Success Stories – In conversation with Doris Bernard
With over 30 years of international experience in luxury hospitality financial leadership, Doris Bernard is an industry icon. Doris is now Vice President of Corporate Finance for Kempinski Hotels, a role she has held for the last seven years, placed by FM Recruitment. Responsible for the senior leadership throughout the global Corporate Finance structure of the Kempinski Group, Doris is integral to the brand’s continued success internationally. Kempinski currently manages 79 hotels in 34 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, China, South-East Asia and the Americas.
A strong communicator and team leader, Doris joined Kempinski from Rocco Forte Hotels, where she held the role of Group Financial Controller, overseeing 13 properties in Europe and the Middle East.
FM Recruitment continues to have a long-standing relationship with Doris, supporting her career trajectory, having placed her in several financial leadership roles with Rocco Forte Hotels, the Ascot Group, the Cliveden Group and the Conrad London. The collaboration with FM Recruitment equally extends to recruiting senior members of her team.
In conversation with Doris Bernard
How did you get into hospitality finance?
First and foremost, there was hospitality – and ‘Grappa-Parfait’ – of which I made a lot when I started my hotel apprenticeship in 1986, with the first department to be covered being the kitchen (the hotel apologised and said, ‘Well, someone has to start in the kitchen…’). However, I loved it and did not want my time there to end. After the third extension, the ultimatum was given: Either I change the apprenticeship to become a chef or move on to the next department. I moved, and with my good instinct for numbers, logic, organisation and analysis, it was not a great surprise to fall for finance before long. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What are the most important aspects of financial roles in hospitality and how has the role evolved over the years?
The evolution is that there is definitely a much more prominent space for and faster pace of analysis. Today’s availability of data inevitably leads to more options of analysis, which in turn lead to more demands, from internal and external stakeholders. The trick is to investigate and understand what the real question is that we are trying to answer. Based on this, finance should be able to offer the most efficient and repeatable/robust solution. This integrated understanding of the business, paired with the understanding of the capabilities of finance systems, is one of the most important aspects of today’s finance roles. In short: Any financial analysis has to have a purpose and not be analysis for analysis’ sake.
What do you consider your biggest achievement so far and why?
Being still here, in finance, in hospitality. Temptations to move out of the industry existed, but the most compelling factor to stay has always been the amazing teams I have worked with. Leading a group of people who have a can-do attitude, a strong sense of commitment and a passion for hospitality and are fun to be with is one of the most rewarding and invigorating things in my career and, in fact, my daily work life. I hope that I am right in thinking that I have continuously contributed to making such teamwork happen.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting their career in the industry?
Enjoy and commit to getting stuck in, roll up your sleeves, be curious and stay humble. Never stop learning throughout and engage with the very diverse workforce that you are likely to encounter. It will lead to a strong network of industry professionals and friends, which, if cultivated with sincerity and authenticity, carries you throughout your career. It is one of the best schools of life.
What are the biggest opportunities in the hospitality industry as it recovers from the pandemic?
The opportunity for a fresh approach, in a free spirit, to what hospitality is about. Offers that are interest-led versus the traditional guest segmentation (I very much like the Kempinski ‘Travel Your Way’ initiative). Basic human needs for belonging and community could be answered by hospitality through integrating local culture. A stronger desire for quality time with family and friends might come to the fore against a background of threats like the pandemic or climate change. We may see, for example, conference rooms used as co-working spaces to enable business travellers to combine remote working and extended family time. The inventiveness and flexibility that we have seen in many hotels when the pandemic hit are inspiring. I equally hope that the heightened appreciation for travel after the confinement creates a new buzz all-round.
What would have been your Plan B?
When I started out, there was no Plan B; I did not apply for anything other than a hotel apprenticeship. Since then, I have sometimes joked that I would become a park ranger in a national park, taking care of footpath signage maintenance. I love walking and being out in the countryside and am fascinated by long-distance hiking paths (well signposted, of course).
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