InFocus: Gert F Kopera

07/05/2024

Gerts’ illustrious career, spanning over 30 incredible years in 18 global destinations, is a great testimony of his relentless pursuit for excellence and his true passion for the industry. His reputation as a charismatic and strong leader who cherishes precision and leads by example, is second to none. He has not only left an astonishing mark on the industry but also on its people. Human capital is and has always been his focus. Forging an exciting, challenging, diverse and family-like environment for his teams, ensuring growth and development is the most important investment to Gert and one that has certainly guaranteed his success.

He spent the first 13 years of his career with Hilton International in various Food & Beverage roles which took him from Austria (his native country) to the UK, the UAE, Madagascar, Kenya and Greece. Gert then completed the following 15 years with Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, enjoying both, on-property, and corporate-based positions. In his roles as Director of Operations and then as Managing Director in Saudi Arabia, Japan, Switzerland and Indonesia, he had full P&L responsibility for stunning properties, always with an eye on using F&B as calling card of his hotels. He later moved to the company’s corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas, where he became Vice President of Food & Beverage for the group guiding the development and financial success of restaurants and bars at Rosewood hotels across the globe.

His passion for the restaurant and bar business led him to join Jumeirah Group in Dubai as Senior Vice President F&B. In 2014, he joined D.ream, a Dogus Group as Chief Operating Officer, responsible for a large portfolio of restaurants and brands, followed a few years later when he joined Hakkasan Group as Executive Vice President. In those key roles, his visionary leadership has seen Gert restructure businesses, develop exceptional leaders, create unique concepts, orchestrate international openings and expansions as well as strategic investments which he is highly recognised for. A notable achievement was to successfully retain Michelin-star status at three Hakkasan restaurants: Hakkasan Mayfair, Hakkasan Hanway Place and Yauatcha Soho while steering the global restaurant business of Hakkasan Group to financial success.

Gert now runs a hospitality consultancy company called In-cube8r, based in Switzerland, with his business partner Pablo Graf, another highly respected leader in luxury hospitality. As strategic hospitality consultants, they focus on conceptual and operational design, restructure businesses, develop teams and design the tools to perform, take on rescue missions and help the odd start-ups. Engaged in restaurants, hotels and hospitality business internationally, In-cube8r advises business owners and operators on how to improve yield and drive EBIDTA.

Before we start, I think our readers would love to get to know you. Can you tell us your story and what was the biggest turning point in your career?

When Rosewood offered me the opportunity to move into the corporate role, Rosewood was busy redefining its differentiator / USP in the world of ultra luxury hotels. There and then, I realised that the biggest upside by far lies in changing the way we see, develop and operate restaurants and bars, from concept to content to human capital. Rosewood, like many other hotel companies has amazing locations, perfect platforms for creative RnB – but Rosewood used these locations to create awareness, build a global team and deliver profits. We engaged expert consultants to develop creative concepts and give us an unbiased view, we listened and actively learned. Today, at In-cube8r, we help owners and investors to bring creativity, passion, structure to their businesses to drive sustainable profits.

 

Your career has seen you travel the globe with your family. What are the highlights of an international career and how do you feel it has benefited your family? 

Multilingual upbringing (French, English, Mandarin, Malagasy, German) is a definite plus. Learning to respect people for who they are, rather than opt for simple “labelling”, and the joy to adopt and adapt from a young age has given our sons a unique platform to build on. We find a bright side in most situations; we embrace diversity and see things with very little bias. Other than a life as diplomat, no other career offers the unique opportunity to travel and experience the world and get paid for doing what we love most.

 

Back in 2014, as Jumeirah Group Senior Vice President Food & Beverage, you created a distinct R&B (Restaurants & Bars) Division, versus F&B. This was a highly innovative idea. Could you remind us of the thinking behind it and how is it even more relevant now, 10 years later?

F&B, for the most part, is more of an amenity to hotels than a calling card and profit centre.

RnB in contrast, focuses on creating the magic that only free-standing restaurants and bars can deliver. With all its imperfection and rough edges, RnB properly implemented brings character and creates destinations. Placing the right concepts into a hotel / residential club / mall gives visibility, engages a market bigger than the pool of in-house guests and drives profits.

See RnB as a free-standing operation, even if it is fully managed in-house. Professional General Managers or Chef Patrons are given full P&L responsibility and are guided and supported by resources at corporate level rather than controlled. No reporting to an EAM i.c., an F&B Director or Asst F&B Mgrs., no constant dilution of talent. Remuneration and bonus are based on actual performance and team members have a career. This makes for an exciting work environment, creates sense of ownership and develops passionate professionals who are happy to spend their lives in RnB – as they love what they do and do what they love.

 

What is the advantage of R&B vs F&B for team members?

Whereas F&B in the hotel industry is often seen as pathway to hotel / general management, RnB creates the passion that turns into a profession. Employees identify with a brand, their contribution is valued, and the doors to a global career wide open. The traditional friction between front and back of house, the “us and them” becomes WE as all want to work together on the common, clearly defined, transparent goal of fun, excellence and financial success. Rules are different, personality is encouraged,

 

In a world where a return to the roots is growingly important, could you share your views on authenticity when it comes to restaurants and bars experiences?

Creating a destination is the key to sustainable success and authenticity to concept is the basic ingredient. Whatever the USP, I say refine it, stick to it, drive it home, and do not dilute. The concept, a focused delivery, and the buy-in of the team are the core message to your customers.

 

What risks do restaurants face with the rise of real estate and food and beverages costs?

Every risk has a potential upside.

The cost of rent, food, beverage and payroll should rarely be an isolated, primary concern. When owners / operators understand that the team and the tools at hand (food, beverage, talent and location) are true assets to be cherished and managed, not the liability or cost percentage to reduce, they found the opportunity.

Talent, produce, and location are after all the only assets an operator / owner has, coupled with solid structure and creativity, these make up most ingredients to profitability.

Professionals in their field (i.e. food service consultants or concept designers) can streamline production, allowing for smaller, cost optimised kitchens, lower manning and keep investments sensible. Calling on professionals to develop CD – ID – OD (Concept, Interior, Operational Design) from the planning stage, significantly improves the chance for success.

RnB gives visibility and gets the local market to embrace a location. Landlords everywhere are reconsidering the relation with RnB tenants and see the benefits that good RnB brings to a location rather than simply the rent for a particular space. Professionals can engage and convince landlords and investors and negotiate solutions that share the upside and the risk, creating win-win situations.

When it comes to cost of food, go local, be creative. Expensive ingredients are no guarantor for tasty food, a creative chef, an engaged team will do the trick.

 

Let’s talk about empowerment and career development, which I know is a crucial topic for you. The mindset and perspectives of many people working in hospitality have changed in the recent years. What is your take on it and how do you think the industry needs to navigate through this to attract and retain talent?

The industry needs to learn once again to value its professionals and to support platforms to entice, create and develop these talents. Schools, investment in training, career planning and owners supporting growth of individuals, even if it leads talent to the competition is key. The world of hospitality is round, and a great reputation attracts the best in the industry. We all, owners and operators need to invest in the future of our one, our major asset – the talent.

Performance oriented pay, sharing upside and risk, caring for and engaging with employees, as well as transparent management directly relates to a healthy ROI.

Today, far too many are applying at restaurants and bars simply for a job, a transient engagement, a way to earn money. But RnB has so much more to give, it is an industry like no other. Everyone has equal opportunity to gain experience, to have fun, to earn, to learn, to travel and explore the world, to peak into lives, cultures and habits of others. An opportunity to be at the centre of the action as well as to shape it, the chance to meet exciting / famous / fun people up close and personal, to share our passion, to smile and to be proud. RnB offers instant gratification on par with on stage performers.

Already at initial stages in a professional life, we get responsibility, we learn about leadership, motivation and negotiation. RnB is never monotonous, there are no two days alike. The career ladder has lots of stages and can lead to the very top.

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