March 13, 2023
Like all hospitality lovers, I grew up listening to the adventures of the founding fathers of the Accor group. It was a bit like listening to the heroic tales of the Grande Armée back in the day. Today we have said goodbye to one of the two founders of this myth. Beyond all the testimonies which follow on one from another and which unanimously underline the value of this great man, I wanted to share in these few lines a more personal encounter which has always stuck with me.
A few weeks prior, in 2019, we had awarded these two giants at the Hospitality Awards ceremony. Of course, we had thought of giving them this award earlier, and naturally everyone was on-board. However, we felt, with a kind of modesty that is characteristic of them, that they didn't feel totally retired yet. That year we gave them an 'immortal' award for their outstanding contribution to our sector.
Their legacy was therefore unanimously recognised by the profession in 2019 and a few weeks later I was travelling with Gérard Pélisson to visit the Institut Paul Bocuse which he had co-founded. Anyone who has travelled with him will doubtless remember the cloud of Havana cigar smoke that accompanied him. He told me that this was a habit he picked up to stop smoking.
Behind this rough man, whose tone of voice and characteristic anger are sometimes imitated with varying degrees of talent by those who have been close to him, I quickly discovered human qualities that were exceptional. The testimonies that speak of his fidelity and benevolence echo the few hours that I spent with him that December between Paris and Lyon.
During the visit, I did not immediately understand why he kept slipping away from the official delegation. So, I asked him why. He told me during lunch, while enjoying a Condrieu from his region (one of his favourite wines), that he was doing it in order to see the students and to gauge if "they are really happy to be there". This sums him up perfectly as a man.
The two visionaries not only revolutionised the hotel industry but also management practices. By working on trust, the elevation of the employee, autonomy, training, and benevolence. It is no coincidence that they both founded a school and the first company academy. Further down the line, they practiced intrapreneurship long before it became a trend. They made Accor more than a leading hotel group, they made it a human adventure.
Gérard Pélisson was a high-ranking member of the Council of the Légion d’Honneur and perfectly embodied its humanist values. By his size, his will to conquer the world, his attachment to meritocracy and to the value of people, I cannot help but see him as a sort of Napoleon of the hospitality industry.
On the return flight, he explained to me that he had gone to study 'American-style capitalism' when he was young and that some of the leaders of the industry across the Atlantic had left their mark on him. Surprisingly enough, I understood from the models he had cited and their values, that what he had retained in particular was the importance of heart. His lifelong accomplice offered up three words to describe him: humanity, generosity, and empathy.
I can think of no better definition of the DNA and spirit of our sector.
Many people say they feel orphaned today. Merci, Monsieur Pélisson, for all that you have contributed to our beautiful industry and, above all, to the men and women who make it up.
Thank you, President, for the legacy, and long live your ideals!