Raffles Middle East and Indian Ocean’s new regional controller Christoph Heinemann reveals the need to review old processes and expand comfort zones in order to implement fresh ideas and stay ahead of the game
What is your priority as regional controller?
My main focus is to assure and deliver better profits as well as to improve financial accuracy by driving initiatives to make the right decision at the right time. These must be combined with the highest level of policy compliance.
What challenges do you expect to face?
Controlling and finance always provides a different view on things, which is good and healthy. To convince the team to review processes which have been in place for a long time is always a challenge. Sometimes we need to learn how to expand our comfort zones.
Some see finance controlling as a ‘permanent cost cutting’ department, which it is not. It is not the question of quality versus finance. It is quality and finance. Back in 2008 when the crisis kicked in, we thought about initiatives to secure and protect the profits in our 600-room flagship hotel in Berlin.
We were able to save approximately a million Euros in payroll and operating expenses, while keeping the average rate, maintaining our employee engagement levels and improving guest satisfaction matrixes.
All this was made possible by changing our way of working and today these initiatives are part of the company’s policy. The lesson was “you should repair the roof, while the sun is shining” as John F. Kennedy said.
What are the key skills of being a regional controller and how do you keep everyone happy?
It is not always about keeping people happy. It’s about improving ways of working and implementing efficient tools to be ahead of the game.
Once people are convinced that some new processes and techniques are for their benefit, they will be happy and you have their buy-in which opens the road for the future.
It requires some good communication skills. As a controller you are a bit like the dashboard computer of a car. Although you do not set the wheels directly in motion, you need to indicate if we have enough fuel to complete the journey and how much is the consumption if we take a different route.
We need to indicate if we have problems with brake pressure, oil levels, AC etc. Or if a light bulb is broken and you might face low feasibility when it gets dark. When getting in your car in the morning, you don’t check whether the wheels are okay and the indicators are working, you rely heavily on your dashboard computer. So you better not ignore it or switch it off. At the end of the day it costs you more in the workshop.
Which departments do you work closest to and how do you go about getting things done?
As controller you have to work with all departments in the hotel. You need to have a solid understanding of all functions to be in a position to analyse and to improve the financial performance, although you are not running them. Driving initiatives and projects with good communication, a clear road map and a great team is crucial for success.
What do you hope to achieve in your first 12 months?
I need to understand how the departments (especially finance) are working, who are the people behind the numbers and what processes are being used. That will enable me to ‘read’ the financials and to quickly analyse the financial objectives. My target is to identify if there are any processes — operational and finance — that can be optimised to generate more profit or to streamline ways of working.
My Best & Worst
- My best career move was moving to the UAE.
- My worst job was in 1998, when I was called to perform a task force in a hotel in Tirana (Albania). At this time the Kosovo war broke out and I needed to escape over to Italy to get home.
- My worst financial nightmare in hospitality is a huge negative financial impact which was not on my radar.
- My worst mistake was to install a radar system too late.
- My best hotel stay if I had to choose would be a family-operated wellness hotel in the Austrian Alps in Tirol.