Benjamin Bacholle, Senior Sales Manager, The Four Seasons Paris
Did you always want to work in the hotel industry? I mean, was there a calling?
My family owned a restaurant. Originally, I wanted to own a restaurant. I started my career in the restaurant business. When I was 15 years of age, I went to a culinary school.
You have been working in the hotel industry for nearly 40 years, what keeps you going?
You know what keeps me going is that in my career, I moved from being a chef to F&B management, to Sales and Marketing management and then I became a GM when I was 40 years old. By then I had an answer for any questions. I was able to achieve more results than most people and at the same time, I was having fun doing it because by then, I knew what I was doing.
In your earlier days, you were rather involved in hospitality education. For example, you were a guest lecturer at Virginia Tech School of Business, at ESSEC/Cornell – Paris, at New York University, etc. How did you like teaching?
I really enjoyed it. I was asked by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University* to give regular lecture to their MBA program on upper luxury brand. At the Cornell University/ESSEC in Paris I spoke about customer service. My lectures at various universities were essentially for personal satisfaction, sharing personal achievement with young people. I was never paid to give lectures.
* Virginia Tech, which is known for Hotel Management, is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia in the US.
You have dual citizenship, French and American. This may not be a fair question but I am going to ask you anyway because I also have a dual nationality background although I don’t have dual citizenship. Do you feel more like a French man or an American?
I enjoy the life style in France and can relate to French emotions and culture. French food, wine, coffee, etc. are just wonderful! But life is so much easier in the US. Actually, you can’t really compare the two. It is like wine. Each has its own characteristic and identity. I personally like new world wine better.
You were involved in a number of opening task forces, and you were the opening GM of Ritz-Carlton Sanya in China. What have you learned from these experiences?
I’ve learned that despite the fact that even though our behaviors are shaped by our education and background, we are all born the same, whether you are Chinese, American or European. We all have talent but if you don’t develop and use it, it won’t help us. This was the most profound experience I’ve learned, especially in China. If you try to help young people to develop themselves, so many of them would come out of their shell and flourish.
Your hotel has won, so far, 82 awards since its opening in 2007. Can you pinpoint the reason for your success?
I think we did the right thing by correctly positioning our hotel as a luxury resort propriety from the very beginning. Although our hotel is the first luxury hotel in Sanya but I did not take it for granted. We still try our best to keep our customers satisfied and happy, so that they would come back.
You were the opening sales manager for the Hotel Loews Monte Carlo/Fairmont. Although this was long time ago, still, what was it like to have worked in a country where international elite gather?
I started there in Sales and Marketing. I had a chance to meet Prince Rainer at the Monaco Grand Prix. Although my job was quite complicated because of different market demands from all over the world but it was also very exciting.
What is the most important issue in Sales and Marketing?
Positioning, positioning and positioning! If your positioning is wrong, the core market is not targeted and you will fail! In the Chinese market, the Ritz-Carlton is positioned so that guests feel inspired to come to us.
Positioning is critical for any business! This means that you must know your customers well.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge working in a luxury hotel in France?
I think the biggest challenge is to make sure that you understand your customers and employees and that you respect their culture and customs.
In terms of leadership style, how would you describe yourself?
To be a good leader, people must believe in you; i.e., you must be credible! You must establish a platform for your team to perform. Make your team accountable for their performance.
In your opinion, what is the single most important concern your employees have?
In China it is interesting that the young people we hire are so eager to learn. Their main concerns are opportunities to learn and career advancement.
What do you expect from your employees? What pleases you the most?
I like to see my employees engage themselves with our customers, with me and with their team, so that they gain confidence in themselves.
What irritates you the most?
Whenever people show lack of common sense and good judgment, it irritates me. Also, when people are too ambitious in their career, they cannot be trusted.
As the GM of your hotel and if you must make a choice, what would be your choice? Do the right things or do the things right?
I would mainly choose to do the right things because doing the right things is critical as they give the direction. Otherwise, you will never get there.
I recently posted a question in our Facebook page (iworkinhotels.com): “Why do you think your GM is important to you?” Someone answered: “I don’t think my GM is important to me but he might be important to the company.” Do you agree with this statement?
I am appalled and feel sad about this remark because clearly, his GM hasn’t done his job right!
If you must choose between “fame”, “wealth” and “wisdom”, what would be your choice and why?
I would choose “wisdom” — so that I would be able to make the right decision and get rich and become famous!
What advice would you offer to those who are inspired to become a GM in the hotel industry one day?
Our job is a balancing act between the three stakeholders. We have to satisfy our customers, owners and employees.
- Make sure that I am able to achieve a good balance between my work and my family life.
- Ensure that the Four Seasons Pairs stays in the market leader position in the luxury hotel market segment.