Vivien Herrera-Lee may be a multi award-winning managing director, including Businesswoman of the Year and Special Ambassador for Tourism, but spend just five minutes with her and you’ll soon see the only recognition she desires is from her clients and guests at Properties Unique’s collection of more than 60 luxury serviced apartments across Newcastle city centre and the surrounding area.
The company, which she started in 2004 with the encouragement of her son Ishmael and late husband Ramon, provides an alternative to hotel accommodation for business and leisure travellers. It offers accommodation from three nights minimum, to as long as is needed, with many guests staying for several months or more. “I run the company on a very personal basis,” Vivien explains; “it’s very important to both me and my team that our guests are always happy.”
To ensure their stay is nothing short of perfect, Vivien provides a 24/7 personal customer service which can include anything from collecting a guest’s delayed suitcase at 10pm in the evening from the airport and then delivering it to their apartment, to inviting guests out to dinner, some of whom are from another country and here alone on business. “I am exceedingly proud of the excellent reviews we consistently receive from our guests, and that motivates me beyond words.”
Vivien’s working life began in the 1960s when, after completing a secretarial course, and being the ambitious person she is, steadily climbed the corporate ladder, eventually being head-hunted to become a bi-lingual PA for an international company based in Eibar, on the northern tip of Spain.
When Vivien was asked to go and work in Spain, initially she was quite reluctant. She says: “I refused the job offer several times, but I am a great believer in destiny and I was obviously meant to go, as it was during this time, 42 years ago, that I met Ramon. He asked me to dance…and the rest is history.”
Two years later the couple married and five years down the line Vivien was pregnant with Ishmael, so they returned to the UK shores for his birth. They had intended returning to their home in Spain, but ended up remaining in Newcastle, during which time Vivien worked as a PA to top executives in television and travel working as an independent consultant before setting up Properties Unique.
Vivien now has 13 employees and her empire of serviced apartments has a vast number of guests returning year upon year from all over the world.
Her owners are also very impressed with how Vivien and her staff maintain their apartments. One client hadn’t been in their property for over 10 years. They then decided to sell and when they viewed their apartment, couldn’t believe it was in the same excellent condition as it was when originally placed with Properties Unique. “I’m extremely proud of the unrivalled reputation we have in the serviced apartment world. We unfailingly provide an enhanced customer service experience, which has several times resulted in overseas guests purchasing an apartment on the condition that they can place it in the safe and competent hands of the Properties Unique team.”
This reputation quickly led Vivien to be named the ambassador for tourism. Since then, she’s won consecutive awards for outstanding customer service and remains the only North East provider of serviced apartments to have received this accolade. Asked what the key is to these achievements, Vivien says: “I pride myself on working with honesty, integrity and always fulfill my promises. Having said this, I’m very much aware that the success of Properties Unique is a team effort with my staff taking immense pride in their individual roles and will unquestionably go that extra mile for our guests”
Vivien says “I’ve had an exciting life which has taken me to some very interesting places.
“I’m a people’s person so this is the perfect vocation for me, especially playing host to such guests as Alan Pardew, Susan Boyle, Rula Lenska, and David Suchet to name but a few.” All of these appear on Vivien’s office ‘wall of fame’ together with many others.
Despite being so busy, Vivien takes pride in actively supporting several charities, the main one being COCO, founded by Steve Cram.
Lucy Kendall, CEO of COCO, in just one emphatic example of praise for Vivien, says: “Vivien is a regular at all our events; but she is so much more than that. She’s our friend and a permanent member of the COCO family.”
Vivien’s response is typical of her rectitude. “The education of children is so important as it’s what helps deprived communities thrive. It’s important to me. I’ve had a lovely life and I’m very grateful… I often think how lucky I am to have led such a fortunate life.”