Pelisson brought a new style of hotel management to France

Paris (AFP) - Gerard Pelisson, who co-founded Accor and turned the hotel group into a world leader, has died at 91 after a long illness, his family told AFP on Monday.

Pelisson created the Accor company together with business partner Paul Dubrule and grew it into the world’s sixth-biggest hotel group with 5,400 hotels in 100 countries under the Novotel, Ibis, Sofitel, Mercure and Pullman brands.

Pelisson’s studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and first job at IBM gave him valuable insights into US-style entrepreneurship.

He left IBM after developing a fascination with America’s standardised model of hotel businesses, to start something similar in France.

Now the sixth-biggest hotel group in the world

“He was the prototype of an entrepreneur,” said Accor’s current CEO, Sebastien Bazin, crediting Pelisson and Dubrule with “reinventing the rules” of France’s hotel sector and “putting it on a new course of international influence”.

The Holiday Inn brand, in particular, got the two men’s attention, with its hotels located on the edges of cities all with near-identical rooms – at a time when the hospitality business in France was still far from being an industry.

Pelisson and Dubrule opened their first Novotel in 1967, built on a former beetroot field close to a motorway on the outskirts of Lille, in northern France, which became an instant success.

Within two years, they started two more, in the eastern city of Colmar and Marseille in the south. An Ibis hotel followed in 1974 in Bordeaux, in France’s southwest, the starting point for a network of budget hotels first in France, and then across Europe.

Their company, SIEH, invested in Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, and became Accor in 1983.

Their disruptive marketing methods included campaigns such as “A room for 99 francs” (15 euros) at the low cost Formule1 chain, now known as hotelF1.

“We managed to create all the great projects because we were in agreement,” Pelisson once said about the business couple.

Their biographer, Henry Lang, said the two men enjoyed “a great complicity and extraordinary mutual respect”.

They also had “legendary shouting matches”, he said, “but only ever in private”.

Complicity, respect and legendary shouting matches: Pelisson (left) with business partner Paul Dubrule

Lang noted Pelisson could “lie through his teeth” during negotiations, “but it was always for the benefit of Accor”. He always kept his word, the biographer added.

Pelisson and Dubrule left Accor’s executive management in 1997 after an acquisition spree that began to weigh on the group’s finances, but co-led the supervisory board until 2005.

Pelisson loved good food and in 1998 teamed up with celebrity chef Paul Bocuse to take over the cooking school that later became the Paul Bocuse Institute.