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).

For support with your next career move or to improve your recruitment strategy, please contact FM Recruitment now using any of the below details:

Office +44 20 8600 1160 I Email
Chris Denison Smith +44 7775 711923 I Email
Andrea Shaw +44 7714 236469 I Email

Why the role of Finance is pivotal for the recovery of the hospitality industry 

The Company Linchpin 

With the global economy currently undergoing a significant transformation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of financial leaders in navigating businesses through these unprecedented times has been propelled into the spotlight.

The impact of the pandemic has been felt globally and by most industries, but perhaps none so severely as the travel and hospitality sector. Financial leaders are now in a position where they must not only address major setbacks but provide long-term confidence and strengthen recovery and growth prospects.

Financial chiefs have experienced downturns in the past, following the fallout of the 2008 global financial crash, the war in Iraq and the September 11th terrorist attacks, however, nothing compares to the wide-reaching impact of the pandemic. Hospitality Financial Directors had to move quickly to protect their businesses as much as possible; negotiate with partners to limit exposure, campaign for the government to support the industry through this crisis and make tough decisions regarding furlough and redundancy to ensure that the business survived. These financial crisis management strategies were activated quickly, to help support the recovery which is now underway.

Speed of response and flawless execution is critical in any crisis to reduce its impact and provide confidence to all stakeholders. Through effective financial planning, Chief Financial Officers have driven the timely execution of improvement initiatives to reduce costs, overhaul procurement, revisit pricing strategies, as well as spearheading process improvements and innovations that add value to the company.

“Working smarter, recognising and minimising risks and exploiting opportunities will mean having to be constantly creative”. Howard Field, founder of FM Recruitment commented as he shared his views on strategies for finance as the industry recovers from the pandemic

Maintaining Confidence in the Company

Financial Directors are required to instil confidence in all internal and external stakeholders.

Internally - With so many employees on furlough or made redundant during the pandemic, transparency and honesty were crucial to build trust in the long-term prospects of the company and to maintain integrity. Financial Directors who were able to highlight the challenges ahead with strategies to overcome them were able to help companies communicate and maintain engagement with employees, who could otherwise have chosen to move on. Many hospitality companies have been able to focus on retraining and cross-training employees, using the opportunity to develop employees to adapt to the challenges after re-opening. Businesses that have managed to retain key talent over the period of closure will be best placed to grow the business as we move forward.

Externally – For many customers, how businesses acted during the pandemic will live long in their memories. Financial leaders, under pressure to maximise revenues and reduce costs, needed to weigh up the short-term gains against the long-term prospects and introduce more flexibility. For the most part, customers were hugely understanding and opted for flexible vouchers rather than full refunds and now finance leaders have responded by offering more relaxed cancellation terms to remove barriers, offer flexibility and build confidence to encourage future bookings.

All of this activity is underpinned by increased investor scrutiny to cut costs, grow revenue, and ensure control, which means financial leaders have had to become adept at managing multiple stakeholder requirements to inspire confidence and lead the way with the recovery of the industry.

The Future of Finance – Nurturing the Pipeline of Emerging Talent

According to several UK universities offering courses relating to hospitality and related financial studies, the number of overall undergraduates in hospitality studies has dropped in the last year. With the true impact of Brexit also yet to be clear, it seems likely that hospitality will face some real challenges in recruiting and retaining top talent in the near future.

Undergraduates are reconsidering their options, often tempted into continuing their studies or shifting towards other industries with seemingly more secure prospects. Never has it been more important to guide and nurture those who are showing interest in the hospitality industry.

In a Forbes article from 2020, Robert Parsons, Chief Financial Officer of Exclusive Resorts made an important observation noting “Today’s finance undergraduates absolutely have the necessary hard skills and drive to be successful in the workforce of today and tomorrow. Besides, their ambitions are not curtailed by outdated notions of career trajectories. All they need is an opportunity and then some mentorship. My approach to recruiting and cultivating top talent is to look for the right attitude and core problem-solving skills over just the finance hard skills, and then create opportunities for career advancement.

As active members of HOSPA, Chris and Andrea at FM Recruitment dedicate themselves to mentoring young talent as they progress through their careers. Our guiding hand can help businesses and candidates to optimise skills, showcase the opportunities to progress and help the hospitality industry recover and grow in the post-pandemic world.

For support with your next career move or to improve your recruitment strategy, please contact FM Recruitment now using any of the below details:

Office +44 20 8600 1160 I Email
Chris Denison Smith +44 7775 711923 I Email
Andrea Shaw +44 7714 236469 I Email


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