing the Best Western hotels group from the US to the UK. The group has independent hotels joining forces – recommending each other and each having similar standards.

Mick went to America and ‘got used to the system there’. So much so that he bought the Sea Castle hotel in Treasure Island, Florida. He said: “I like their attitude to business.”

He was national chairman of Best Western when he was 50 and helped recruit hotels in France Italy and Spain to the group. Angela has been chair too. Mick has written an autobiography charting his life and business career too – Spider Webb – his nickname at school.

Former England and Aston Villa manager, Graham Taylor, officially opening Moor Hall Hotel's leisure club in 2003

Famous visitors include Take That and Villa icons

Famous visitors to Moor Hall include Take That during their comeback tour of 2010, former England and Aston Villa manager, Graham Taylor as well as former Villa club owner Doug Ellis, who used to live in Sutton.

The last year has been the hotel’s hardest, the only previous darker times being during recessions and when the venue was being improved and ‘became a building site’. “There has never been anything on this scale,” Angela said. “You can’t even plan for what happened.”

Bookings cancelled, staff on furlough, the large venue falling silent.

Moor Hall falls silent for first time in 60 years

Angela, her son and daughter took it in turns to move in to Moor Hall to effectively ‘house sit’ it while no one was allowed in. They opened a community shop for six weeks selling the must-have but hard-to-find item toilet rolls, which the venue had plenty of. It also sold things like eggs, bread and beer, with proceeds from the latter given to charity.

It was shut from the first lockdown to July 4 – something that had never happened in its previous 59 years where it was open ‘365 days a year’. But since July 4 it has stayed open – through two more lockdowns with business travellers allowed to stay.

Angela said: “It was a big shock to the system, walking down the corridor and there not being a single person in the place. We furloughed staff. A big part of our business in the summer is weddings.

“But all are back now.”

And since the gradual reopening, life has returned at Moor Hall with ‘lots of smaller events’. When BirminghamLive visited it was Ascot Ladies’ Day with 80 women dressed in their fineries to enjoy the event.

Michael Webb and daughter Angela Burns look out from Moor Hall Hotel's terrace as life begins to return to the venue after a tough year during the pandemic

Back to business

The venue is ‘full but not full’. It’s as busy as it is allowed to be – but with social distancing it is not back to its pre-pandemic levels. “It’s not anywhere where we would have been,” Angela said.

But customers are coming back and Moor Hall has 60 weddings booked before the end of September. The venue is popular with some that have married there seeing their children tie the knot at the venue too.

Mick said: “It’s an iconic business in Sutton Coldfield! Andrew Mitchel {Sutton’s MP] described it as a real community asset for the town’.” It always adopts a local charity to support, which this year is Breast Friends.

Angela said: “I am really optimistic. I am really happy to have to have people out and enjoying themselves. People are wanting to come and do that.”

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Mick said: “Bookings are busy. People are happy to come here rather than the city centre. We are also having staycation bookings. There is confidence to travel in this country.”

Asked why he was continuing to work in his 90s, Mick said: “I never say no to any proposition anybody said to me!

“If I didn’t have anything to do, I wouldn’t get out of the be in the morning!

“If ever I have seen an opportunity I take one.”

To mark its 60th year a 1961 Austin has been bought and decorated to mark the occasion. And a 60s barbecue and disco is planned for August, Breakfast at Tiffany’s in September and a charity ball in October.