No-bull Bazin an agent of change at Accor
14 NOVEMBER 2014 9:13 AM
Sébastien Bazin earned a reputation at Colony Capital as a no-bull shark who could smell incompetence as if it were blood in water. That’s a good thing for Accor.
My first real exposure to Sébastien Bazin, aside from the news release announcing his appointment to chairman and CEO of Accor in August 2013, came more than six months later as I read through a transcript of an interview HNN’s Jeff Higley conducted with him at the International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin. Halfway through the 17-page Word document, I found myself doing something I’ve never done in my six years of reading countless such transcriptions: I was laughing out loud.
Here was a guy, on paper at least, that exuded more charm, wit and humor than you’d be able to extract from your average executive team in aggregate.
What’s more, he was refreshingly (and often brutally) honest in his assessment of Accor at the time. Of the then-fledgling HotelInvest division, which oversees Accor’s real estate investments, he said, “We’re lagging. We’re not bad; we just have to fix it. It’s going to take the group two to three years to be at the level of the other hotel investors.”
Before I continue, perhaps a bit of context is in order.
Bazin didn’t just emerge from some fertile spawning pool of charismatic hotel executives. He came by way of Colony Capital, one of Accor’s largest outside shareholders, where he developed a reputation as a no-bull shark who could smell incompetence as if it were a drop of blood in water.
“Everywhere Sébastien Bazin goes, people lose their jobs,” was the lede from a December 2009 article in Bloomberg, which detailed Bazin’s ousting of several Accor executives dating back as early as Jean-Marc Espalioux in 2005.
At Colony, he gained insight and perspective. He observed, as only an investor with millions and millions of euros on the line could. And when in 2013 the Accor board came calling, he was ready with a strategic plan in place.
Watching him execute said plan has proven a fascinating exercise for this journalist. Here’s a guy bucking conventional wisdom at several turns. When he established Accor’s HotelInvest division, for instance, he not only course-corrected an internal strategy; the move set Accor churning against the current of conventional wisdom that saw so many of his competitors sailing toward the asset-light operating model.
He’s been frank and honest along the way, dishing out quotes that leave us members of press salivating (and his PR handlers, I’m sure, with stomachs churning).
(On a related note, we decided to show restraint and refrain from publishing some of the juiciest quotes from that aforementioned transcription.)
In one of his more recent elbows into the side of the status quo, he took the stage at Accor’s Digital Day shoeless and wearing a black T-shirt and jeans.
“I’ve heard this is how tech people give presentations,” he joked.
Investors seem to be laughing with him. Since Bazin was appointed in August 2013, shares of Accor (EPA: AC) are up 11.6%. That’s outperformed the R.W. Baird/STR Hotel Stock Index, which was up 11.5% during the same period.
Accor’s stock arguably should be trending even higher, had broader macroeconomic woes in the eurozone not pulled the rug from under a wide swath of European stocks.
The guy doesn’t seem fazed or frustrated though. On the contrary, he’s maintained the same frank, energetic attitude in every public appearance we’ve monitored.
During the 26th European Hotel Investment Conference this week, for instance, Bazin recounted in some detail how he immersed himself in Accor during his first few months on the job. His goal was to talk to as many company stakeholders as he could, be they top-level executives or front-line staff at the property level. His strategic plan—the one he undoubtedly began formulating while sitting behind his desk at Colony—changed 40% as a result, he said.
“I think it’s working,” he said of the results thus far. “It’s working because I think people believe the direction we provided to them was the right direction.”
And perhaps that’s the greatest quality of Bazin, the no-bull, frank, funny, sharp-nosed investor- -hotel-company-executive. While he’s typically the smartest guy in the room, he’s not so arrogant as to assume he has all the answers. Accor’s in a better place now because of that.
Now on to the usual goodies …
What’s making me happy this week?
This quote from Michael Wale, president for Europe, Africa and the Middle East at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide: “Growth is the only way in which we can all go. We’re all looking for growth. It is very clear that is what this game is all about.”
Talk about frank and honest hotel executives. Wale’s comment came when a panel conversation at the European Hotel Investment Conference turned to outlets for growth. He was asked whether franchising or management was the way forward in Europe. After some brand speak about the importance of evaluating each opportunity based on its merits, Wale eventually pulled back the curtain and said what every single hotel executive already knows:
Public brand companies exist for one reason: to sign more contracts.
Yes, executives must ensure they’re positioning their flags for success, but waxing philosophically on the merits of management versus franchising versus manachising versus every cockamamie structure in between is the work of charlatans. Bully, I say to you Mr. Wale!
Stat of the week
13: consecutive months of rate growth reported in the eurozone, according to a presentation by STR Global MD Elizabeth Winkle during EHIC.
Winkle painted a positively cheery picture of much of the European hotel sector, which finally is firing on all cylinders. Growth is especially pronounced in the United Kingdom, where the regions outside London have “really emerged from what was a very prolonged and very difficult number of years from a trading perspective and (are) now very well positioned to drive performance and in particular drive rate, as they have this year,” she said.
Quote of the week
“Louvre hotels may have sold by now.”
—Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin, mere minutes before or perhaps even at the precise moment news broke that his company’s bid for Europe’s second largest chain, Louvre Hotels Group (Accor is the largest) was turned down in favor of a $1.49-billion winning bid from Jin Jiang International Hotels Group.
The timing of his remark hovered somewhere between clairvoyant and downright eerie.
Reader comment of the week
“Agree with IHG regarding Twitter...absolutely no benefit on a ‘substantive’ basis as well as with revenues/bookings...Twitter is about breaking news, politics/political trends, celebrity news, TV second screen, events and major sports...but never will they have an aggregated effect on ‘valued’ audience engagement or leisure/biz bookings..the model and usage defies it....”
—Reader “ginger ale” after reading “Social media bookings enter new frontier,” which discusses how hotel marketers are turning to Twitter and TripAdvisor to spur bookings after failed such experiments on Facebook.
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