More support is needed from those above and below as an executive climbs up the rungs of a ladder. For Christian Clerc, the recently appointed president of worldwide hotel operations at Four Seasons, family is what has catapulted him to the top.
His new post, which he was appointed to in August, was the “next logical step” for him. “Every new step in this incredible adventure has been so exciting,” he said of his lengthy career at Four Seasons. “This has been the result of many years of experience with the company and, as always, I think hard work and timing helped, obviously.”
Clerc previously served as president of operations in EMEA. He led the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris (with regional responsibility for Florence) in 2012. Before holding posts in New York, Chicago and Punta Mita, Mexico, he began his career at Four Seasons in 2000 as hotel manager at Four Season Hotel Washington, DC.
To date, the hospitality giant has more than 100 locations worldwide. Four Seasons today has 50 resorts and hotels in the pipeline at “various levels of planning and development,” Clerc noted. “We continue to focus on destinations of importance to our guests.” He expects Four Seasons to grow its portfolio of properties through the addition of a combination of new hotels and builds, greenfield developments, strategic conversions and adaptive reuses.
Another accomplishment, the new Four Seasons Research and Discovery Studio, “brings to life the best ideas in terms of product around guest experience, and it is an area where we can focus on further developing the guest experience,” he said of the creative workspace at the company’s headquarters.
“I think to be here in this particular time at this company is very exciting for me,” he said. “In a time of consolidation and becoming bigger, we have a single focus. We continue to be true to our brand promise, our values and culture, and I think in today’s world that’s very powerful, so I’m extremely excited about this new assignment.”
Clerc didn’t always have aspirations of being in hospitality. Growing up, he wanted to be a restaurateur; his best friend’s family owned a restaurant in Montreux, Switzerland, where he is from. “I fell in love with the restaurant business first,” he said. His hometown also provided him with the luxury of exploring “beautiful hotels,” many of which were built in the 1800s. “I fell into the hotel business early because of being exposed to it locally.” He studied at École hôtelière de Lausanne, a hospitality management school in Switzerland.
Up until joining Four Seasons in 2000, his desire to explore and experience the world influenced his decision-making. Traveling has given him exceptional insight into cultures around the world, which in turn, prepared him for many of his roles. “One thing I’m very proud of is the fact I’ve always followed my instinct in terms of having a career that was less driven by titles and more driven by substance,” he said.
Clerc “found a home” upon enlisting with the Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based hospitality company. “I joined because of the relentless pursuit of excellence that’s in our DNA, the focus on quality in every dimension and also a very strong company culture,” he said.
The key to his success? Family. His wife, Meg, whom he’s been with for nearly 25 years, has provided him with a career-centric environment that he has never taken for granted. “When I go home at night, my wife keeps me grounded, and that’s important,” Clerc said.
Along with his wife, his daughters, Eleanor and Georgia, have traveled the world with him. “You always worry about your family when you move so often,” he said. “Thankfully, both of my girls have landed on their feet. They’ve lived in Latin America, North America, Europe and the Middle East. It’s really given them incredible experiences, but it’s not easy to pick up and go and move every two to three years as a kid, following your parents. They’ve been incredibly supportive.”
To avoid burnout during his travels he “clears his mind” by having a set plan ahead of time. “When I’m on the road, I have a workout regimen, which really helps me deal with stress,” he said. This physical routine also gives him the opportunity to reflect. “Oftentimes, I actually do some of my best thinking after a run,” Clerc noted, acknowledging the stimulation resulting from it.
But when he’s home, he makes every attempt to do an activity that allows him to “have some quality time” with his family. For him, it’s not about how much time he has with them, but “making more of the time out of the few moments I have with them,” he said.
Cooking is another way for Clerc to wind down at home—unless it’s Thanksgiving dinner, which is the only time when his American wife tries to keep him out of the kitchen. “I didn’t grow up with that tradition, even though I truly enjoy it. It’s one of the most meaningful holidays for me.”
Specifically, Clerc will focus his team’s efforts on the role of restaurants and bar properties in the upcoming year. “Restaurants and bars have become even more critical to the guest experience,” he said. “Today, when we develop concepts, we don’t think of them as hotel restaurants. We think of them as independent restaurants with a strong concept, and we compare ourselves to successful restaurants in each market.”
Continuing to elevate Four Seasons’ brand standards, which are “all about recognition, tailoring the guest experience and creating magical moments,” is another initiative.
Clerc will also continue to remain curious. “I think it’s important to understand what’s happening, not only within the company, but also open ourselves to the outside,” he said. This mindset should also branch out to other industries as well, not only hospitality because at the end of the day “guests are influenced by their lifestyle.” HB