With a long and illustrious career behind her you might think Bern’s Group Managing Director Yvonne Sörensen would take some time to rest on her laurels. If you’re thinking that then you haven’t met this driven, intelligent and humorous woman who has made her name as one of the top players in Sweden’s hotel and restaurant industry.
I met Yvonne at Berns Asiastiska Restaurant in central Stockholm, where we sat amidst the luxurious ambiance of the imposing yet intimate room. An hour spent discussing her career ups and downs and it was clear that this was not your ordinary businesswoman.
While still at high school Yvonne Sörensen worked weekends and holidays at Scandic Hotel. After graduation she took a gap year, continuing to work at the hotel before pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Well, she never made it to law school because during that gap year a passion and talent was not only ignited, it was noted by her employers and before she was out of her teens Yvonne was on the path of a dizzying career ascent. After 18 months at Scandic Yvonne moved on to a hotel in Geneva, where she eventually became head of Sales and Marketing.
Moving to a new job and gathering new skills has been the hallmark of Yvonne’s career; her two and half years in Geneva gave way to a return to Stockholm, where she embarked on a period was a time of incredible growth; she returned to Scandic and began moving up the ranks, eventually becoming a hotel General Manager. Scandic saw Yvonne as an example of a young woman who could go far in the company, but Yvonne says this was a bit dangerous.
‘When you’re an attractive young woman making a big splash you need to be careful; you don’t want to be a mascot. You need to make sure you have the skills and talent that will take you into the future,’ says Yvonne.
In those days sexism was fairly rampant in the service industry but while Yvonne says she didn’t encounter it all that often there were a few incidents, such as the time a salesman asked to see the General Manager. When she replied that she was the GM the salesman laughed – and he didn’t make the sale. A few years later that same salesman apologised – and then he made the sale.
After six years Yvonne left Sweden again, with stints in Brussels, Paris and, eventually, London, joining Swedish company Securum as Sales and Marketing Director UK. During this time Sweden was suffering a severe financial crisis and eventually Yvonne began overseeing UK hotels that were acquired during the financial meltdown, evaluating the hotels and their future.
This was followed by yet another return to Stockholm where Yvonne decided it was time to work at a four star hotel. But she didn’t go to just any four star hotel – she went to Stockholm’s Grand Hotel, where she updated the premises and implemented new schemes, breathing fresh air into the creaky dinasaur.
Then a head hunter came knocking and she took another leap, this time becoming Managing Director of what was then a rather tired little Stockholm hotel, Hotel Birger Jarl. Her colleagues at Grand thought she was crazy but Yvonne saw it for what it was: a unique opportunity to make her mark.
And make her mark she did. She set about changing the hotel’s rather tired reputation by implementing a Swedish Design theme, and in the process pioneered ‘designer hotel rooms’, where name designers were more or less given carte blanche to design a room to their taste. The resulting domestic and international publicity changed the hotel’s fortunes, turning it into a boutique destination with four stars and Yvonne had a smashing success on her hands.
Giving the hotel a face-lift wasn’t the only trick up Yvonne’s sleeve. The hotel began hosting exhibitions, including one with legendary Swedish design company Svensk Tenn. Before long Svensk Tenn was knocking on her door and after much persuasion Yvonne put her considerable talents to work for this rather dusty old design company by revisiting its history and making it cool and hip across the generations.
Finally the position of CEO at Berns Group landed in her lap, offering yet another opportunity to take a struggling brand and turning its fortunes around.
Need I tell you that she’s been as wildly successful at Berns as she has been most everywhere else? The formerly ailing restaurant is now one of the hottest spots in Stockholm, while the hotel was recently named the best boutique hotel in Europe.
Today Yvonne says she’s happy where she’s at – but when I ask if there’s anything she still wants to do with her career she says ‘If we get new hotel contracts I’d like to work with that. But my heart is also with the restaurant business and Berns is more about the restaurants than the hotels – and we’re growing that area. I like to say that Berns is an entertainment palace with rooms – and that is what makes this job so rewarding: every day is different and offers the opportunity to tackle new things.’