Best of the year: Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin on the art of leadership

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Sébastien Bazin on stage at The International Hospitality Investment Forum in Berlin with Kenneth Hatton (Mark Green Photography)

The Covid-19 pandemic has put an extra focus on those in charge. Leaders at companies across the world have had to make difficult decisions about what to do. 

The hospitality industry has been no different. With travel bans and stay at home orders in place for long period during 2020 and 2021 many hotels were forced to close with staff kept on standby using government-assisted furlough schemes.

When asked about leadership in a time of unprecedented disruption, Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin shared his experience.

“It is the first time in my life where I had to accept being at the helm, that I did not control much,” Bazin said in an interview during IHIF 2021, which was held in Berlin in September. 

“You are in the dark. You’re blind. You don’t know the pandemic effect. You feel it. You know you have to make some decision. You have no idea whether the government will make the right decisions. You don’t know the pace. You don’t know the scale. You know it will affect your owners, your employees, your clients, and you’re not in control.”

For Bazin, this meant letting go and giving more decision-making powers to people on the ground.

“They don’t need me. They probably need me, I hope, for strategy, vision, balance sheet. The rest? Give them the keys. Trust them. Whoever they are, whatever age they are, whatever educational background they have. Just trust them,” he said.

In April 2020, Accor made the decision to close two thirds of its 5,000 hotels, while scrapping its planned €280 million dividend and putting 75% of its workers on furlough or temporary unemployment.

Accor set aside around 25% (€70 million) of the dividend to create the ALL Heartist Fund, which aimed to help employees and individual partners affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Bazin said he called the company’s four largest shareholders to tell them about the plan, hoping they would get behind it, and, he said, they did.

Bazin has had to make plenty of difficult decisions over the course of the pandemic and during the onstage interview shared his technique.

“[T]he decision-making process is very simple for me. It starts with my stomach, with my gut. Then it goes to my heart. Is it a good, kind, generous decision? Then, the brain only tells you in which timing do you want to make the decision. If you start with your brain, you’re dead,” he said.