Sinead Derham Of The Hard Rock Hotel Dublin On Leadership

By Emily Hourican
Sinead Derham Of The Hard Rock Hotel Dublin On Leadership

The Hard Rock Hotel Dublin is unusual in having an all-female senior team. General manager Sinead Derham tells Hospitality Ireland about the strength that this represents.

Tell us about the key leadership positions in Hard Rock Hotel Dublin and who occupies them.

My name is Sinead Derham, and my current position is general manager at the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin. My hospitality career began when I fell in love with the hotel business while working part time in a hotel during college. I went back to college to study hospitality management in GMIT, and my first permanent position was with Tifco Hotel Group, as assistant food-and- beverage manager at Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport. During this time, I also returned to study on a part-time basis and completed a master’s in hospitality management.

Over the next few years, I worked in a number of positions until I joined the pre- opening team of the Crowne Plaza Dundalk, as food-and-beverage manager, where I gained first-hand experience in all the behind-the-scenes work involved in the opening of a brand-new hotel.

In 2010, I joined the 501-bedroom Burlington Hotel as food-and-beverage manager and was promoted to director of operations two years later. At the time, the Burlington was Ireland’s largest conference hotel, and I gained invaluable experience in running large conferences and high-profile events. During my time there, the hotel also underwent a significant refurbishment and rebrand, to DoubleTree by Hilton. In 2015, I joined the Hilton Dublin Kilmainham as general manager, where I spent a very enjoyable four years before joining the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin as general manager in 2020. After a challenging first two years, making our way through the Covid pandemic, the hotel has gone from strength to strength, and I’m really looking forward to what’s in store this year.


Joining me on my management team are:

Stephanie Hayes, director of sales and marketing, has been at the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin since Day One and was a key part of the opening team. An experienced sales and marketing professional, Stephanie has been with Tifco Hotel Group for 14 years and held the position of director of sales and marketing at Clontarf Castle Hotel from 2010 to 2020, during which time the hotel went through a significant rebrand. Prior to that, she worked with Sinnott HotelsBrooks Hotel, the Connemara Coast Hotel, and the Shelbourne Hotel.

Julie Fitzpatrick, our financial controller, is a graduate of Galway International Hotel School and a qualified CIMA management accountant. Julie joined the team at Tifco Hotel Group as financial controller in October 2017 and is responsible for a number of hotels within the group, including working with us here at the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin. Prior to joining Tifco, Julie worked for Jurys Inn Group in various roles, at property and group level, in both Ireland and the UK.

Aisling Byrne, our rooms manager, joined the team in August last year, after ten years of working in the US and Irish hospitality industry, most recently at the five-star Antara The Marker hotel. Aisling is passionate about delivering exceptional guest experiences and inspiring other aspiring female leaders in the hospitality industry.

Laura Coghill is our cluster revenue manager and part of the opening team for the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin while still looking after Clontarf Castle, also in Tifco Hotel Group, where she absolutely enjoys the challenge of two very different properties. Laura has been with Tifco Hotel Group for 14 years and began her career on the front desk at the Hodson Bay Hotel, before moving into the reservations department. She stayed with the O’Sullivan Group for a number of years and was on the opening team of the Sheraton Athlone Hotel.


Denisa Hatalova, Hard Rock Hotel Dublin’s accommodation manager, has been working at the hotel for almost two and a half years. Prior to her arrival at the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin, Denisa worked in accommodation manager roles with the Alex Hotel, Aramark, and Clontarf Castle Hotel. At the Hard Rock Hotel, Denisa is responsible for all housekeeping operations, cleaning and inspecting all guest rooms, public areas and back of the house, and to ensure compliance with proper cleaning techniques, procedures, and brand standards.

Has the creation of an all-female team been by chance, or more by design?

It has always been the ethos of the company to recruit the correct person for the role, regardless of their gender. When recruiting for senior roles, our focus has always been on attracting customer-centric, team-oriented individuals with a strong passion for achieving the goals of the business. All of the senior team at the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin display these characteristics in abundance, and now a significant number also happen to be female!

I think that the prevalence of females in senior positions is testament to the fact that hospitality is an industry where women don’t feel restricted or constrained, and [they] can progress to senior positions purely on merit, and not based on their gender.

What are the strengths of this?


I think that women are interested in people as individuals and in helping each person to reach their potential. This, in turn, helps the overall success of the business. Our female team are very flexible and open to change, and this is very important in an industry like hospitality, where things change very frequently, and we need to be prepared to adapt easily and quickly. In addition to that, it is important to note that we also have a number of male managers, who play a pivotal role in the success of the business.

How does female leadership style differ from others?

I think that female managers tend to focus on the person behind each role and understanding what their individual needs are, while also ensuring that the key objectives and goals of the business are met.

Being empathetic to people’s needs, be it the customer or team member, is very important in the hospitality industry, and so it tends to attract individuals with these characteristics. I think that women are very understanding of the need for work-life balance and willing to adapt situations if necessary. I have certainly found if you look after your team when they need help, they will go the extra mile for the business when you really need them to.

Are there also challenges with this?


There are always challenges when leading a team of people. I think that, by nature, the hospitality industry demands us to be flexible and willing to adapt at short notice, and so this just helps us to deal with any challenges that come along the way. I don’t feel that there are any specific challenges pertaining to female leadership which cannot be overcome through good communication and collaboration.

What changes have you noticed within the hotel, having more female faces in those key roles?

Our relationships with key stakeholders have always been very strong, and our suppliers, customers and team members have always displayed a very positive and welcoming attitude towards our team. We do feel that having a female management team is a strong selling point when recruiting new positions, as it is immediately apparent to potential team members that female managers can progress to the top at our organisation.

Do customers notice? How do they respond?

Customers care about a friendly face, a warm welcome, and that they get a fantastic guest experience at the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin and in our bar and restaurant, Zampas. These are their priorities – gender isn’t relevant.

Tell us about the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin – the trajectory so far.

The Hard Rock Hotel Dublin opened as a beautiful, brand-new hotel in February 2020, and the next month, we closed our doors as a result of the Covid pandemic. After a tough couple of years that followed, we are most certainly on an upward trajectory now. We’ve a challenging 2024 budget to deliver and there are key growth targets in occupancy and overall revenues, but we are hopeful our team will rise to the challenge.

What is the ethos of the hotel – who is the projected customer?

We have fully embraced the Hard Rock values, which fit into our everyday life here at the Hard Rock Hotel Dublin.

We practise honesty, integrity and professionalism in all of our dealings, and we encourage all of our team to maximise their potential within their roles. We also do our very best to create brand excitement through constant innovation and consistently aim to deliver an amplified service to our guests.

The projected customer is everyone from the professional couple who work hard by day and want to wind down at a great gig at night to the corporate traveller looking for somewhere with a more lifestyle focus and less corporate for their midweek business trip. We also welcome incentive groups looking to experience all that Dublin has to offer in one of the city’s best locations, with brilliant music experiences in our rooms and in Zampas. ‘All is one’ is one of our mottos – everyone is welcome.

What is unique about the hotel?

Every Hard Rock Hotel is all about the music, and that is our unique point of difference – from the guest arrival at reception, which is surrounded by specially commissioned artwork featuring many of the Irish greats, from Luke Kelly and Bono to Sinéad O’Connor and Phil Lynott, to the customer journey to their room, where they will find their favourite genre of music playing on arrival. We also offer a ‘Sound of Your Stay’ programme that gives guests access to our in-house Fender collection and amps, to rock out in their rooms or chill out with a Crosley record player and vinyl.

Beyond the in-room music experiences, there’s a great music vibe in our bar and restaurant, too, with all genres of music and live bands on selected nights while guests enjoy a cocktail or dinner in Zampas. We’ve our own vibe manager, too – Joe Ballance – and he drums and DJs, as well as arranging everything from our live-music schedule to lighting and ambience. A special mention, too, to our gorgeous building, which is listed and one of the standout buildings on this side of the city.

What are your plans for the future?

As a team here, we feel that we have time to make up for. Between opening in February 2020 and closing three weeks later, and all of the opening/closing with Covid restrictions, this really is only our second full trading year, so we want to make it a great one and, most importantly, to continue to deliver memorable experiences for all our wonderful guests.

What are the major industry challenges right now?

The talent pool and encouraging young people into the hospitality industry has been, and continues to be, a challenge. It’s such a dynamic, rewarding and fast- paced industry, and we need to do more to communicate that message. The VAT rate going back up to 13.5% last October has posed challenges, in that room rates are back on the same time last year, and the VAT increase just can’t be passed on to the individual customer. The restaurant is a cost-heavy part of the business, and the recent VAT increase was another blow.

What are the opportunities?

Dublin is thriving, and it’s a jam-packed summer ahead, with high-profile gigs, UEFA, rugby, American football, etc. We’re well positioned in the city to have a strong year and to grow our occupancy. The US dollar is also strong, and that will help ensure a continued stream of North American business, too, which is very important in our overall mix.