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8 February 2013

Serge Trigano: hotel leader

The author of The Financial Times Guide to Leadership, Marianne Abib-Pech, looks
at leading through the prism of Serge Trigano’s Mama Shelter Group

Author: Marianne Abib-Pech, venture capitalist and writer

I am a child of Club Med, that notorious 1970s hotel resort chain created by Gilbert Trigano more than six decades ago. Club Med was built on the concept of all-inclusive vacations so appealing to Brits, but for me, apart from providing fond childhood memories, it symbolised the rare business ability to balance innovation and contemporary needs.

When, almost 30 years later, I met the son of the founder of this iconic venture, Serge Trigano, I could not help but inquire about his new venture, Mama Shelter Group. The inquiry taught me much about how Trigano thought about leading in the hotel world.

Mama Shelter is based on family tradition but transformed by an innovative concept. The group opens restaurants and hotels in less favoured neighbourhoods of prominent French and soon European cities. Its ambition is to create a space synonymous with tolerance and sharing – a space where diversity is embraced and celebrated, not stigmatised.

Trigano said: “When you were born and raised into one particular industry, it actually sticks to you – it becomes what you know, what you are
good or great at. That is the hotel industry for me.’’

The group taps into prominent contemporary interests – social justice and community building – and aims to redevelop a sense of local community,
acting as a catalyst for shifting consumer perception, while creating a micro-economy. The flagship hotel – the Mama Shelter Paris – is located in a mixed neighbourhood on the east side of Paris above an abandoned railway station, and has become a trendy place to see and be seen.

Trigano said: “This project was one of those unlikely challenges. We wanted to create a first-class, customer-focused hotel at a reasonable price in – let us put it this way – a difficult location to market.”

Rooted in the Trigano family’s passion for creating community, Mama Shelter is the brainchild of father Serge and sons Jeremie and Benjamin, supported by friends and allies, among them renowned designer Philippe Starck.

Trigano said: “When you are embarking on, to some extent, such a personal project, you better look for kindred spirits to help and support the journey, and this is what we have managed to do at the Mama.”

I have used my fair share of hotel rooms in my somewhat nomadic life, and the hotel industry’s constant quest for pristine perfection can end up creating stereotypical, sanitised environments. Don’t get me wrong, one has to love the perfection of a Mandarin Oriental or of a W, but the Mama Shelter feels different – more human, the kind of place to kick off your shoes, smile and engage in a conversation with someone at the next table, a place where you can be yourself.

Perhaps it emanates from the architecture, design, use of space, round shapes and dimmed lighting, but it definitely comes from the people who work there.

“You do not need to come with top-notch references to land a job at the Mama,” said Trigano. “What we are looking for is attitude. We want to recruit people who truly enjoy serving others. We are looking for people to demonstrate they have that particular ability to connect with others. We will train them on the technical stuff, but the soil for empathy and desire to serve need to be there inherently.”

This is a new dimension in recruitment and leadership. Find people with this profound desire to serve others and they will take pride in making people feel good and suggest changes in pursuit of excellence.

Trigano added: “We particularly pay attention to creating this feeling of belonging. We are promoting and helping all of them to reach their goal, to the point of being flexible in terms of locations, and net promoters of mobility. We want to push them to open their minds and truly embrace difference. It is a true family spirit that also comes from working with Jeremie and Benjamin every day.”

What is the lesson for entrepeneurs, managers, leaders and future leaders? It is one of humanity. Invest time in getting to know yourself, and invest time observing your world and connecting at the personal level. Dare to care, as in a world that is increasingly technology-driven what makes us human needs to be emphasised and celebrated.

We have secured five exclusive places for the book launch on March 12, 2013, at 80 Strand, London. The launch will feature an address by Lloyds Register board member Estelle Clark, followed by a champagne reception. Email marianne@leadersltd.com with the subject line GCV-Leadership for a chance to take part.

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