The Future of Work With Jacob Morgan

Sébastien Bazin is the Chairman and CEO of Accor, the largest hospitality company in Europe and the 6th largest worldwide with 5,100 locations in 110 countries. Sébastien leads a huge team of over 280,000 people, and they add around 80,000 new employees each year.

Sébastien says he never dreamed of being a CEO, it definitely wasn’t his original plan. All he knew was he didn’t want to go into the family business, which was a real estate company his family had owned for five generations. He wanted to do his own thing and carve his own path.

He spent some time studying in Paris and then he moved to New York to work on Wall Street as a financial analyst. He tried his hand at stock trading and investment banking in New York as well. He spent some time working in San Francisco until the market crash in 1991, then he moved to London.

Eventually, he became a board member of Accor, and as Sébastien describes himself at that time he was, “very vocal and long shareholder, probably nasty guy. I was, I hope I'm no longer, but I was rough. I was harsh…” And in the time he was a board member three CEOs were dismissed from the company. After the third one was let go, the board had to decide on a new CEO and Sébastien was on the nomination committee.

Leading a team of 280,000+
Most people would shy away from taking on a CEO role of a company as large as Accor. But Sébastien says he never includes comfort in his life decisions. He says, it doesn’t matter if you lead a team of 30,000, 100,000, or 280,000, “in the end you are just talking to individuals, you want to gain a small group next to you, and you trust that that small group will be able to replicate what they've been hearing from you. You just have to-- the one thing that I've learned through that exercise, to tell the truth.”

The most important part of leading any group of people, Sébastien says, is to remember that everything you do is critical--your words, your face, your presence, your body language. It is very important to always be truthful, don’t try to deceive people, it won’t work.

And while the decisions he made in his time as an investment banker and a private equity investor had no real human impact when he made a mistake, he realized that as a CEO every decision you make impacts your employees, their families, and the community as a whole. And that’s something that Sébastien takes seriously.

How Sébastien’s career path has taken shape
Sébastien has never been one to try to figure out where his career will be in 10-15 years. In fact, he says, “anybody who is a hostage of his own field, or where he wants to be 20 years from today is likely to be very disappointed, frustrated, and then in some kind of depression.”

So how has he moved in his own career? He says it’s always been based on people. He has moved jobs and towns throughout his life because of interesting, exceptional people he has met and liked and thought he could learn from.

“If you don't believe your boss, wherever you are in any organization, does not teach you or you don't respect him, or you don't accept his leadership, don't stay another minute. Life is too short to be under somebody for which you have either no respect, no admiration, or no learning from. And that's what I've actually conducted myself.”

How Sébastien deals with pressure and scrutiny
Leaders today are under a lot more pressure and scrutiny than ever before. Everything they do can be publicized in online articles, people can talk about them on social media, employees can rate them on Glassdoor. It’s definitely a tough time to lead an organization. But Sébastien’s response to how he handles the pressure was surprising.

He candidly told me he does not stress out about things he cannot control. Whenever something happens to him he asks himself a few questions, which are--Is it my fault? Could I have, should I have done something differently? Was I able to do something to prevent it?--If the answer to those things is no, then he lets it go and moves on.

Sébastien shares that his family played a huge role in how he handles the role of CEO. He was always taught that he doesn’t need to live according to how other people view him. What other people think of him is irrelevant. He knows what he is doing, whether it is good or bad, and that is what he needs to focus on, and not worry about other people judging him.

He also admits that he is not on social media at all, which protects him from seeing comments and stories posted there.

Arne Sorenson & Sébastien Bazin: How two fierce rivals became friends
Before he passed away earlier this year, Arne Sorenson was the CEO of Marriott, a competitor to Accor. You would think that the competition between these two leaders would cause them to dislike each other or try to tear each other down, but as Sébastien shares that is far from the truth.

Sébastien says Arne had a strong personality, but he was generous, helpful, and caring. And they stayed in close contact for several years.

The skills and qualities that have helped Sébastien get to this point in his career
Sébastien has obviously had a very successful career and there are probably a lot of people out there who would like to know what skills have allowed Sébastien to come this far. He says that one of the main words that comes to mind is authenticity. He doesn’t lie, he doesn’t come up with excuses, he doesn’t try to be defensive--reality is reality. Be clear and truthful as a leader.

Sébastien also believes that leaders should admit they don’t know things more often. He says it doesn’t make you a weak leader to say you don’t know, it actually shows your strength.

Three words that he used when he first started at Accor were--agility, clarity, and accountability. He wanted people to have the agility to be empowered to be autonomous and make decisions. Because they were making those decisions, people needed to be held accountable. And he wanted clarity, or transparency so that people would understand the context around the decisions they were making.

Direct download: Audio_-_FOW_Podcast_-_Sebastian_Bazin_-_Ready.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 12:11am PDT