People@Work

‘Customise product locally, adapt to culture personally’

| Updated on February 14, 2018

Jean-Michel Casse, Chief Operating Officer, India and South Asia Accor Hotels

Normally expat CEOs have a tenure of about four to five years in India. In the hospitality sector, certainly, most foreign hotel chains in India have rotated their India chiefs pretty rapidly. An exception to the rule is Jean-Michel Casse, who has been scripting French hospitality chain Accor’s India story for nearly ten years now. Ask him and with a grin he says, it’s not just any foreign CEO, he has outlasted the heads of local chains too. The much awarded hotelier (he has received the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite, a French honour for distinguished civil and military achievements), who is also special adviser of the French Foreign Trade and Vice-President and General Secretary of the committee in India talks about what it takes for an expat to adapt to India, and more:

The secret behind the long innings in India

First of all, hotel development in Asia is a matter of trust. In India this is more true than in other Asian countries. The relationship is very important. You have to get a good partner and bank on this relationship.

Second, when I arrived here in 2008, a series of things happened – the Mumbai terrorist attack, then the global economy dropped, the world was in turmoil and yet we were growing rapidly in India. The growth made it very exciting for me personally. In 2008 when I arrived we had one hotel operating. Today we have 55 hotels in operation. I could have gone anywhere but changing countries for the sake of changing made no sense when the growth was here.

The third reason is that unlike others we are different, in the sense we are investors too. It’s okay to change leadership when it’s a question of management contracts but we have put our money here.

The frustrating and the enchanting in India

The biggest frustration for me has always been the sudden change of rules. Look at the Delhi Aerocity – how many times things changed. Just imagine what happens when there is two years’ delay in opening 1,000 rooms inventory. Calculate the numbers. Every year there is something or other. Last year it was the liquor ban. We don’t know what will come next.

The good part, however, is that whatever problem we face is a matter of time and patience. It gets resolved somehow.

Containing attrition - a big challenge in the hotel sector

Where we are fortunate is we are new in India so it allows us to have a new generation of employees whom we can train our way and help grow. Take Ibis in Hinjewadi in Pune which we opened recently – 75 per cent of the staff came from within, and not just from within, but with promotions. There are many who start as housekeepers, get exposed to openings, get promoted to executive assistants and hotel managers rapidly. Since we are opening an average of six to seven hotels a year, we have the growth to offer promotion avenues. This contributes enormously. But attrition is still a concern – our industry is not too friendly in terms of hours, shift timings and so on. At the Pullman in Aerocity, we have trialled a five-day week to offer better quality of life

We do family day-outs some weekends and everybody enjoys it. In India it is easy to do such initiatives. People in France will say you want us to come on a Sunday? Never!

Tips for other expat CEOs?

You have to blend and adapt. I must confess it took me couple of years. I have never really worked in France and was posted all over so people thought I am ready-made for India. But nobody can be ready-made for India. There is so much diversity! On the other hand, there is so much positive energy. And the energy of growth.

From a product point of view, my tip would be that you have to locally customise the product. From a leadership point you have to personally adapt to the culture here.

Favourite accessory during travel

My headphone. I have a sophisticated one that kills all ambient noise. But the really indispensable accessory is my iPad. It’s every day a new hotel for me and it takes so much time to understand the settings of the TV channels. I just use my iPad to get the news.

Any management mantra?

There is not much you should hide. Be totally transparent and open. Sometimes it is not pleasant to be truthful. But you should try to communicate to everyone.

Published on February 14, 2018

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