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Snapshot: Club Med's VP HR APAC's secrets to retaining people in an industry with talent shortage
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Snapshot: Club Med's VP HR APAC's secrets to retaining people in an industry with talent shortage

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"A key learning I have from [Club Med's ONEAPAC] campaign is that talent and people are the number one key to success in any project. Without people, you cannot achieve your objectives," says Thierry Ricard, VP HR APAC, Club Med.

In this conversation with Lester Tan, you can also look forward to Ricard sharing about: 

  • The most innovative HR campaign he worked on (and what he learned from it);
  • Why is it important that HR retain and develop talents alongside the growth of the company, and
  • How Club Med is tackling the challenges faced in the travel & hospitality sector.

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Q Was HR a natural career choice for you? If not in HR, what other career would you have chosen?

Not at all. At the beginning of my career, I actually started out as a tennis professional, and joined Club Med as a tennis G.O. (Gentil Organisateur). I wanted to share my passion with others through teaching sports, and I did this as I guided guests learning to play tennis. After doing this for a while, I decided to venture into operations and hotel management – my goal was to push myself to grow a career in hospitality.

Connecting with people has also always been my passion, and this aligns well with how people are a priority for Club Med too. After working in a Club Med resort for 12 years as a G.O., and leading the team in the room division, I became the Chef de Village (equivalent to a General Manager in a hotel). After doing this for 10 years, I decided to make a career switch to human resources.

I was somewhere in my early forties when Club Med gave me the opportunity to pursue a master's in HR, and be in charge of mobility and HR matters in France before I relocated to Asia as Vice President of HR. Club Med offers its staff the opportunity to develop their passions throughout their career, and this is evident from how I have been involved in various aspects of the hospitality business as I rose up the ranks to where I am today.

Q What was the most innovative HR campaign that you've worked on, and what was your biggest learning from that?

My biggest achievement with Club Med thus far has been the organisational restructuring of our Asia Pacific (APAC) team in 2019. This marked the evolution of our APAC organisation into two specialised business units: APAC Markets and APAC Resorts. What we call them today is ONEAPAC. It was a period of growth for the company, with many elements to consider and stakeholders to manage. The innovative campaign was massive and even included the relocation of many of our employees to Shanghai.

A key learning I have from that campaign is that talent and people are the number one key to success in any project. Without people, you cannot achieve your objectives.

Q On the other hand, what is the hardest decision you’ve had to make as an HR leader?

During the pandemic, many difficult decisions had to be made in the interest of the company. We underwent restructuring and cost-saving measures, including placing our staff on unpaid leave when our resorts were temporarily closed. With the hospitality industry the hardest hit, COVID-19 has probably been one of the most challenging situations we’ve faced, but we were still able to weather the crisis, and protect the jobs of our employees. Nonetheless, we managed to protect the employability of many of our staff, and that is something I am thankful about.

Q How closely do you work with the CEO, and what are the specific projects that both of you work closely on?

Per the organisational structure today, I work closely with the CEOs of Club Med’s three business units (CEO of APAC Resorts, CEO of East and South Asia & Pacific Markets, and CEO of Greater China Markets) as each specialised unit has a different focus.

It is my job across APAC to manage the talents in our company. This involves coordination between the business units, overseeing training & upskilling, as well as the assigning of jobs across our 17 resorts (and more to come) in Asia, and our commercial markets (from South East Asia Pacific, Japan, Korea and China).

At Club Med, we are always working on various projects. These range from the opening of new resorts (like the opening of Lijiang in October), to the rolling out of new initiatives (People First by Workday – our strategy to be people-focused and to deploy HR applications that aid in training, performance review & administrative work). And also our leadership training opportunities like the 'Key Talent programme' (Key G.O programme) to nurture leadership skills in our G.Os, and offer them greater career mobility.

Q Can you share with us the number one talent challenge this sector is facing? How are you tackling this challenge? Do share some strategies that have worked, and how they have helped!

A challenge the sector has faced is the shortage of staff especially as the industry begins to recover and demand for travel and hospitality offerings pick up. At Club Med, our proactive approach to prospective hires in advance allows us to reach out to a ready pool of candidates. Meanwhile, we also ensure that we nurture and cater to the needs of our current staff, with efforts such as promoting mobility to allow our G.Os to experience working from various resorts as well as offering them cross-functional opportunities.

Some of the main challenges we face include: recruitment of the right the talent for our resorts and offices, nurturing talent to work towards Club Med’s objectives, as well as retaining them to grow further either in their current department or in a new role. Club Med is a people-centric company and our G.Os are the heart and soul of the business. Multiculturalism, kindness, responsibility, freedom, and a pioneering spirit are our brand values. It is important that we find the right talents who resonate with these values, and that we nurture their growth.

We take pride in offering people a life-changing experience in their career with the freedom to learn more and develop their passions.

A key benefit people love about working with Club Med is the opportunity to travel, with opportunities to work around the world. Our G.Os often move between resorts every one to two years. They may be in Japan one year, then in France the next. They get to experience different seasons, meet with people all around the world, and even explore the destinations or learn sports on their days off.

ICYMI: Snapshot: Why employee safety and wellbeing should be HR's top responsibility

Q Who is the one person who has inspired you the most in your career, and why?

I had an HR director in France, Olivier Rozier, who has been such an inspiration to me. He was the person who made me fall in love with HR as a career option.

Q How would you describe your leadership style?

As a leader, I prioritise communication as well as collaboration, and encourage strong team spirit. While I am very result-oriented, people also often refer to me as jovial and easy to approach.

Q With today’s rapidly evolving environment, what do you believe is HR’s #1 responsibility to add value?

Our responsibility as HR professionals is to retain and develop our talent alongside the growth of the company. To achieve this, it is important to adapt our organisation to develop the right talents, and grow the company.

For example, people are the heart and soul of Club Med. Our guests remember the people who contribute to their unique experience at our resorts more than the hardware. When you speak to one of our guests, you will hear about the G.O they had a meal with or a sports G.O that they received guidance from. A kid might even share stories about the mini club G.O that took care of her – these are not stories you would hear about a holiday experience from someone who stayed at a typical hotel.

Rather than focusing on the beauty of Club Med’s facilities, people remember the unique experiences they have with Club Med – that is the Club Med secret sauce, and the reason people keep returning. It is not a surprise to see guests visiting a resort because they know a certain G.O is now based there – our guests build lasting friendships with our G.Os.

With people a priority at Club Med, HR’s role is thus to reach out to the right talents, as well as nurture the talents we already have, so that we can offer our guests the unique Club Med experience they’ve come to know and love.

Q Is there a phrase that you believe HR professionals should do away with? And what should they replace it with?

I do not have any sentence or phrase that I avoid in particular. Rather, I endeavour to be a good person, and as an HR professional I strive to offer strong support for our team.

Q The pandemic definitely poses another challenge for you and your team. How are these challenges affecting your role - how are you proactively preparing for the future workplace?

When the pandemic hit, we had to adapt our work arrangements, with collaborations now shifted online and fewer opportunities to meet in person. In addition to the training that we offer our staff, we are even shifting offices to welcome our employees and collaborators with the best working and lifestyle environment possible. We are also looking to adopt a hybrid work experience for our employees in the future.

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