The Chief Commercial Officer of Accor wants to make his enterprise the LVMH of the lifestyle and hospitality segment.
By Aby Sam Thomas
When he started working at Accor as its Chief Commercial Officer for the Middle East and Africa in 2018, Yigit Sezgin remembers causing a bit of a stir then with the way he went about his work at the hospitality conglomerate- and it’s still something that can take people aback today, especially those who may not be familiar with him. You see, while one may expect Sezgin to behave like a stereotypical corporate executive in the nine-to-five mould, it will become quickly clear that he is nothing of the sort- this is someone who truly loves the business he is in so much that he doesn’t care when he punches in and out of work.
But it’s not just about the time he spends at the office – Sezgin seems to have a particular knack for having his work associated with all areas of his life. For instance, he may be out sailing on a yacht on an apparent holiday- but that’s also where he gets major breakthroughs in terms of decisions on how to steer his enterprise ahead. Or, like many of us these days, he may be on his phone, scrolling down on his Instagram feed- but it’s not just a mindless activity for him, one can be almost certain that he’s keeping an eye out for trends that can prove useful when marketing the hotels under the Accor portfolio.
These examples explain why I believe Sezgin’s answer to my question about whether he ever actually switches off from work- his reply to that was instant: “Never.” But then again, as someone who’s so passionate about the art of lifestyle and hospitality, thinking about it all the time is not something Sezgin would ever complain about- even if it is happening during his off-hours. “I think that’s my weakest spot,” he says. “And it’s been told to me during performance reviews by my bosses, that I have no work-life balance. But, you know, I really like doing my job, and I decided to make my job a part of my lifestyle- and that how it works for me.”
Sezgin’s exuberance about his work is something that can be said to have worked out well for his employer, especially since the Paris-headquartered Accor is currently in the throes of a period that’s incredibly challenging and extremely exciting at the same time. Now, the former is, of course, because of the global crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, out of which the hospitality industry at large is only just beginning to make its way out of- but the latter is thanks to a couple of calculated moves made by Accor that bode well for its future in this dynamic space.
Perhaps the most talked about of these is Accor’s joint venture with Ennismore, which has made it the world’s leading entity in the lifestyle segment. Accor’s acquisitions and alliances with key names in the global hospitality landscape have also been making people sit up and take notice- this has brought brands like Mama Shelter, SLS, Paris Society, Faena, and many more under one magnificent umbrella. There’s also Kitch-In, Accor’s first investment in the ghost kitchen and online food delivery space, built in partnership with renowned restaurateur Evgeny Kuzin and acclaimed chef Izu Ani, which has already been rolled out in the UAE, and is set to grow across geographies soon.
Sezgin cannot contain his excitement when talking about these developments at Accor- as a self-confessed fan of the out-of-the-box kind of thinking, he’s gleeful that his company is exhibiting that kind of behaviour in its strategy for the future. “We can’t just stand there and run like an old hotelier,” he declares. “For us, the idea is to become the LVMH of the lifestyle and hospitality segment.” According to Sezgin, the way in which Accor is choosing to navigate the market now is completely unique, and that’s what is making it stand out from its peers in this space. “I don’t think we have a competitor; honestly, I don’t,” he says. “We’re so diverse, so powerful, so strategical… We’ll own the space in hospitality with our new way of doing things.”
Having such an overarching goal is what seems to have powered Sezgin and his team at Accor through the course of the COVID-19 crisis. After all, being part of a sector that was among the most devastatingly affected by the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t have been a joy ride, but the leadership at Accor, led by Chairman Sébastien Bazin, used the time to take whatever possible steps to ensure the enterprise remained secure and stable for the prospect of brighter days ahead. While it was a difficult time for everyone involved, Accor’s decision to stay engaged with all of its stakeholders, while looking inward for solutions, proved to be beneficial for the company in the long run.
According to Sezgin, the enterprise did this by making sure its lines of communication with investors and customers were open all through the crisis, which allowed it not only to stay engaged with them, but also keep itself attuned to all of the changes happening in the world at large. Internally at Accor, employees were encouraged (and given the freedom) to come up with ideas that could bolster the enterprise, be it with new business models, or alternate revenue streams- Sezgin proudly declares now that those are the concepts and designs that are fuelling the company’s growth today. “I believe that when people find themselves battling adversities like the COVID-19 crisis, they tend to come up with a lot of innovative solutions for the problems they face by expanding and accelerating their minds,” Sezgin says. “That’s what our team did at Accor, and it was amazing to see.”
Sezgin also pulled out his own creative chops through the course of the coronavirus pandemic. One such effort was when lockdowns began to force people to stay at home, Sezgin attempted to entertain them by hosting Instagram Live sessions with influential personalities from around the world, which included boxer Amir Khan, comedian Russell Peters, actress Nargis Fakhri, and others. Now, this was not something that was strictly within Sezgin’s mandate in his role at Accor- but the fact that he did it anyway (and the good feedback he received for it) is an easy showcase of the lively, boisterous approach he has to his work. “I’ve never been a guy who’s satisfied with just sitting in the office and doing the grind,” he explains. “You can’t really understand or feel things when you’re sitting in a box. That’s my nature- I like lifestyle, I like people, I like traveling, partying, enjoying life… And that’s the flavour I bring to the company!”
At this point, Sezgin reiterates the fact that he has chosen what he really likes to do as his career, and that, in turn, is what pushes him to give his very best at what he does for work. Sezgin joined Accor after a stint as the CEO of the Turkey-based Bilgili Holding, which was preceded by leadership roles at Carlson Rezidor, The Ritz-Carlton, and Marriot. All of these positions were focused on sectors like hospitality, lifestyle, and luxury, and it is this wealth of experience that he brings to his role at Accor today. This has informed his leadership style as well, with Sezgin making use of his own personal philosophies to guide those around him at work. “For me, the most important thing is to make sure I and my team are operating in a happy environment,” he says. “And that’s because I believe we can drive higher revenues when we are happy and motivated and enjoying our time at work.” This would explain the three characteristics Sezgin listed when asked for the attributes he’d want to see in people wanting to work with him: “Dynamic, funny, creative.” And the three traits he wouldn’t care for? “Not being a team player, arrogant, lazy.”
This thus ties in to Sezgin’s advice for people who wish to follow in his footsteps when it comes to having fulfilling careers in their lives. “Look, I think one definitely designs their own chances in life,” he says. “And I think that starts with one being a really good observer of oneself- you need to find out what you actually like to do in life. Follow that passion, and work on making it your career- that’s what will get you to wake up every day, raring to go.” According to Sezgin, at the end of the day, one should be looking at oneself for the life they wish to lead- and that’s the mantra he decides to conclude this interview with: “Blame nobody. Expect nothing. Do something.”