Named best independent hotelier of the world 2018, Philippe Leboeuf is the second Frenchman in 40 years to be distinguished by US magazine Hotels. This charismatic and visionary Vosgien, who has been working for eight years at Mandarin’s 5-star Saint-Honoré Street location, sits down with The CEO Magazine, accompanied by Archie, the hotel mascot, social media celebrity and head of pet relations, to discuss the evolution of leadership, emotional branding and mindfulness.
To be a Mandarin
The Mandarin is a growing group currently operating 41 contemporary and more traditional properties in 27 countries, with 18 hotels in Asia, 12 in the Americas and 12 in Europe and North Africa.
“We have two types of hotel styles: a modern approach, like those of Barcelona and Paris; and the classic landmarks as in London and Bangkok,” explains Philippe. “Our Parisian clientele is slightly younger than that of the average hotel. Our attire is also a little less formal – still very fancy, but not in a traditional manner; fewer ties for instance.”
Mandarin Oriental, Paris, is located in the heart of the golden triangle where everything happens during Paris couture and pret-a-porter fashion weeks. The district between the Louvre and Place Vendôme is the trendy heart the city, the forerunner of fashion and culture, with new flagships in the vicinity of the hotel such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Saint Laurent, J.M. Weston, Goyard, Dior and Balmain, to name a few.
The pet-friendly Mandarin, with its distinctive service, buzzing location and the city’s biggest hotel suite, boasts features much appreciated by its guests.
Philippe has worked hard to ensure heartfelt courtesy throughout the properties, with a novel guest recognition system. Guests find their needs seamlessly fulfilled at any of the group’s premises. This intangible added value, advocated during staff training, is priceless. “It does not matter what position you hold, you can make a profound difference on the emotional level.”
The significance of the first greeting upon arrival is the all-important ingredient that is not easily forgotten by the guest, and is the hallmark that sets the Mandarin Oriental, Paris, apart from the competition.
Why brand relationship matters
It is an exciting year for the group, with 2019 welcoming five new must-visit luxury hotspots including the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai, which has six restaurants, a spa of epic proportions and meticulously appointed rooms; Mandarin Oriental, Doha, opening in time for the IAAF World Championships and FIFA World Cup; Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como; Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing, a boutique establishment with a rooftop garden and bar with views over the Forbidden City; and the reopening of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park after its multimillion-pound renovation.
These strategic openings are strengthening the existing brand relationship with loyal return guests as well as first-timers. However, what defines long-term commitment is above all the “emotion” generated. Guests feel a real affection towards the MO brand – not just as a byproduct of hospitality, but as a lifestyle. The Mandarin is an art de vivre that guests can identify with and aspire to be part of. This relationship is built on a one-of-a-kind emotional interaction.
The science behind successful leadership
A key learning from Philippe is that this guest commitment cannot be bought; it has to be earned. Philippe discloses the four fundamental behavioural imperatives he shares regularly with his teams:
- Embody a unique character: You need to stand out in order to acquire and retain attention.
- Build trust: Trust is the cornerstone of any strong and enduring relationship.
- Make a mark: You need to leave an impression to gain a special place in guests’ hearts.
- Be available and listen actively: Philippe’s office is adjacent to the hotel reception and his door is permanently open. This two-way communication with his staff and guests is the building block to a rich, ongoing relationship. Philippe is present, invested and promotes bonhomie around him.
Attitude over aptitude
When it comes to recruiting, Philippe says personality is what matters. “Part of the equation is whether the new staff fit into our team culture. Aptitude is one thing, but their attitude is just as important if not more so.
“The average age of our Paris crew is 30, while other Parisian hotels tend to hire more senior staff. We have almost parity in numbers between male and female staff, 170 and 160, respectively, with more women than men at the executive level, which I am very proud of.”
Philippe is also proud of his strong team, and credits his success to his team members. “You cannot be an agile leader in today’s fast-paced world without a strong squad by your side. I am proud to have led associates around the world who have subsequently become leaders in their own right.”
Leaders are readers
Philippe never lets a day pass without spending at least 30 minutes reading about a new skill, insight or strategy. His current reading? La Stratégie de la Libellule (The Strategy of the Dragonfly) by his executive chef Thierry Marx, in which the gifted humanist compares his life and kitchen management style to combat sports.
Creating mindful leadership
For Philippe, mindfulness is about “paying attention in the present moment”. It is about being able to do everything with more discipline and focus. Philippe’s mindful tools include breathing, meditation and long-distance skiing in Scandinavia.
Philippe’s definition of luxury
“Luxury is an evolving commodity; time denotes luxury. Our associates prepare with precision experiences tailored to our guest inclinations. This guarantees that guests feel extraordinarily special and are eager to pencil in a next up-and-coming stay at the Mandarin Oriental, Paris.”