'Know the numbers, know the business' is Steven Lake’s motto. In the busy hotel game, success only comes with knowing all about the business.
We have more than 200 hotels across Australia and also operate 28 Qantas lounges domestically and internationally. I’m responsible for compliance, internal controls, governance and maximising financial performance across all those businesses. Total revenue across the business in Australia is about A$2 billion. I also lead the food and beverage business on the executive committee and am on our diversity committee, with the major focus on Indigenous, gender and mature-age talent.
I started with AccorHotels in 1990 as assistant financial controller at Perth’s Novotel. At the end of the 1990s, I went to the UK and worked for Gillette and EDS, a big computer company. But I missed hotels, so I went to work for Hilton. When I returned to Australia in 2002, I started at Deloitte as an auditor, but didn’t like that as much as I hoped, hence the leap back into hotels.
Numbers came naturally to me at school. I went to the University of Melbourne and completed a Bachelor of Commerce. People told me finance was a good background to have; the further I’ve gone in my career, the more I’d agree. The more anyone can know about the numbers of their business, the easier it will be for them.
Our capital expenditure is intense and is primarily involved in staying current. The accommodation industry has experienced major disruption from the digital age, especially in relation to booking, hotel reviews and social media. Trends happen much more quickly.
Labour component margins are much more relevant, too. To be truly competitive, a hotel has to be a 24/7 operation staff-wise. Rates are still relatively low in Australia for quality accommodation, and our labour costs are higher compared with other countries.
In my very first role, my boss at the time was about to get married, and I was offered leave cover. It was six months of fast-track experience and within a month I was offered my first FC [financial controller] role and then a transfer to another division.
That was exciting. I was in charge of capital expenditure across the whole of the business, responsible for many millions of dollars around the country. I was thrown in the deep end, but it was great exposure.
It’s all about building a great team. As a leader, you [must] spend time developing and maintaining your team. Be open to new ideas and remain current in this fast-moving digital age. You’ve got to develop and maintain relations with key stakeholders in the business, especially the hotel owners. That way, when any problems arise, you’ve already established that rapport and it’s much easier to find a solution.
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