Today IE has over 57.000 alumni in more than 160 countries, and whenever we are on the road we like to catch up with alumni who are doing interesting work, and especially when they have achieved a senior leadership roles.  As we aren’t often in Malta we invited 3 IE alumni join us at ZEST Malta, and while there, IE’s Director for Europe sat down with Alberto Hormigo to learn more about his background, obtain insights into the luxury hotel sector in Europe, and gets some helpful tips for potential applicants to IE master programs.

Alberto Hormigo (left), together with IE professors Nicola Gatti (center) and Joe Haslam (right) at Zest Malta, September 2017.

The Interview Transcript: Joël McConnell Speaks with Alberto Hormigo, General Manager at Kempinski Hotels.

Q: Alberto, tell me your story. How did you come to hold the position of General Manager at Kempinksi Hotels?

A: My career at the Kempinski Hotels Group started in 1999, at their property in Estepona, Spain.  I always really enjoyed the hotel business, and so working for Europe’s most storied player, in the luxury segment, seemed like a great place to start.  Once I got my initial experience with the group in Spain, I decided to apply for a posting at one of their properties in Italy, and was pleased to land the position of Financial Controller in Sicily – which proved to be a great adventure and professional development experience.  In addition to living through tough times in the tourism sector – such as when the incursion into Libya was staged from an airbase in Sicily and then the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull which wreaked havoc on air travel in Europe – I was thrust into a senior leadership role when senior management unexpectedly left and I took over the role on an interim basis (which ended up being permanent when I showed I was able to lead an important turnaround of the property there). I learned a lot from my time in Sicily, but was glad to take some time off after having spent four eventful years there.

After a my sabbatical, I was called back to lead an important transition in China, where Kempinski Hotels took over a property from Spanish hotel operator Meliá Group, and I had to really count on all the experience I had, and what I learned from the MBA at IE, to manage smooth transition on a 676-room property that had more than 1000 mostly mandarin-speaking staff.  This was really my big professional adventure, and I’m glad to say that in the end we were able to successfully manage the transition, which upon completion, led me to my current role as General Manager of Kempinski’s property in Malta, where I now live with my family.

Q: Give your experience and years in the sector, where is the European luxury hotel sector headed? What are the big differences with say the premium, perhaps more global hotel companies?

A: When you compare to the larger, perhaps best described as “premium players”, true luxury hotel companies are smaller, and focus on outstanding guest experiences.  Increasingly, outstanding guest experiences means that you need to offer a level of individualized experiences that goes far beyond what larger, more standardized groups offer, and we’re using technology and a broader understanding of the customer lifecycle to really outcompete the bigger groups.  Given we’re a hotel group that prides itself on its historical leadership in the luxury segment, we’re working hard to not lose our connection with our past, while also adapting our approach to better meet the demands of younger generations, now making the decision about where to stay when considering luxury hotel options – which includes the oft quoted millennials.

So, my prediction is that we’ll continue to see growth in the luxury segment, and certainly for Kempinski, the growth in mixed used properties that have both short term stay and residence guests, will continue.

Q: Alberto, as a senior expert in your sector, but also as a graduate of IE’s MBA program, what tips might you have to share with potential candidates and current students at IE?

A: I guess here I would share 3 tips for potential degree applicants and students already completing their course at IE:

  1. Enjoy your program! The more you learn, the fast time will pass (and the Global MBA is lots of work, so enjoy!!) Make the most especially of the work that happens in teams, and don’t forget how working in teams will help you evolve professionally, and make you more open to different points of view – something that will serve you very well if you plan to have an international career.
  2. When you finish your IE program, if your objective is to reach a top position, then it’s important to join an organization you really admire. If you love your role and your organization work won’t feel like work, and you’ll learn faster and advance more quickly. Don’t lose the spirit of fun and hard work that that characterizes the IE MBA program.
  3. Don’t be afraid to have a revolving 3 year professional development plan… And review it on a yearly basis. Always be thinking about where you are now, where I want to go, and what I have to achieve to meet your objectives. Yearly reviews are necessary to factor in changing circumstances and resources.

Closing Note on Keminski Hotels: Europe’s First (and now Oldest) Luxury Hotel Group.

Kempinski Hotels is present in over 30 countries worldwide and while you can learn more about the group here, having been established in 1897 it is one of Europe’s first luxury hotelier companies, and this year, the group is celebrating 120 years in the business.  Alberto has worked with the group in Spain, Italy, China, and now Malta, and completing the top-ranked Global MBA at IE Business School played in important part in Alberto moving into a senior leadership role at the company.

Closing Note On Entrepreneurship and IE Business School

IE Business School was founded by entrepreneurs in 1973, has had a department focused on entrepreneurship research since 1983, and today, not only do students complete courses and labs focused on new venture creation as part of their required credits, they can also compete for a spot in our Venture Lab, our participate in our on-campus incubator or accelerator.  We also work closely with the local and international ecosystems that help generate and grow start-ups, and more recently, through our Owner’s Scale-Up Program (OSP), we’ve started building expertise in helping successful entrepreneurs prepare themselves for breakthrough growth.  As part of our international outreach activities in Europe, we are actively participating in key events such as Bits & Pretzels founders festival, and new this year, ZEST Malta. To learn more about everything IE does related to entrepreneurship check out the web page https://www.ie.edu/entrepreneurship/.

Note on the Interviewer

Joël McConnell (connect on LinkedIn here) is the Director for Europe, within the International Development Department at IE.  He is also an alumni of IE Business School’s MBA and Master in Finance master programs, and recently graduated from the Global Senior Management Program (GSMP), a program jointly offered by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and IE Business School.

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