Nominative determination being what it is, it was perhaps inevitable that Melanie was always going to work in finance with a surname like Proffitt. She once joked to her now-husband that she wouldn’t change her name when they married because it was ‘too good to give up’.
“I often wonder if I got more job interviews than I otherwise would because of my surname,” jokes Melanie, who has been working in finance for over 25 years. “But maths was my strongest subject at school, so I always knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Early on in her finance and accountancy career, Melanie made the conscious decision to work in business, preferring to ‘get under the skin’ of a company and help drive strategy from the inside. But unlike many finance professionals who choose to specialise in a particular area, Melanie opted for variety.
She’s worked at a Formula One car engine manufacturer, an Easter egg packaging company, a specialist fertility clinic in Harley Street. Now, she heads up the finance team at a Cotswold-based luxury hotel brand.
“The sectors may be different, but the fundamental principles of finance always stay the same; it’s just the nuances of the business that changes,” Melanie explains.
For Melanie, it’s about recognising the human capital element of each business while balancing the technology and commercial side. A big part of this is making a positive impact on her teams. She likens the joy and satisfaction one feels from inspiring and supporting team members to the excitement of passing exams. “It’s a win:win: inspiring people to do their best job ultimately helps me do my best job.”
Often, this is through driving change, which has been a ‘common theme’ in Melanie’s career: the need to shake up organisations and create meaningful efficiencies, based on benchmarking exercises and looking to other sectors for best practice. It’s where Melanie’s diverse experience across a range of industries helps add value.
“One of the beauties of changing sectors is that you don’t come with preconceived ideas. It’s then easy to challenge the status quo and ask questions. You can bring a fresh perspective to things. It’s important to keep an open mind and look outside your sector to see where change and market disruptors may be coming from.”
Airbnb is a case in point. The online marketplace for holiday rentals became a major disruptor almost overnight. “The hospitality sector is very capital-intense,” says Melanie. “Yet Airbnb is actually a technology platform; they don’t own any property. Who’d have thought you’d pay to sleep in someone else’s bed?”
Airbnb may not be a natural competitor to Farncombe Estate. The former is an online platform for holiday accommodation. The latter is a Cotswolds-based luxury hotel brand, but it would have been ill-advised to assume there was no target market overlap. So how did Farncombe respond to this market disruptor?
“It’s about creating a strong brand,” says Melanie. “Brand reputation is huge. We get a lot of repeat business – guests know they can expect a luxurious, memorable guest-centric experience. Airbnb, on the other hand, can be a lottery.”
Social media and online platforms like Tripadvisor, says Melanie, play a ‘key part in building a strong brand proposition: 93% of people read about a venue online before making a decision, so ignoring online reputation is a risky strategy.
“The strength of brands today is more linked to social media interactions and social media influencers rather than magazines and generic advertisements. How we gather and utilise data to analyse interactions and assess strength-of-brand has changed, especially during the pandemic.”
Gathering online data and analytics around interaction and customer habits and behaviours is essential, not just to help build a strong brand proposition but also from a strategic point of view. A big part of Melanie’s role in harnessing this data is to interpret it and turn it into meaningful information to help business leaders make better decisions.
“I’m not a hotel operator, but I can show management the consequences of their decision-making using data to help steer them in the right direction.”
Digital transformation programme
When Melanie first joined Farncombe Estate in 2017, the company was already going through significant change and needed a CFO to take it to the next level. Melanie led a vast digital transformation programme, implementing a centralised property management system that streamlined back-office data, creating powerful analytics.
“It’s helped us create a unique guest service experience,” says Melanie. “There is now one record – and therefore one bill – for each guest, regardless of which hotels they stay at or facilities they’ve used. It provides a wealth of information and insight into guest’s habits and preferences, allowing for a more personalised experience. The system can pick up, for example, on a bottle of wine that was ordered, so the next time they visit, we can ask if they’d like it again.”
And from a cost savings perspective, it has shone a light on business inefficiencies, from reducing the number of different management systems used to the transactional processing time required, freeing up employees time to deliver that personal and unique experience.
“The property management system has revolutionised our back-office and front-end systems,” says Melanie. “It enabled the business to make good decisions through its data and freed up employees’ time so that they can focus on delighting our guests. This is what I love most, making that difference and adding value.”