MIAMI BEACH, FL—Fisher Island Club’s CEO Bernard Lackner is a veteran hotelier who has hospitality deep in his roots—his family owned an inn in his hometown of Hamburg, Germany. In the early years, a career in hospitality seemed all but certain. Lackner explored studying law and going into real estate, but a stint at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hamburg, Germany, finally sealed the deal for him.
“I liked the interaction with people and the global aspect of it,” said Lackner. “That is where I got the first taste of the hospitality industry and I expanded from there to Paris, New York, Palm Springs, CA, and back to New York, and finally here in Miami.”
Four years ago, he took the helm of the exclusive enclave complete with its own post office, grocery store, restaurants, school and even zip code to oversee the operations and direction of all of Fisher island’s amenities and services. Being on an island that caters to the elite has its perks, but for Lackner there was little time for leisure and much work to be done—renovations, service enhancements and more. The slate of projects were ambitious, ranging from completing a $60-million dollar capital investment that would overhaul its facilities, including the spa, beach club and the Vanderbilt mansion, named after the prestigious family that vacationed there.
“We completely overhauled and revitalized the place. It was quite a challenging project. For us, my objective is membership satisfaction and we have all kinds of measuring tools in place to see how high the membership satisfaction is. That is a crucial part of my goals and objectives,” said Lackner. “When members are here or come back after summer, we want them to say ‘Wow, what happened here?’ in terms of food, beverage, service and the whole package. Then we have the ‘wow, wow effect’ and so what that really means is we’re constantly striving to do better, and that’s what we’ve done over the past four years.”
Fisher Island Club’s improvements were a lengthy process, taking three years to finish. The mansion has been restored to its former glory; there are three restaurants; and the retreat is one of the few to have all four Grand Slam playing surfaces for tennis professionals and enthusiasts. “It’s quite unique. Many of the top 20 players warm up here before the Australian Open. We also have a beautiful golf course restored and fantastic spa that has everything and anything one can imagine. It’s a place that is of the highest standards,” he said.
Sprucing up aside, Lackner also made a move that, upon first glance, seems radical. He culled the Club’s 38 guestrooms down to just 15 in an effort to maintain a sense of luxury and exclusivity. “We have an amazing product. We have 15 rooms completely renovated with beautifully designed bath fixtures. It’s like a five-star hotel and if you look at the statistics, the average rate is $1,000 higher in Florida. In terms of quality assessments, we’re always ranked very high in Florida and the U.S. when it comes to service standards.”
It is Lackner’s business philosophy, which is highly focused on trust, that informs the day-to-day management of the property as well as the staff members that execute on his projects. He also credits the Fisher Island Club’s realization of recent milestones to the fundamental characteristics of success.
“You’re only as good as your team. I believe in teamwork and making sure that among team members there’s a high degree of positive communication, cooperation and support so the end results are measurable and quantifiable,” he said. “I have two slogans—passion and purpose. You have to have a high degree of passion in what you’re doing otherwise the ability to succeed is rather limited. I’ve been doing this for 35 years. I compare it to being a musical director who should passionately try to put all musicians together, so you have a beautiful harmony at the end of the day. This is what I’m doing. One of my key objectives is to ensure these individuals play in harmony and the performance across the board is at a very high level, so members here can say that was a beautiful performance.”