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Big interview


Lead from the front


After carving out a reputation as something of a specialist in the luxury and premium hotel


segment, Duncan O’Rourke was promoted to CEO for the extended Northern Europe division at Accor, taking charge of 1,100 hotels across 30 countries. Will Moffi tt speaks to him about team management in a pandemic, Accor’s grand expansion plans and what hospitality can learn from Europe’s elite football clubs.


urope is not united. The only thing that unites Europe is the euro; every country is completely different no matter what people think,” Duncan O’Rourke tells me. It’s not a particularly startling omission. The notion of a fractured continent riven by cultural, economic and political differences became apparent long before Brexit entered the lexicon. When that admission comes from someone tasked with overseeing 1,100 hotels across 30 European countries, however, you take their word for it. More specifically, O’Rourke is talking about the Northern European region he is now in charge of as CEO at Accor. The area has since expanded from 400 properties across the UK, Benelux and Nordics to a territory that starts somewhere in Dublin and snakes all the way to Vladivostok, which O’Rourke reminds me is “on the Sea of Japan”. It is a position that the 54-year-old has spent his career building towards. Formerly at Kempinski Hotels, first as general manager, regional director and COO, he joined Accor in 2016, managing European luxury and premium hotels, before being promoted to COO for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Now, he takes charge of one of the company’s fastest-growing regions during the worst pandemic since 1918.


“E


“I’ve only ever done hospitality,” O’Rourke says. “I’ve been in Moscow when [Mikhail] Gorbachev was overthrown and [Boris] Yeltsin came in. I’ve been all over the world and been through military coups, 9/11, financial crashes. I’ve [even] been through other pandemics, but I have never, ever seen anything like this.”


After being promoted in October, O’Rourke was charged with getting 13 countries aligned around five or six different offices before merging them into a cohesive team. It meant an endless chain of Zoom calls. “There are about 14 people in my executive team, some of whom I’ve never met in person,” he says. The challenge was to try to work people out over the internet, to understand what drove them and why they were coming at things from a particular angle in a particular place. Invariably, some discussions were easier to have than others.


12 Hotel Management International / www.hmi-online.com


Accor


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