Sharon Cohen is Vice President of Fairmont Brand Management for AccorHotels in Paris, France and a graduate of the International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM).
As the leader of the Fairmont brand, Sharon is responsible for Fairmont’s global brand strategy, product development and positioning and brand standards. She works closely with other teams in AccorHotels’ Luxury Brands organization to enhance and differentiate Fairmont’s competitive position in the luxury hotel segment.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role.
I’m Canadian and recently moved to Paris, France with my husband and my eight year old son to lead the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts brand. In my current role, I’m responsible for Fairmont’s brand strategy, positioning and marketing. I’m also responsible for developing and innovating the products, services and programming we offer our guests worldwide. I’ve been privileged to have spent the vast majority of my career in the hotel business; one of the rare industries that operates first from the heart. In hospitality you have to be driven by a love for making people feel welcome, recognized and appreciated, and I consider myself exceptionally lucky that I get to do that in my role every day.
Why did you make the choice to do the IMPM (e.g. What were the drivers of this choice? Were there any specific considerations that guided your decision?)
I had wanted to further my education for years; both for my own personal growth and satisfaction, and to further my ability to do a better job every day. My career had progressed steadily through the years and every time I had an opportunity to think about starting an educational program, another opportunity came up – often requiring a move to a different country / city. When things settled down, I wanted to find a program that would suit my personal schedule and allow me to juggle a full-time job and a 1-year old son. The IMPM program allowed me to devote concentrated time out of the office and away from daily tasks to focus on learning. In between the modules, I was able to plan my own time to complete the work required for the program. Aside from the logistics of the program working well for my situation, most important to me was the pedagogy. I have never been one to tolerate the traditional learning system where we memorize and spit out, where the professor speaks and the students listen, and where we study theoretical ideas without putting them into practice. What attracted me to the IMPM program was the ability to learn from my fellow students and immediately apply the learnings we gained from the modules in a very practical way.
What kind of support did your employer provide?
I was fortunate to have had the full support of my employer which allowed me to spend time out of the office required to complete the modules. They in turn gained from the knowledge that I returned with after every module and of course the accumulated knowledge I gained throughout the program that helps me to this day perform at my best.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about management school that need to be corrected?
I think the one big misconception about starting any management school / program at the executive level is the overwhelming feeling that stops so many people from committing; and that’s the impression that they will not be able to fit the additional work in because they are too busy; especially women balancing full time jobs and the needs of their family / children. I can speak from experience to say that it isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely possible! It’s truly amazing what you can fit into your life when something is important to you and the energy you gain from it.
Can you share three key takeaways from your experience with the IMPM?
The IMPM did not change me as a manager at my core; what it did however in the most powerful way, was adjust the lens I was looking through when approaching various situations in order to see things from multiple angles. The skills to step back, reflect (a big part of the program learnings), and understand the various biases team members / colleagues / customers have ingrained in them have been the most important takeaways I gained in the program.
How has the IMPM contributed to your career in the long term?
Each module of the IMPM gave me a set of practical tools that I use in my daily work which accumulated over the course of the program and culminated in an extensive toolkit that I use on a regular basis. In fact, many years later, I often pull out my refection book where I jotted down thoughts and “aha moments” during the program which continue to inspire me today. In addition to those learnings, equally impactful for me, was the increased personal confidence and sense of accomplishment that serves me to this day.