What began as a short-term graduate job at Club Med, the pioneer of the all-inclusive vacation concept with 65 resorts worldwide, became a colourful career choice for Christelle Ramen, who has now been working at the firm for over 20 years.
Christelle has moved up the ranks from Financial Manager at various Club Med resorts across the globe, to Business Controller, through to CFO North America in Miami, where she is now.
She’s headed up 20 of the firm’s mountain resorts across the Alps and was previously Head Business Controller and Accounting for Club Med’s Africa, Middle East and Mauritius region.
To date, she’s worked in 10 different countries across the world, led extension projects and brand-new resort openings, and driven various change management initiatives.
Christelle’s finance leadership journey
“My day-to-day role is very finance-focused of course, but I also like to project manage,” says Christelle.
“Finance already gives you a 360 view, but the project management element gives you a deeper view of the company and allows you to work even closer with other business units.”
“For me, it’s also about going outside your comfort zone and developing yourself. So I don’t just work with the operations side of business, but the commercial side too.”
Since taking up her latest role as CFO in 2019, Christelle is focused on providing guidance and business insight to senior management and shareholders as well as colleagues across other departments including sales and marketing, operations and HR.
However, since 2020, the main focus, she says, has been to build awareness about everything related to risk management, for obvious reasons.
How the pandemic affected finance at Club Med
Club Med operated in adaptive mode during the pandemic, Christelle explains. The firm itself was already ‘very good’ at crisis management due the nature of the business, with hurricanes and other extreme weather events being familiar risks. But the pandemic was of a different size and scale altogether.
Fortunately, despite the necessary closure of every single one of their resorts by the end of March 2020, some sites, such as their Florida resort, were able to reopen quickly. Other resorts have proved harder, such as its Club Med Columbus resort in the Bahamas, which is set to reopen December 2022.
“It has a population of just 800 and we are the only employer on the island. Even the airport serves Club Med. We’ve been closed for two years, so we are having to rehire everyone again, ensure the latest health and safety processes are properly initiated, and we’re working closely with the government to make sure facilities are ready to reoperate. It’s a big job.”
The company’s resorts in China meanwhile, which were initially one of the earliest to reopen, have recently closed again due to a return to local lockdown measures in recent months.
Yet despite the upheaval, Christelle is proud of Club Med’s response to the pandemic.
“We entered the crisis from a very strong position in terms of cash and we’re very happy now to rebound today.”
“Of course, the crisis hit us hard and we lost a lot of money, but we remained resilient due to our existing business model and now we’re able to move from a reactive approach to a proactive one.”
Christelle’s change management initiative
Part of what provided Club Med with a solid foundation with which to withstand the uncertainties of the past two years was the change management initiative led by Christelle back in 2015.
In essence, the drive was about securing the business by harmonising operations, processes, key talent, and reducing inefficiencies.
“Previously, there was one financial manager per resort, but with resorts continually opening and closing at different times during the year, we had a big staff turnover, with employees continually moving from one resort to another,” Christelle explains.
“It wasn’t a sustainable way of doing things and with people constantly moving around there was a loss of knowledge.”
“So, our programme involved bringing everybody together into regional offices. At the same time, we reviewed and evaluated key processes in terms of what needed to be automated and simplified. We set up a shared service centre, aligning processes and operations which harmonised every business process. So this was huge and involved a significant mindset change.”
But as Christelle explains, while the initiative itself may have officially completed in 2017, change management is a continual process. Club Med, like every other business, is now learning to adapt to a hybrid model post-Covid.
For a business rooted in leisure and tourism, this is no easy feat. “Club Med is based on social exchanges. We have a big oral tradition. We like gatherings, we like to be together, so it’s been difficult to make this shift, but I believe that going through these kinds of changes make you grow as a person and as a team and that’s important. And that’s key.”
Christelle’s power profile
Which books have had the most influence on her life?
“Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell for the strength in character shown by Scarlett O’Hara, Lord of the Rings by JR Tolkien for its fantasy universe and The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz as it provides guidance in life.”
Who is her hero?
“There’s a motto I really like: ‘you are the average of the people you hang out with’, so as well as my family, my circle of friends and those who I interact with have all helped me become a better person. I also really like management theorist Simon Sinek and of course Nelson Mandela. He once said ‘I never lose, I learn or I win’ and I love that.”
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