Head of commercial and strategy, Premier Inn Germany, Whitbread
Proudest moment "Seeing the first guests check in to our new Frankfurt hotel. My team had worked tirelessly for the previous 18 months to get us to that point, and it was emotional to see all that hard work come to fruition."
Greatest inspiration "My boss, Kelli Fairbrother, for being passionate, engaging, hard-working and focused on delivering great results. But also the other senior women at Whitbread, who set an example for how to succeed as a female in a male-dominated workplace."
Ambition "I'd like to continue working in a commercial role, but perhaps work on a new brand or new business development challenge."
Sarah Elisabeth Downes' CV is full of surprises. She graduated from Oxford with a degree in materials science engineering and, before joining Whitbread, she worked at Javelin Group within the strategy consulting team, specialising in e-commerce and multi-channel retail.
But her heart is clearly in hospitality. In September 2014, just a year after joining Whitbread as group strategy analyst, Downes was promoted to lead Premier Inn's multi-hundred-million-Euro launch into the German market.
This was a massive task, but within 18 months, she and her team of 30 had opened the first Premier Inn and Costa Coffee in Frankfurt with projected revenue of â¬4m and â¬700,000 respectively. Among her many achievements in opening the 201-bedroom property was spearheading the development of a new restaurant concept as well as tailoring the Costa food menu to compete in the German market.
Downes has consistently displayed a capacity to deliver that is beyond her years and level of experience. Not least, she directly advised the chief executive and chief financial officer of Whitbread Group PLC when the group strategy director was on maternity leave. Unsurprisingly, she was recently promoted to head of commercial and strategy, Premier Inn Germany.
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