Checking in on Hotel Mojo | Christiane Germain, Co-President, Germain Hotels cover image
The Co-President of Germain Hotels chats about the future of her hotels, how they’re handling Covid-19, and the ways they might refocus.
Christiane Germain
Christiane Germain

And I have to say, there's another thing that I realized over the course of my life that has always been very important. It's getting out of my comfort zone. That, to me, is always a great source of doing things, you know. Something that I've never done, to do it is always a great- yes it gets me going for sure.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Hi everyone and welcome to the Mojo Moments podcast, I’m your host Thane Calder. On today’s podcast, I spoke with Christiane Germain, co-founder, co-President of the Germain Hotels Group. We recorded this in April 2020, during the full COVID madness. Everyone’s in self isolation, but if there’s one industry that was particularly hit, it’s the hotel industry. So we got into that, and we talked about her mojo, her teams’ mojo, and just essentially how we’re going to get out of this mess. Here’s my conversation with Christiane Germain.

Thane
Thane

Well welcome to the podcast.

Christiane
Christiane

Thanks.

Thane
Thane

I'm going to share a little anecdote that I shared with Christiane the other day, cause on a personal front,  she didn't realize this, but Le Germain has played a big role in my life. When I started CloudRaker 20 years ago, I didn't have an office, so I would go and use the hotel on Mansfield in Montreal, use the lobby to meet people, try and recruit clients, recruit people, and I just said "well, it's a nice central place to meet." And I would drink the free coffee, eat the apples, and did that for a little while.

So you played a big part in the starting and founding of CloudRaker, and there's another moment, by the way, is, three years after starting the business, went on a business trip to Toronto and stayed at Le Germain, and I'm not blowing any BS here. It was the first moment I felt that I was getting successful. Because I was staying at Le Germain and it was, uh, I felt good. And it was interesting, I shared the hotel room with my business partner, cause we were still keeping an eye on our costs. 

Christiane
Christiane

That's great. But when you stayed in Toronto, you actually paid for your hotel room. You paid for the room, right? You didn't stay...

Thane
Thane

Absolutely. No, no, no, no, no. There was nothing... There's been nothing free since. And I think I've paid for that coffee and apples many times over because you're our go-to hotel. So don't worry.

Christiane
Christiane

It's a nice story. And you know what I'm, when you told me about it, you know, it's nice to know that you helped in a certain way, you know, you helped someone starting his own business, you know? So you actually were in a way, part of it. So that's great.

Thane
Thane

You should have asked for shares, you know, where's your, where's your dividend?

Christiane
Christiane

Probably, probably. I was too busy running my own business.

Thane
Thane

Absolutely. So look, we do this thing to warm things up. We do five quick little questions to get the flow going here. So it's kinda like, you know, when you check into the hotel, that's what we're doing. We're checking into the podcast. Just to start things off. We are living, and we're recording this during a very unique time in our lives. We're in the COVID era. So I guess the first question just to warm things up is what's one thing you took for granted before this COVID crisis that you now appreciate much more.

Christiane
Christiane

Well, it's funny though... I never took my liberty, "ma liberté" for granted. I, no. But now I miss it so much! You know... I know, it has always been being free to do what I want, being you know, free to go where I want to go, being... it has always been very important in my life and now going through this crisis, this COVID thing, it makes me realize that I wasn't faking it. This is what I miss the most, being free of doing what I want.

Thane
Thane

It’s really, it's part of you, that...

Christiane
Christiane

It is. It's very much part of me. It's what, you know I can, it doesn't bother me being alone. It doesn't bother me being, yeah, being alone or being at home, staying at home or... It doesn't bother me. But not being able to do it when I want to do it is really something that I miss.

Thane
Thane

That speaks to your entrepreneurial side too, probably. So let me - jumping off that is, I guess, in this COVID period is there some sort of positive surprise, something you've experienced during this COVID period that's been a positive surprise?

Christiane
Christiane

I guess... it's funny because at the same time there's the good and there's the bad and the good is of course, seeing all these gestures, all these moments of people getting together and helping one another and being there for the other person. But at the same time, you see this, you see these people that are completely the opposite. And it's, it's on the same street. I mean, you see really the best. And on the other side of the street, you see the worst, you know.

Thane
Thane

So it's, it's like a clarity.

Christiane
Christiane

Really.

Thane
Thane

Who's on the team and who's not on the team type of thing.

Christiane
Christiane

Really, really. And of course, people are very resilient, I find. I see, we've had to temporarily lay off many, many, many, many people. And they are people that I was more concerned about, you know, I didn't know how they would react, if they would be able to continue their lives and still live in their houses and stuff like that. But I find people are very, very resilient and you realize there are people stronger than you think. You know, they have a lot of strength in themselves.

Thane
Thane

Yeah.

Christiane
Christiane

That's good.

Thane
Thane

I would agree. I'm- just to riff on that, I've been so positively surprised by, just talking about CloudRaker, like, how the team have stepped up in so many ways and their proactivity and, it's incredible. Okay, on the spirit of having a guest in your hotel that you wish, you would love to have as a guest. Who would that be?

Christiane
Christiane

You mean someone we know, someone...

Thane
Thane

Someone in the world. May be alive. It could be someone not alive anymore, but someone of interest that you would love to have.

Christiane
Christiane

Oh my God...

Thane
Thane

These are supposed to be simple warmup question. Right?

Christiane
Christiane

Yeah no, I think, someone that I would like to... Oh! Barack Obama.

Thane
Thane

Yeah.

Christiane
Christiane

He came to Montreal and I was very, very disappointed that he didn't stay at our hotel. I really would have loved him to stay at our hotel. Yeah. You know, people that I don't know, famous people, I'm always a little... you know... But him, I feel that he really is what, what we see him as a person, you know? So, yeah, I was very disappointed, that he wasn't staying at our hotel. 

Thane
Thane

Well, maybe we can work on that. We'll make sure he- he's going to be a big fan of our podcast, I think. You've been a, I forget the name of the French, but you've done the Dragon's Den thing. What’s it...

Christiane
Christiane

Dans L'Oeil du Dragon.

Thane
Thane

Yeah, Dans l'Oeil du Dragon. Do you think the advice you would give some of the startups, would you change whatever advice in thinking now? 

Christiane
Christiane

No.

Thane
Thane

It's the same? 

Christiane
Christiane

And the last of our warmup questions, what book have you read in the last while, that has had a big impact on you? 

Thane
Thane

And the last of our warmup questions, what book have you read in the last while, that has had a big impact on you? 

Christiane
Christiane

Well, I read a book, some- a couple of years ago, written by Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks.

Thane
Thane

Yeah.

Christiane
Christiane

And the book was Onward. It was about the turnaround, when he came back. And how he did the turnaround of his company because he had left the company and then he came back cause it wasn't going so well after he left, bringing back the culture of the company and the values of what Starbucks was all about. And going back to the origin of his company to make sure that the values he built the company on, were still there. Yeah, that's a book that I keep, it's always close to me and I think in what we are going through right now, it's going to be helpful. Yeah.

Thane
Thane

Helpful as almost like a guiding light for people to navigate through this period?

Christiane
Christiane

Yeah, and, you know, when I talk with my teams and talk about different things we should do, and... And I always go back to when we started. And I keep telling them, you know, I don't want to sound like an old... But you have- and I, and I remember when we opened the hotel in Montreal, the one, you actually, uh... 

Thane
Thane

Stole your coffee from...

Christiane
Christiane

Used to start your business. And I remember what my thinking was when I started that hotel, and how I was working. And I communicate that to the team. Cause I'm telling them now, I'm telling them, you know, this is what I had in mind when we started this company. 

Thane
Thane

Can you bring us into that a little? What was going on in your mind at that period? 

Christiane
Christiane

I wanted to offer our guests a good quality product with no frills, but really be close to them and being attentionate to them and listening to what they wanted. So, and I want it to be, to give them a good- the value for me was very, very important, value for their money. And I think this is what we have to go back to.

Not that the value wasn't there, before COVID. It was there, but we have to work harder in getting them, a better value for their money cause people are, I think, people will be... I mean the frills, what we call the frills, like the concierge services and turn-down services and all that stuff won't be that important for a while.

It's going to be, we go back to the real thing and I don't think people will have the same kind of money. I don't think they will spend the same way. I think they will want to have a good human experience because they have been out of human touch. They have been out of- so they will be looking for human touches, and... And the real stuff, not the things, not the showing off stuff, the real, you know, the real attention. And I remember when we started, that's what I had in mind. And that's what I keep telling them, this is what we're going to have to do.

Thane
Thane

That's really interesting. So when you started the hotel in Quebec City. Did it have that or it was kind of what you learned through that? And then when you did your first expansion, you said, okay, this is important, this element... 

Christiane
Christiane

I think it had that in a way, because we were doing it, right? It was our business and we were doing it, and it's when we came to Montreal that we had to start finding out what's our DNA? You know, what is it that is different than the other ones? And it became very clear to me that we had a good product. Quality. Lots of quality. I mean, we've always been about quality. But at the same time, it, for me, it was the real, good, human spirit was very, very important. And no, like no frills, no... The frills came afterwards, cause then people started asking for this…

Thane
Thane

For little extras?

Christiane
Christiane

... asking for that and the extra. And so in order to give the extras, you have to raise the prices a little bit, yaddada, and we did it, and it's fine! But I think we're going to go back to a little less, but, as I said, I think the human touch is going to be very important.

Thane
Thane

It's interesting cause, with my team and CloudRaker we, well, mainly the properties in Toronto that we go to, but I mean, I've been to many of your great hotels. There is, I'm not going to say the same... but it's very cohesive, the experience. The people in there feel like they've all been through the same... I don't know if it's the recruitment, I don’t know if it's the training, but it feels very cohesive. Where does that come from? 

Christiane
Christiane

It comes from... I mean, we're a family business, right? 

Thane
Thane

Yeah. 

Christiane
Christiane

And we're still very much involved. We're still very much into it. And I think, yeah, I think it comes from who we are, I think it comes from us, you know. 

Thane
Thane

But do you formalize it or it's just, it's kind of transmitted through just the way, uh...

Christiane
Christiane

No, we have, we have work, there is work that has been done on formalizing it because we feel it's very important. In the last year, we renovated the Germain in Montreal and the general manager while he wasn't working in the hotel, went across the country and met with everyone, all of our employees by small groups to tell the story of who we are, and tell anecdotes on how the company was started, so people would understand better where we're coming from, you know? And it's funny cause he had one employee one day that told him she was very happy to learn the stories because she thought the name Germain was there because the owners came from Germany.

Thane
Thane

Okay! 

Christiane
Christiane

So it's, you know, it's surprising sometimes, when you, people start making their own stories, right? And she was maybe, I don't know where she was from, but a lot of our employees come from elsewhere, from other parts of the world, from other countries. She wasn't from here. She was from somewhere else. And in her mind, the name Germain was related to Germany. So it was a great opportunity for the company to have Jacques Alexandre share our story to everyone. And, that's one thing we do. And beside that, I do myself a lot, I still do a lot of traveling in, in our properties to meet with the people, so they know where we're real and we're real people.

Thane
Thane

Do you think when you show up, there's like a little moment of, "Huh! We got to up our game"? 

Christiane
Christiane

Yeah. Yeah, I know, but it's okay. It's okay. 

Thane
Thane

Do you ever go in like disguised or...

Christiane
Christiane

Do you want to know the story, when I did that? 

Thane
Thane

Yeah, absolutely. 

Christiane
Christiane

There was this producing company. They produced TV shows and they had this show about disguising, um... 

Thane
Thane

Oh, the boss show there? The disguising... 

Christiane
Christiane

Yeah! Okay? So they want me to do it. That's a few years ago in Toronto. And I said, there's no way I can do that, everybody knows me and they're going to recognize me. We're not that big of a company. They actually insisted and they said, when you come to Toronto, we'll send you to this place and they will change you, I mean, makeup and new clothes and all that stuff. And we'll make a test. So we'll transform you. And then you go to the hotel and, we'll see, how, what the reaction is?

And I said, “Okay, we'll try it.” Actually, you know, it's fun. So we did that and they put a wig on and I was like, my hair was black and my clothes were completely different than what I usually wear. And so I went from there, took a cab and got to the hotel and walked in and I sat in the lobby, for about 10-15 minutes and nobody came to me. And so I said, “Oh, maybe this is working.” And then I went to the restaurant and someone gave me a seat and the menu, and then the manager of the restaurant came to me and he said, "Hey, I like your new style..." 

Thane
Thane

So it was a total fail...

Christiane
Christiane

“You changed your hair. I like that." Didn’t work. 

Thane
Thane

It was a total flop. I can't believe- like when you looked in the mirror, did you look, you feel you look different? 

Christiane
Christiane

Oh yeah. No, no, no, no. It was, it was completely different, and I actually asked the cab driver. I said, drop me off. You know, I asked him to drop me off a little, so I had, I had to walk and get used to my clothes.

Thane
Thane

 Your new style. 

Christiane
Christiane

Yeah.

Thane
Thane

That is so funny. 

Christiane
Christiane

He said “Oh, you changed your style, I kinda like it." 

Thane
Thane

So did you let him in on what's going on? Or did he just... 

Christiane
Christiane

Yeah, yeah.

Thane
Thane

You were like- Oh, that is so funny. So I guess that show... 

Christiane
Christiane

I said “I'm glad you like it, but it's not gonna stay.

Thane
Thane

That show's not going to happen. That is so funny. I'm going to have to try and do that at CloudRaker, come in, with a different look, see if they catch on.

So one of the things that is very important to our mojo podcast is trying to get a sense of where our guests get their mojo. So, you know, Christiane, where do you get that spark, or that energy, especially in like a period right now, sometimes you need that extra little boost to, to either for your teams or for your projects… Where do you turn for your mojo? 

Christiane
Christiane

I, you know, I've been thinking about it a lot. It's an easy question, but it's a difficult answer. First of all, I think, it can vary, but let's say that giving people jobs is something that is... it makes me proud. And it's, the more I give jobs to people, the better I feel. And that's probably something that, you know, we talked about building new hotels and development and all that stuff, and I was always very excited about opening up a new hotel and realizing the number of jobs that I was creating, that, to me was always...

Yeah, it made me proud, it was important to me, and it still is. But, you know, having gone through what we just went through, it was devastating having to do these layoffs and it was just terrible. But it made me, I was very happy about that. And it has always been a great source of motivation.

Thane
Thane

Well, it seems very real because you have!

Christiane
Christiane

It's something that I really, uh... And I have to say, there's another thing that I realized over the course of my life that has always been very important. It's getting out of my comfort zone. That, to me, is always a great source of doing things, you know. Something that I've never done, to do it is always a great- yes it gets me going for sure. For sure. 

Thane
Thane

It's interesting cause we have, at CloudRaker, a beliefs book. So we have 11 beliefs and one of them is “dare to fail.” 

Christiane
Christiane

Yeah.

Thane
Thane

Push yourself. Go into that zone. And there's, yeah, and I agree with you. There's an energy that comes out of that.

Christiane
Christiane

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. 

Thane
Thane

So that, that's great. 

Christiane
Christiane

Except this one I didn't... The one, you know, cause these days I'm definitely going out of my comfort zone, but I didn't choose it. 

Thane
Thane

We don't always choose... This one, no, no one chose this one. 

Christiane
Christiane

No.

Thane
Thane

Is there anything else that you're doing with the teams right now to keep them motivated or positive in this period?

Christiane
Christiane

Well, we actually meet on a very regular basis. Because of this Zoom thing, it makes it very easy to sort of be connected with people. So, you know, I meet with all the general managers every other day, all across the country. And we're on the same call every other day. And once a week we make a call with the people that work in this office here in Montreal. And, the executive committee we meet every other day as well. So we, yeah, we stay connected. 

Thane
Thane

You know, it's interesting you were talking about the world after COVID, getting back to more value driven- um, do you think that'll be a ripple effect, across the whole hospitality industry? Or is it more an angle that you feel that you want to bring back into Le Germain?

Christiane
Christiane

You know, it's funny, I've never been very- and I shouldn't say that, cause it may give you the impression that I don't care about people but I really do. I really do care about people, but I'm never really concerned about what the other people in my business are going to do. I tend to sort of focus on me, not me, but my, my company, my organization, what I think is good for the company. And what the other people are going to do, I'm not really concerned about that. And I think the human touch is going to be very important, and maybe everybody else is going to think like that. And I'm not being... you know, it's not that I don't care, but, I have, I care about my business, you know? 

Thane
Thane

Yeah, no, no, it doesn't come across as- it seems like more you're focused. So it's interesting, like when you, you know, looking to do a new project, what are you looking for in those? You know, obviously you want to make money, it's a business, but what are the elements that you look for in a new project?

Christiane
Christiane

It's a very, it's such a good question you know what? Because I, you realize, or I realized that  you get into a system that you sort of, you have to, you can't stay still. You have to open hotels. And I don't want you to think that I wasn't thinking before opening them, but now, I'm asking myself the question. Will I be able to... I know we won't be able to maintain the same rhythm of opening hotels. And I am sure that the questions and the answers are going to be different when we're going to start about opening other hotels.

Because it was more like, we've got to keep the ball rolling. Right? It was just, okay. Yes. I mean, of course, is it a good location? Yes, it's a good location. So we think that yadada, yeah. All these technical, to me, they're technical questions, right? And you sometimes, you can, not make up answers, but, uh, a little bit, you know, if you really want in, you know, you... 

Thane
Thane

If you want to convince yourself, you can. 

Christiane
Christiane

Yes. The reality is yes, you can actually convince yourself and when you are convinced, you can convince other people and you, I mean, it works. You open and it works. And it's good. I'm not, and don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that all we did was wrong and no, we did some things right, but will the things that we did right are going to be the same from now on? I'm not sure.

Thane
Thane

It's interesting cause this period is- now, I don't think you're alone in this, but it's sort of forcing some deeper reflection on a lot of our decisions.

Christiane
Christiane

Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, I know for myself that I'm not going to convince myself. I will need to be convinced by others. 

Thane
Thane

Would you, coming out of this, consider other countries?

Christiane
Christiane

We were on the... not, I wouldn't say on the point of, but we were looking at going across the States, in States like, um, Washington, Oregon... in the West. 

Thane
Thane

Yeah.

Christiane
Christiane

We were considering going there. But I think it will be on the ice for a while. 

Thane
Thane

So in the mindset pre-COVID, it was more, you got to keep moving. We got to keep rolling. Okay. Where is next? Keep planting the flag. Let's go... 

Christiane
Christiane

Absolutely. Absolutely. No, it was really, it was like that. We had 10 hotels planned for the next five years, which is, which for us is a lot. 

Thane
Thane

Yeah I get it!

Christiane
Christiane

It's a lot because we're not, you know, we’re a small organization and 10 hotels in five years is a lot, and that's what we have on plans and it's, it's not gonna happen.

Thane
Thane

Interesting. So, here's our wrap up question that segues out of that one. What would be the one piece of advice you would give yourself, back in 1988? That you know now, but if you could talk to you starting out in 1988, what would be the one advice you'd give yourself? 

Christiane
Christiane

I think I would tell... I would tell myself to spend a little more time getting to know myself. And try not to please everyone. I started this business and I started working very young cause I didn't go to, I didn't like going to school. So, you know, I didn't study for too long. So I started working young, started this company when I was young. I did everything when I was young and... I had a lot of energy. I wanted to be successful- not successful, but I wanted to be able to earn my own money, to be independent. That was very important.

But I didn't spend too much, I didn't spend time getting to know myself, to really understand what I wanted to be, who I wanted to be. It was not about me. It was just about, everything else but me and, it was just like making sure everybody was happy, pleasing everybody and yadada... And it's fine. You know, it's... but today going back, if I, yeah, spend a little bit more time getting to know yourself, what you really want and, uh...

Thane
Thane

Yeah. No, but that's really interesting. That's really interesting. I sometimes wonder if, can someone just do that? Or it's through the process of doing all the things that they get to know themselves at the same time? You know, like it's a...

Christiane
Christiane

Yeah. But it wasn't, you know, going back, I don't know how many years ago, but it was not, you couldn't do that. It was just... especially, and I have to say it, especially as a woman, you couldn't do that. You know, getting to know yourself a little bit more, understanding who you are, understanding, no, you couldn't do that! It was just go go go, and, you know, make sure it works.

Thane
Thane

Definitely for women entrepreneurs, there's that reality of having to always prove a little more...

Christiane
Christiane

Oh my God. It was all about showing that you can do it, you know? 

Thane
Thane

Yeah. 

Christiane
Christiane

Showing, I mean, you have to show you can do it, and you can do it. And you have a family, but you can do it all, go, go, go. You know, so there was nothing about me, what I really wanted, and so yeah, if I was going back, I would take a little bit more time understanding myself. Yeah. 

Thane
Thane

Well, that's super. Well, I really appreciate it. This has been awesome. So thank you so much, Christiane, for joining us on this podcast. 

Christiane
Christiane

Thank you.

Thane
Thane

And I wish you continued success and it might be interesting to reconnect in a year's time and see you where we're at on this whole post-COVID era. Thank you. 

Christiane
Christiane

Well, thank you all. It was great. You're a wonderful team and I'm glad you thought about me. Thank you very much.

Mojo Moments Takeaway

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

That was great, chatting with Christiane Germain. If anyone is going to find their way through the troubles of the hospitality industry, it’s Christiane. So, to discuss our Mojo Takeaways, I’m joined today by Mark Dolynskyj, Associate Creative Director here at CloudRaker. Welcome back Mark. 

Mark Dolynskyj
Mark Dolynskyj

Thanks!

Thane
Thane

So, what are your big takeaways? 

Mark
Mark

My big takeaway from this conversation was definitely her talk around value, and how coming out of this sort of COVID era, after stopping the expansion, refocusing on her central business, and that attention to the value that her hotel is providing for customers. She sort of sees that as the way forward, she’s reducing the frills, those little elements that sort of add up over time… which she was connecting in a way - and I think we can connect it - to that original starting point, when they started up all that time ago. When they started, it was a family business, it was a few people, they’re still in charge, it’s still a family business, and they’re able to focus on a core identity and pivot really quickly. But it’s still focused all around that value that they’re able to provide their customers.

Thane
Thane

Yeah and I actually found it was interesting, cause sometimes when you think of mojo, or inspiration, we’re always thinking bigger, better, more… and in a way, her idea of getting the mojo back - and these are our words, of course - but it was getting back to the core, the essence, of what Germain is trying to provide.

Anyways… So I think that was a huge insight that she shared with us. It’s interesting because in that conversation, it was April 2020, I mean we’re in the middle of an incredible era of like, we don’t know how all this plays out, so everyone is trying to figure out what it all means. It’d be interesting to reconnect with her this time next year, and go “okay, how did it play out? Did it play out the way she thought?”

Mark
Mark

Yeah and in the end, they’re refocusing on what they stand for as a hotel chain, which is, which is really nice. We always want brands to be true to themselves, and have a really strong core identity, and I think it’s almost they’re re-finding that by, instead of focusing on that expansion, they’ve sort of gone internal in a way, by focusing on what they need to think about, on their side, to provide the best experience that they can. 

Thane
Thane

Okay, that’s it for this one! Thanks Mark, and a special thanks to Christiane, especially in this awesomely weird period we’re living. And here’s Chris Velan to play us out.

By the way, subscribe, subscribe, subscribe, as they say the rule of sales is repeat, repeat, repeat.

Speak soon, be safe, be safe, be safe. 

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