Michel Noblet, President & founding partner, HMH – Hospitality Management Holdings, believes the greatest failure in life is not enjoying what you do. He says, “Winston Churchill famously said if you find a job you love, you’ll never work again. And I suppose I have been very fortunate to be in an industry I so completely love and enjoy. Whatever you do please yourself first for, at the end, work is all about self-satisfaction.”
Michel recalls, “I used to be terrible at studies, frequently missing school owing to any small excuse. All that changed the moment I stepped in to my first hotel school Lycee Hotelier Toulouse as I felt I belonged there. Ever since, it has been a beautiful vacation.”
And so it looks, despite 50 years in the industry, Michel is always bright and early in his office attending to the most regular tasks with the same eagerness and passion that he probably had when he started his first job. “I have discovered the greatest joys in the most ordinary moments”.
Tracing his footsteps is not an easy task as he almost runs while others walk – especially on airports catching flights from one destination to another. Not surprisingly, H.E. Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan Al Qassimi, Chairman HMH, has nicknamed him ‘Ibn Battuta’. Michel says, “The more I travel, the more I want to travel – meeting new people, discovering new cultures”.
Michel carries the charmed air of a golden boy, who smiles at the world knowing that it will smile right back. Hospitality comes naturally to him. Ask him to define the word and he says, “Hospitality is as much about diplomacy as it is about welcoming people. Respect for people and cultures are essential part of hospitality just as care, attention to detail and generosity are”.
Changes in markets, customers, competition, technology around the globe have compelled hotels to develop new strategies and learn new ways of operating. Being at the helm of some top brands how did Michel steer his organizations at different stages of his career through these massive changes and how easy or difficult have they been to adapt?
Mobilizing an organization to adapt its behaviours in order to thrive in new business environments is critical. Getting people to adapt to change is not always easy. We face these challenges every day at every level of the workplace especially when companies restructure, develop new strategies, adopt new technology or get operations to understand the significance of marketing. Personally, I am a great believer of technology and marketing. I have always challenged the ‘conventional’ way of doing business. It is change that fuels growth and success, and I have always taken change positively. I believe life is change, change is life”.
He continues, “I began my career with a simple type writer and today I work on mobile devices such as tablet, have learnt to use the drop box, carry an i-pod, have got an understanding of cloud computing, make use of mobile apps, and there is plenty more to discover.
Talking about hotel bookings they were done using a pencil and a rubber on a reservation planning chart. We worked with the telex. Fast forward 50 years, the smallest hotels are using the most advanced technology connecting to the Global Distribution System, OTAs, and numerous other booking channels. All these developments have helped us tremendously in the way we conduct business making us more efficient and helping us reach global markets.
When Michel set out to craft his destiny at the age of 16, Toulouse was the first stop on his long journey. Paris came next followed by London. By the time he turned 22 he had already worked with some of Europe’s most prestigious hospitality brands including Eiffel Tower, Café de la Paix – the most celebrated meeting place in Paris for over 120 years, Reserve de Beaulieu in the French Riviera and Rubens Hotel on Buckingham Palace Road in London. In 1970 he returned back to Paris with a posting at Grand Hotel – a true landmark in the centre of the city.
The Meridien Era
Seduced by the allure of Africa, Michel took up the challenge of being a hotel manager of Meridien Senegal in 1971 and so began the Meridien Era where he spent a glorious three decades – traveling far and wide, creating milestones wherever he went – injecting fun and flamboyance. He left the group in 2001 at the prime of his career. During his tenure, he opened with his team a mind boggling 55 hotels across Europe, Africa, Asia (including Japan, Singapore, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, India); Asia Pacific (Tahiti, Bora Bora, New Caledonia, Isle of Pines); Australia and the Middle East corresponding to sizeable chunk of Le Meridien’s portfolio of managed hotels. Being a founding member of Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts, Michel was instrumental in widespread development and growth of the group.
At HMH – Hospitality Management Holdings
A major watershed in his career was the formation of HMH – Hospitality Management Holdings in partnership with H.E. Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan Al Qassimi and H.E. Sheikh Mohammed bin Faisal Al Qassimi. Michel stresses, “Our goal was not to build the greatest hotel of all times – but simply to create an experience that offered something different from the status quo. The dynamics of the hotel industry are changing worldwide and smart hotels are emerging as a compelling business opportunity. Our strategy at HMH has been to offer a new generation of hotels, specially created to address the unique needs of different travellers.
“We are a comprehensive company for a developer providing all the fundamentals – exceptional product, world-class service, a strong international team with extensive regional experience, signature Arabic hospitality, unique operating standards and powerful marketing and central reservation system.
“Our greatest strength is our people under the leadership of H.E. Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan Al Qassimi and our ability to reengineer ourselves on a daily basis according to the situation and demands of the day.”
Walking the Red Carpet
Over the years Michel and his hotels have been honoured with a number of prestigious awards and recognitions that are testimony to his outstanding contribution. Be it the Travel Intelligence Award for the Best Hotel Group for Le Meridien, Best Hotel General Manager during his posting in different countries, Award for Excellence in Cultural and Environmental Activities from UAE Ministry of Education for HMH, a series of Hotelier Awards, World Hospitality Award… Michel has been feted at every step.
Down Memory Lane
Glamour and glitz has been as much a part of Michel’s life as his lust for adventure. He has been in the midst of the most spectacular fashion shows with brands such as Christian Dior, Chanel, Nina Ricci, Louis Vuitton and Guerlain to name a few; the most magnificent orchestras and classic concerts, the most extravagant conventions in the world’s finest destinations from Paris to New Orleans, San Diego, Dubai or Bangkok and the biggest and most unique gatherings. Every event he organized carried his signature of perfection. Outlined here are some memorable occasions.
- During his tenure, Michel rolled out the red carpet for many distinguished guests including Royalty, heads of states, tribal chiefs and other top dignitaries. In 1988 he had the ultimate honour of welcoming Prince Charles, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana, Princess of Wales at the Le Meridien Porto who stayed at the Royal Suite for a week. He recalls, “It was a dream moment. The entire floor was booked for the delegation. What was amazing is that they were not at all demanding or fussy. Our other guests were absolutely wowed by their presence as was the entire team of the hotel.”
- Equally memorable was the opening of Le Meridien Isle of Pine in New Caledonia in 1998. Michel remembers, “During those days it was quite sensitive between the Kanak and the French government. On the day of the official inauguration we had to make a ceremony where we had to pay respect to chief of tribe to avoid any trouble. As per the local tradition ‘La Coutume’ we took, in a very humble way, a piece of fabric, packet of tobacco, yam and few coins to please him. And he accepted our homage. Else the tribe would have burnt down this unique deluxe retreat.”
- Another challenging moment was when Michel and his team were asked to host the African Summit in 1979 at the Le Meridien in Rwanda and the hotel was still not operational. “The executive team was summoned up and we were asked by the government of Rwanda to take care of the entire logistics for the conference including the set-up, food and gala dinner. The dinner was to be attended by a special guest Valery Giscard d’Estaing who was the President of France along with 200 other dignitaries. The challenge was to train the people in 15 days who had absolutely no experience of cooking, serving, house-keeping. At the end of two days we went to see the French Ambassador with a request to call up the l’Elysee Executive Chef (Presidential Palace of France) to provide the food by a special plane which was accepted and we could organize the dinner matching the expectations of the dignitaries.”
- In 1975 Michel had the opportunity to organize a very special dinner at Le Meridien Paris for Philips Europe that was to be attended by the company’s top six executives in the world. “Philips booked the entire conference hall for that evening which could accommodate 2000 people. A round table was placed in the centre surrounded by retro projection screens. Behind the screens were 70 technicians doing their job. Catering was provided by the famous Gaston Lenotre, the number one chef in France who delivered a very unique dinner. Between each course there was a very special show to entertain those 6 top executives. It turned out to be certainly the most expensive dinner in those days with a cost of USD 3000 per person.”
- We created the most unique Jazz club in Europe which was the legendary Lionel Hampton Bar in Le Meridien Paris. To celebrate the grand opening of the club we got 20 famous bands from Europe and America to participate in a big parade starting from the Town Hall in Paris where Mr Jacques Chirac was the Mayor, moving to Champs-Elysee and returning to the hotel. It was a big show”.
What does the future hold for hospitality?
“Hotel of the future could be on the moon or Mars. We are moving more and more in the direction of sustainable developments where the environment will be central to any plan. Themed hotels are growing in popularity too. You could have hotels for bachelors, ladies, sportsmen. You could live like a Tarzan or a Batman. You can have spiritual hotels or hotel and hospital combined together. At the same time our industry is definitely moving towards more mid-market hotels”.
And did he always succeed?
Michel says, “Running a business always has its ups and downs. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. What matters is the work. If you tried your hardest and you’re proud of it, that’s the most important thing.
Real success is your internal accomplishment. You have to find ways to overcome the setbacks that are only temporary. There have been times in my life when I have had to turn the page, but it has always led me to something more exciting and meaningful.”
5 People Who Inspired Michel Noblet
- His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai:
His vision of transforming Dubai into an international hub for tourism and commerce is a reality today. I learnt from him that nothing is impossible if you have a vision.
- Nelson Mandela:
Famously said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Learning for me never stopped and it one thing that I never compromised on.
- Mother Teresa:
She once said “Peace begins with a smile”. If we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten to smile. So keep on that smile and the world will smile back at you.
- Henry Ford:
I believe success of any company or group lies in working together. And this is something I truly admired in Henry Ford who had said “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
- Conrad Hilton:
Perseverance was probably his greatest asset. He had said, “Don’t ever quit. Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit”.