ROSANNA CAIRA: What made you want to work in the hotel industry?
CC: My grandparents owned a general store and I started working there when I was 10 years old — so the service orientation was kind of built in. I then had a couple of fortuitous things happen that got me working in the business and really found I enjoyed the dynamism of it, the fact that no two days were the same, the ability to plan around things to make them work. And a lot of the logistics around it — I like the idea of logistics and how to make things happen.
My first real job was with Delta Hotels in Ottawa, running a large entertainment room. I moved within Delta every 18 months to two years for 10 years or so — working in operations, front office, banquets, a little bit of food and beverage, sales and marketing and then back to operations.
RC: What did you learn at Delta that still helps you in your role today?
CC: Probably everything. Delta is a great Canadian hotel group and a lot of great hoteliers came out of that organization. It was a tremendous learning ground because it was, at the time, a company that had some very simple foundations around its philosophy, which was driven by its founder, Bill Pattison. He used to say, “It’s all about good people, delivering good service, driving great value.” The equation, for him, was getting the right people and the right people, in a lot of cases, were like me — green, uneducated in the business per se. But he had an extraordinary eye for detail and he pushed all of us with that same eye for detail in every aspect. He’s one of the more incredible hotel people I’ve ever been associated with. Not always an easy person to work with because of his drive for excellence, but certainly a great teacher and mentor.
RC: As president of CP Hotels during its heyday in Canada, did you feel a certain responsibility in protecting that history and iconic legacy?
CC: We always felt we were custodians — that the responsibility for a lot of these iconic assets went far beyond the day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month. The responsibility was also about tourism. Through the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s — and probably even to today — the iconic assets that are part of the Fairmont Group are a lot of the marketing of the country from a travel-and tourism perspective. I don’t think people ever lost sight of that. We’ve been very lucky in many respects — as the company has gone through evolutions and ended up with different ownership — the owners of these assets have also maintained that proud and caring nature about what to do with the properties in terms of moving them forward. We can feel pretty good about the care they’re in today.
RC: What was it like orchestrating the CP acquisition of Fairmont Hotels?
CC: We were part of Canadian Pacific Limited at the time and the company had made a conscious decision to grow in the hotel business. The management team — led by Bill Fatt as the CEO got together to review our strategic vision for the future. Canadian Pacific had previously gone outside of Canada two or three times — and each time had kind of retreated back for different reasons. Part of it was because we didn’t have a clear strategy at the time. We recognized we needed a brand — one that would be American-centric to some extent because the American market tends to be somewhat egocentric and therefore focuses on their own brands. This was a company we had identified — because of its size and scale and positioning and history — might be a good fit and that led to conversations and then to the transaction. Because we then rebranded to Fairmont, people’s perception was that the American company had acquired the Canadian company. But candidly, our hotels in Canada at that time were not known as Canadian Pacific hotels, they were known as the Frontenac, the Empress, the Royal York, et cetera. We didn’t have as much equity in the Canadian Pacific name as people might have thought, so the change was not that difficult from a strategic standpoint. It was far more difficult from an emotional standpoint — there was a challenge to separate the emotion from the strategic logic that was imperative if we were going to be able to grow the company outside of Canada.
RC: Under your guidance, Fairmont Hotels expanded significantly in the global market — more so than in Canada. What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from that international expansion?
CC: We learned a lot. Because we were so focused on culture, we exported a lot of our talent and, in many cases, that was a mistake. We needed to export the methodology, the processes, and we needed to pick certain high-touchpoint leaders. For example, people who run kitchens, or foodservice — those are the ones we needed to have the DNA transferred in. But, when it came to things such as finance and accounting in different jurisdictions — or even sales and marketing and, to some extent, general management — we should have been more biased to the local market. But we started off the other way around — top-down — thinking we needed the culture carriers. In hindsight, that probably impeded our progress in certain ways.
RC: The Canadian hospitality industry was shocked when you left Fairmont, because you were a fixture in the company for so many years. What fueled the move to the Sands Corporation in Las Vegas?
CC: The key word was fixture — you’ve got to change out the furniture now and again. We were at a point in time where we needed to rejuvenate the leadership. I had been there a long time and I felt, to some extent, I was impeding some of that momentum on the go-forward. We had come out of the recession, had the wind at our back and a lot of opportunities and new developments — things were in a pretty good place. The Las Vegas Sands Corporation provided me with three things: I didn’t have to go to work for a competitor, which I would have found extraordinarily difficult; the second thing was the gaming side, since my view of the business has always been more about the broader tourism and not just the hotel; and third, at the time I felt my background experience could be helpful for some of the challenges they were facing.
RC: Apart from its sheer size and the fact that it was an American entity, what was the major difference in working for an American company in the Vegas market?
CC: I’m not sure there was really a dramatic difference. The company was so big that being in a corporate role was almost like being an asset manager because it wasn’t really a brand — we had 35,000 people in Macau with about 10,000 rooms and we had a couple thousand in Singapore — they were big entities, big businesses. It was an allocation of capital and talent so I didn’t find it much different in terms of workstyle. It was a global company (Macau, Singapore, North America) and I had come from a company that was quite global in its process.
RC: What made you leave the Sands?
CC: I didn’t feel I was going to be able to contribute enough, given the nature of the business. It went back to being more of a holding company per se, so I wasn’t really feeling I was providing fair value so I decided to go and do something else. I looked at a lot of different things, but didn’t find anything where I could be helpful. I wanted to work with people I like; to feel like I could help shape culture or the business — it didn’t matter what the position was as long as it was a senior enough position to help. I also wanted to be someplace where I thought we could win, whatever winning would be in that business. I looked at a lot of things but it took a while before something came about that made sense.
RC: That something was Accor in 2016 — what made you take the job?
CC: I felt I could be helpful to both Accor and, at the same time, to the integration, because I knew so much about the company, the people, the owners, et cetera. It went back to my criteria, working with people I like, where I could help make a difference and where I thought we could win — and I think we can win with our pure luxury portfolio today, which consists of Fairmont, Raffles and Sofitel. We just acquired a new brand, Orient Express, and we have a partnership with Banyan Tree. With those five luxury brands, we’re the second-largest provider of luxury-hotel brands in the industry and we have a great opportunity to be number1 in that space. Put those things together and it made sense for me to do this.
RC: Two years later, do you feel the acquisition of that Fairmont company has changed the brand?
CC: It hasn’t changed the brands per se. If I look at the four key metrics at a hotel level — which is really where the brand comes to light — in 2017, the employee-engagement survey scores went up year-over-year, notwithstanding the disruption and challenges that go with an acquisition such as this. On guest service, the scores all went up. On its competitive positioning, Fairmont went up — and that’s the biggest driver. The other two brands had serious disruption issues with inventory, so it’s a bit difficult to do a like-for-like. And, when I look at the pipeline, we signed at a rate of three times the number of new hotel-management agreements compared to [the competition]. So, probably the best year we ever had as a stand-alone. If I look at those metrics, I would say the brands are very healthy from the perspective of owners, customers and team members.
RC: You’re part of the hotel’s executive committee and your title is CEO, Luxury Brands, as well as CEO, Hotel Services, North America, Central America and the Caribbean. What do those roles entail in terms of what you’re responsible for on a day-to-day basis?
CC: The real role was trying to pull together these luxury and upward-scale brands. The group of brands I work with — the ones I described that are luxury, but also Pullman, MGallery, Swissôtel and Grand Mercure — are all part of the upper-upscale portfolio, the group that forms what we call Luxe — an internal descriptor to say these are the brands we work with. Then integrating that group through a matrix organization into the broader company has been the primary role — integrating FRHI into Accor and then integrating that group into the operating structure. It’s had its challenges, but if you can frame it the right way and provide the right strategy, and people can understand the strategy, it helps people get their arms around it. But it’s a very different structure for us, because we’re a heavily decentralized organization and now you’ve got a central body trying to work with the decentralized organization.
RC: Some of the other brands mentioned are not as familiar to the Canadian marketplace. Is there any chance they’ll come to Canada?
CC: There is — the Pullman brand in particular, which is a very good solid upper-upscale brand is growing aggressively everywhere. We now have more than 100 and in the pipeline we’re up to 150, or 160. That’s a brand we can grow in the upper-upscale category.
RC: We know the Canadian market has been pretty hot over the last few years. From your vantage point, based in France, how is the international market performing?
CC: I tend to be pretty negative by nature, but I’m struggling right now with negativity because the global trends are quite incredible. At a macro level, you have tourism growing at about a four-per-cent compound growth rate for 35 years. It’s now forecast to grow at more than 4.5 to five per cent for the next 25 years. You have, on a global basis, demand in aggregate because the developed economies are not growing. You’ve got 2.5-per-cent compound growth on hotel demand but you’ve got demand growing at four to 4.5 per cent and supply at two to 2.5 per cent. So, you may have pockets where there’s an imbalance but, as an aggregate, you’ve got a tremendous foundation for any business. Europe is now rebounding, having had some challenges the last few years around terrorism, et cetera. The Middle East — specifically around the UAE — is a bit challenged by supply because it’s gearing up for World’s Fair but other than that, demand continues to grow. Asia Pacific demand continues to grow. I’m looking for negatives, but, overall, the trends are pretty strong.
RC: In your role at Accor, you have multiple brands within your portfolio. How difficult is it to manage all these different brands and keep them distinct?
CC: We established an operating structure on our brands after looking at what the other major global players were doing and what we perceived to be some of the challenges from an owner perspective or from a travel-intermediary perspective. There are three pillars to our strategy. The first thing we did for the luxury group was put a senior vice-president of Talent and Culture in place — back to my point that it’s all about people and service. Her team is the strategic group that decide the right orientation program, the training program, the hiring program, so the talent-and-culture people around the world, as they’re hiring for the different brands, are actually doing it brand-specific. They also have, within that group, somebody who screens all the GM hires. I’ll get involved with any of the ones that are either high-profile assets or where we think we’ve got to be really sure about the talent.
The second thing we did, operationally, is carve out all the upper-upscale and luxury hotels and made sure that, above the GM, they report to a senior vice-president or regional VP in the Luxe group [who] only looks after the upper-upscale and luxury hotels. In some cases, it’s not easy, because you don’t necessarily have the right geographic spread of properties, but you [don’t have] the situation where somebody could be overseeing an eco-hotel and a Raffles property in the same territory.
The third [pillar] is brand management. Each brand has a separate brand team and they work in a 360 process, which means they’ve got two or three people who are the strategists and are focused on the brand. They bring together a team made up of people who only work in that brand — a couple of GMs, a couple of people from Talent-and-Culture, Sales-and-Marketing, Food-and-Beverage — and that team comes together twice a year and are augmented with, on the design technical services side, somebody who only deals with that one brand. Same thing on development — somebody who’s doing primarily development so they’re getting an owner feedback. And we use our research so it’s a strong look from all angles as to how we’re performing, how the brand changes, the standards that we need to have. That process has worked well — keeping a dedicated focus, as opposed to having all Luxe managed by a team — [and avoided] what I call brand bleed, because maintaining the individuality of each brand is absolutely crucial.
RC: What have you learned about leadership through your career?
CC: It’s in the eye of the beholder. If I think about great leaders, there’s a certain level of authenticity, transparency and consistency required for people to really be effective. Great leaders don’t always have great vision, but there’s certainly a trust factor in the way they’re going to behave and that’s what people need to rely on. That’s how you get the most out of people — if there’s a consistent approach to your interaction and how you mentor people. The other thing about great leaders is they know how to treat everybody differently — there’s not one size fits all. You have to adjust to the team you’re working with.
RC: Accor has a very dynamic leader, Sebastien Bazin. What have you learned from him in the short time that you’ve worked with him?
CC: Keep up. Sebastien has a tremendous amount of energy and he’s got great vision. He relies on his team to fold in behind and make it work. But, he’s fundamentally changed the perception of the company. It’s a very dynamic organization. The acquisition of FRHI was a tremendous boost to our talent acquisition and the strategy is really around what he would describe as augmented hospitality. We have three buckets: the traditional hotel business and we are obviously acquiring in that area; adjacencies, which are businesses that are somewhat linked that we can leverage off of; and the third is around this whole concept of local — called AccorLocal — and using our 4,300 hotels more effectively in the local community in order to drive business into the rest of the hotels. We are working constantly on how to integrate that — how to make it work within the ecosystem and how to take full advantage of it.
RC: How has the concept of leadership evolved over the last 10 to 15 years as the industry has become more sophisticated?
CC: I’m not sure it has. If you went back 30 or 40 years, a command-and-control approach to leadership was derigueur. Today it’s a much more engaged, collaborative approach, but at the same time, there has to be clear direction and accountability. By putting accountability on people, you empower them and in doing so, you basically download a lot of that pressure. I’ve always personally aspired, or hoped, to be a level-five leader, where your whole role is to facilitate other people’s success and remove roadblocks. That’s a lot more common today, because people realize the power of effectively harnessing the strength and the resources of the entire team.
RC: Who has influenced you the most in your career as a mentor?
CC: I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate [to have worked with] so many great people. And when you work with great people you learn a lot by watching what they’re doing. I can probably go back to my uncle and grandfather, working in the general store and their whole approach to business and to people. But Bill Pattison and Simon Cooper [were people] I worked with who I had great admiration for. Bill Fatt, Robert DeMone, and the general team that I worked with at Fairmont and FRHI for years — you would be inspired by them in terms of their approach to the business.
RC: What do you think makes Accor such a great place to work and how does the company keep its consistency when it’s so hard to attract good talent?
CC: For us, first of all, it’s never been a better time to be with our company because it’s in such a dynamic mode — both on growth, but also on the dynamic change. [Accor has] a lot of long-term employees — 10-, 15-, 20-year people who had never worked anywhere else. But with that comes a huge challenge, because the company, in say June of 2016, pre-acquisition of FRHI, had gone from zero hotels to 4,200 hotels in 49 years — and done so as an owner, operator, developer, acquirer primarily of economy, mid-scale hotels, and a very heavy bias towards France and Europe. Now, 24 months later, it will be global, multibrand, brand-management focused, around augmented hospitality which means broader than hotels, with a bias towards upper-upscale and luxury. So, it’s dynamic and exciting, but man, what a challenge to keep the train on the tracks. For a lot of people who have been around a long time in the company, it’s headache time. But for attracting talent, it’s fantastic.
RC: How do you define great service?
CC: [It’s] what the customer expectation is. Great service today is being redefined by people and individually. So, one of the things you have to do — and part of it is back to orientation, hiring, training — is help people and teach them how to read their customer. Because what people are defining as great service is different from person to person more so than ever before, and that makes it even more difficult to stay relevant to your customer. It really boils down to how well you can engage and train. And, when I say train, it’s not just the formal technical training, it’s the training on how to read the customer, the training on how to react to the customer.
RC: What advice would you offer to students considering a career in the hospitality industry?
CC: Step one, go work in stewarding in a hotel and do it for six or eight months. Then, if you can, go work in housekeeping; then if you can get a stint in banqueting, do that — then you’ll never have to do it again. But you’ll also understand the heart and soul of what makes a hotel work. The second thing is to find people who you feel are going to be great leaders that you’re going to learn from and go work there. Third, don’t be afraid of taking chances and taking hard opportunities. This is a global business and it’s not going to change and the more you know about different cultures and different nuances about what people consider good service, the better off you’re going to be. But spend the time for the first four or five years gaining real education to go with your academic education and you’ll set yourself up for a great career.
RC: How important is the millennial cohort to the hotel industry?
CC: In the ’60s they were called hippies. The reality is it’s much ado about nothing. Maybe that’s a harsh statement, but millennials, by their very nature, have to find meaning in the work they do, the companies they work for, the leaders, the people. You’ve just got to find what’s going to make them tick. When it comes to the hotel product, it’s more psychographic. If you think about the people who are using a lot of what would be perceived to be millennial-styled hotels — hip hotels — a lot of them are in their 60s. It’s a mind-set, so you can’t blame it all on millennials. Because of the size of that cohort and what they’ve been doing, perhaps they are pushing — but they aren’t pushing out anybody; they’re actually bringing people in.
RC: Technology has become part of our lifestyle, but it’s pushing hotels to do business differently. How is it impacting the Accor team?
CC: The big thing with technology, in terms of the businesses, is the push for scale. This is why you’re seeing consolidation and you’ll continue to see it because you have to keep upping the game when it comes to technology — whether it’s handheld apps or distribution in room. It’s forcing us to look at every aspect of what we do and try to find ways of doing it faster and more efficiently, or adapt to the way people want to work with you. It also depends on the brand.
RC: What is the biggest challenge globally for the hotel industry moving forward in the next decade?
CC: The one reality is geopolitical events and macroeconomic areas are things you can’t really control — but the world is becoming more volatile. At a corporate level, what it means is, from a planning or budgeting perspective, you’re not sure where you’re going to get hit but you’re going to get hit from a performance perspective. Certain destinations will be hit or change but your broad-based trends are still very positive. Also, a lot of activity seems to centre around trade and a trade issue could distort travel patterns. I’m not quite sure what the impact of that would be, but it’s a very real possibility.