In February 2018 Duke Bishop (Hotel ’19) had the chance to talk with Monika Moser about her career with Wilson Associates, a hospitality-focused design firm, as well as her personal thoughts on a handful of subjects. Mrs. Moser is the managing director for Wilson Associates’ Paris and London offices and a graduate of the Hotel School’s Professional Development Program.
How has your 20+ years of experience in hotel operations affected how you approach a space that is to be redesigned?
First of all I must say I’m not a designer myself. I manage a team of talented designers. I have operational experience from several properties and have participated in several hotel openings as well. From opening hotels you get to understand quite a lot about the pre-opening, the construction phases, the designers, and this gave me an interest in seeing how a hotel is created before hotel operations come in. Often, hotel operators mention that designers are not always adapting the design to the operations of the hotel. Looking at it from the other side, I must say that the designers have very creative and interesting ideas that operators do not always implement correctly. Having this combination of a team of designers and an operations person in an interior design company like ours is quite interesting because the conversation starts very early with regards to what is actually feasible.
You’re a polyglot, being able to speak English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese. How has your ability to speak so many languages helped you in your professional career?
Being fluent in various languages is very helpful, specifically in our industry. But I believe that more important than speaking the languages, is actually knowing the different cultures. I grew up in several countries and that gave me an idea about their people, how they live, how they interact, how they deal. It is very helpful to understand how our clients live, their needs and the cultural differences. As a hotel professional, you travel a lot and work in other countries. You need to know how to work with different cultures.
Can you give me an example of how being aware of cultural differences has helped you professionally?
In the design industry should you want to design a hotel in South America, you can’t just come in as a foreign design company. It goes with making relationships, knowing people, taking time to get to know them better. Trust is very important in this culture. You have to know this, or else you will never succeed there.
What emerging trends in interior design are you excited about? Are there any that you wish would die out?
I leave the upcoming trends to the creativity of designers. What is very interesting is the movement towards smaller, independent hotels that are created by non-hoteliers. They have a different eye on things, and they do things differently. Very interesting concepts are arriving in the form of co-working, co-living and the open-space lobbies designed to give the client the flexible service they need at any time of the day without restricting specific departments. This is a very interesting idea that might be challenging established hotels if they don’t adapt. The flexibility for the client is very important. Designers have created very interesting new spaces adapting to the needs of the modern traveler.
Which project that you’ve worked on with Wilson Associates are you the proudest of?
Our Paris office is still very young; we opened just two years ago. For thisAtelier, we partnered with Tristen Auer, who is a very well-known signature designer in Europe. At this point, we have no finalized hotel projects, but we’re working on several major renovations and new constructions around the world. We are currently working on the interior design of the historic Carlton Hotel in Cannes, a well-known hotel at the Côte d’Azur in France. We are very proud of this renovation because it is re-enhancing the history of the building and returning it to its former glory. This kind of project is typical for our Paris Atelier.
I know that your work requires you to go back and forth between London and Paris. Has the Brexit vote had any tangible effects on your ability to work in both of these cities?
Not really. Brexit has not happened yet, and nobody really seems to know for sure what is going to happen. For the moment, there has been absolutely no effect on our business. I’m not sure that it will have an effect. actually,When discussing this with other companies in London, nobody believes that it will result in major changes.
What do you miss about Ithaca? If anything at all.
I was in Ithaca a very long time ago, in ’99. I was young, so I guess I miss the likeness about being a young student in Ithaca surrounded by other young students and having this great atmosphere amongst us. I miss the permanent exchange and input of great professionals. You get a lot of information that you have to digest. So, I think this ambiance is what I miss most.
What led you to apply to the Hotel School’s Professional Development Program?
It was a point in my life where it made sense. I found myself in a management position at a very young age and I needed some more professional advice, some more information and background to be able to move forward. My father was actually in Ithaca years ago, so he told me about Cornell in the first place. It made perfect sense at that time to do a professional development program to be able to move on, and it was a big step in my career after that. The Professional Development Program is definitely a program that one should do at one point in the career to move on.
Do you have any advice for Hotelies interested in pursuing a career in hospitality development and design?
In the hospitality industry in general, I think that academics are necessary and of course it is very important to be knowledgeable in finance, strategy and business development. However, we tend to forget that we work in a service industry and need to understand the work is done to serve a client. We must remember that a client in not a number or a percentage. What I would recommend to everybody joining this industry is to work at a very early stage. Maybe go back for your studies a second time but have an experience on site as an employee and learn there what it really means to be in the hospitality industry.
What are you looking forward to in 2018?
To continue to develop the company! Since we are just opening the office in London, and because we are still very young in Paris, we continue developing our projects in Europe and in the world. We are currently looking into developing other companies within Wilson Associates, in order to provide full service to our clients. It could be different brands, FF&E, purchasing, design schools, consulting services. This will be our main focus this year.
What is your favorite language to speak?
That’s a good question, nobody has ever asked me. Actually, it depends on the situation when I am talking. If we are discussing hospitality, funny enough it would be English, since I learnt hospitality in English. But if I would like to swear, I would do it in French… hahahahahaha.
* * *
The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.