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"Our key values: Excellence and Humility." Johanna Wagner, Corporate Executive Associate & Lecturer, ESSEC Business School

In our special Hospitality ON issue on hospitality management schools and trainings (No 308-309/May-June 2021) we interviewed Academic Directors of renowned hotel schools around the world. Here we unveil insights from Johanna Wagner, Corporate Executive Associate & Lecturer, ESSEC Business School.

What innovations, programmes and projects have been implemented in your school over the last two years?

Several innovations and projects were implemented whether in relation to the opportunities created by more digital interactions or to deep trends in education and training.

A Sustainability concentration was created in 2020 with 4 courses meant to train future hospitality leaders with new skills to manage in a time of uncertainty and major changes.

From the discovery of sustainable start- ups to a real-life sustainable consulting project, these courses are bringing a theoretical framework as well as opportunities to experience it in practice, with a focus on the hospitality industry.

Moreover, online and hybrid teaching made it possible to widen the type of in-class activities and guest speakers allowing for more international exposure and opening.

To continue on the academic side of the curriculum, Since 2020 the program has a partnership with Boston University. This allows students to spend a semester at Boston University followed by a summer internship. In terms of professional insertion, all students are followed by at least 2 coaches including a certified coach and a senior hospitality leader.

Online events and meetings facilitated the inclusion of new initiatives leveraging our strong international network of alumni.

To better prepare second-year students for their job search, online mock interviews were organized with volunteer alumni. In addition, a mentoring program was launched in June 2021 for young graduates who are mentored by an Alumnus for a period of 18 months after their graduation.

While students are benefiting from the strengths of this worldwide alumni network, the program also opened some of the new classes on sustainability to volunteer alumni which was a success in terms of impact on the participating alumni and experience for students and professors alike.

What approach(es) has your school chosen to train its students? What are the specificities of your schools?

The school offers a balanced blend of academic content and professional exposure thanks to the variety of its lecturers and the final consultancy project in partnership with JLL and a hotel group (which changes every year). Professors are coming from various horizons with the same passion for hospitality and excellence. Soft skills and management competencies are a key focus of the program while entrepreneurship and the qualities it requires are nurtured through academic and extra-curricular activities. The small size of the program allows for the creation of a virtuous circle-like process of strong bonding with a close-knit alumni community.

Has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the students interest in the hospitality industry?

COVID-19 worried students about short-term opportunities but they didn’t lose their interest in the hospitality industry. They show energy and enthusiasm when it comes to the industry’s ability to renew itself and thrive again. We’re preparing students for management positions and the unexpected situation create by the COVID-19 crisis made it even more relevant for them to join a program which focuses on skills and competences that help managers deal with change and the need for adaptability and innovation.

What values / skills do you think are necessary for the hospitality industry that should be taught in a hotel school?

Our key values: Excellence and Humility. In our client- centred industry, these two values are critical to ensure consistent high-quality service and guest satisfaction and loyalty.

In 2021, Carina Hopper (ESSEC Lecturer) and I wrote an article on the topic of hospitality leaders to drive our industry toward more sustainability. We identifiedthe following 5 skills for future hospitality leaders:

Self-awareness: the ability to put ourselves into the context of our society and monitor and evaluate our feelings, actions and motivations to remain humble and in a position of constantly thriving to learn.

Normative competency: the capacity to understand both our own value system and those of others as well as intercultural management skills, which both rely on our self-awareness.

Systems thinking: the ability to understand complex systems and the relationships between their moving and changing components, and the ability to deal with the uncertainty inherent to systems and their cascading effects.

Anticipatory competency: the capacity to choose the right path and avoid actions that do not contribute to the construction of desired outcomes.

Integrated problem solving: the ability to apply different techniques to solve complex problems.

At ESSEC-IMHI, we’re revealing and developing them thanks to group projects, talent development courses, student associations as well as exposure to multiple cultures and ways of thinking.

What do you think hoteliers need to do to attract & keep young talent? 

They need to listen to them to include their ideas and requests but also to take the time to answer their questions and explain the answers.

This generation of young talents needs another management style that is both demanding and caring. Moreover they emphasize the importance of meaning and purpose which need to be offered by employers who need to demonstrate an alignment between their communication and their actions towards their staff.

What features/partnerships are you looking for?

We are looking for partnership with hospitality (or hospitality-related) companies for student projects and case studies. 

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