Influencers

Michel Rochat | CEO of EHL Group

What does the CEO of École hôtelière de Lausanne, the world’s oldest and highest-ranked hospitality school, think about the future of the industry and education? We’re going to take a look into Michel Rochat’s life, discover EHL’s innovative plans for the future, and check out three pieces of Rochat’s inspirational career advice in more detail.

1. From Small-Town Boy to Top Swiss Personality

Michel Rochat was born in the idyllic Swiss village of Forel in the canton of Vaud. From a young age, he was fascinated with understanding mechanics and took a special fancy to music boxes and watches. So much so that it was in this industry where he landed his first job at the age of 12. He felt at home and thought he was destined to dedicate his professional life to it. However, his father pushed him to leave his comfort zone and explore the world. He said one simple phrase to Rochat that would change the course of his career and life:

“You have to leave the family and you have to go out of the village and discover something new.”

Rochat describes his life and town back then as a “bubble”, and bursting it was something he couldn’t comprehend. Yet, inspired by his father’s words, he made the leap and went to HEC Lausanne to study entrepreneurship. Reflecting upon his university experience, he realizes how enclosed the environment was and how much he missed out on a connection with the industry. (Seems like the industry needed Hosco 50 years ago as well!)

After studying, Rochat’s professional journey was closely associated with the world of education. He worked in audit and evaluation, teaching, consultancy, and engineering before entering into the hospitality world. As a genuine leader and people person, it seems only natural that he has worked at all levels of management and hasn’t wasted a moment to consolidate his experience and pass it on to his team.

Ultimately, his hard work and dedication have led him to receive numerous titles and awards. Arguably, one of the most impressive is being named by Bilanz magazine as one of the top 100 personalities in Switzerland!

2. Redefining the Future of EHL Group

École hôtelière de Lausanne’s name is synonymous with elegance, excellence, and elite education. The school was founded in 1893 by Jacques Tschumi, a member of the Swiss Association of Hoteliers. His dream was to set the standard for hotel management education and transform it into a leading profession. Over 125 years later, his dream has been developed by the Société Suisse des Hôteliers and EHL now has schools on five continents and a network of 25,000 alumni.

It’s always been Rochat’s goal to humanize hospitality and instill this into the EHL education. This is best demonstrated when you look at the school’s student selection process. For every student, there are 3 applications so they select their new students by looking at their values. This process extends to its alumni network as they want to maintain their prestigious reputation.

Rochat is trying to take the school into the future, all the while applying his principles of coherence and values. He is a huge fan of constant or lifelong learning as it has enabled him to have an incredible career and is what ultimately motivates him at EHL.

“Each day, at each moment you learn something, and life, life is about learning. It builds an added value to you and that’s just fantastic.”

His current position at EHL is the first time that Rochat has stayed in a job for more than 4 years. It demonstrates the belief he has in the school and how confident he is about redesigning the way EHL teaches young people. He understands that the one-size-fits-all education can no longer cut it in today’s ever-changing market.

“We will have more change in the next ten years than in the last 200 years.”

This is why he holds such a strong position on digital education and believes in investing in it. In 2018, EHL bought two startups to futureproof their education and help their students become top players in digital.

Rochat and EHL are not only digitalizing the EHL experience but they’re also globalizing it. In 2021, EHL will open its first-ever overseas campus in Singapore. It’ll offer the same degree as the Lausanne campus but will add a local feel to the curriculum and will help students develop in a truly international landscape.

3. Michel Rochat’s Top-Tier Advice

Being the driving force behind EHL requires a set of uncompromising values, a passion for new technology, and an infinite source of positivity. Luckily, these things come naturally to Rochat.

We asked Rochat the same question as Paul Dubrule, co-founder of Accor, back in season 1, “Is the guest always right?”. Dubrule gave us a tongue-in-cheek response while Rochat laughed and replied: “not at all”. Despite being the go-to-phrase for disgruntled customers for decades, it appears that it has (finally) become unstuck in modern hospitality. Rochat explained that there has to be an understanding between the guest and the employee as to what can be delivered. The evolution of hospitality has changed the attitudes, demands, and guest-employee relationship.

📽️ Check out Paul Dubrule's full interview here!

It’s interesting to hear that the first thing that Rochat checks when he enters a hotel isn’t the entrance, the cleanliness nor the decorations in the lobby. He’s more interested in the “first word at the desk” which highlights that no detail is too small and the importance of a 360-degree experience for the guest.

If you can’t tell from his interview, Rochat prioritizes positivity and technology above all else. Thinking about the future, he enthusiastically expresses that:

“Tomorrow is going to be brilliant with all of the innovation we will have. So a LOT of opportunities and to be positive is definitely the key for success.”

Rochat’s groundbreaking approach to leadership and education makes him an inspirational influencer and his work at EHL is far from over. He has bigger and bolder plans on the horizon that are sure to transform the careers of thousands of future hospitality students.