Accor co-founder Gérard Pélisson dies at 91

Gérard Pélisson, the co-founder of Accor, died on March 6, the company announced. He was 91.   

Together with business partner Paul Dubrule, Pélisson inspired a new approach to French hospitality and founded Paris-based Accor, now one of the largest global hotel companies. With a market capitalization of $8.9 billion, the group’s portfolio includes 5,445 hotels and 802,269 rooms across 100 countries. Its pipeline currently stands at 1,247 hotels and 216,000 rooms.   

Pélisson established himself as an engineer after finishing his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1967, he left a promising career at IBM to pursue the development of a U.S.-inspired Novotel in Lille Lesquin, France, which laid the groundwork for Accor. While working at IBM, he became fascinated with America’s standardized hotel business model, which inspired him to launch a similar venture in France. 

“The Novotel model was a truly revolutionary concept that was years ahead of its time. It offered guests a modern bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and desk, a grill restaurant, a swimming pool and breakfast, all for one rate. Something most hotels of the time did not provide,” Accor Chairman and CEO Sébastien Bazin wrote in a letter announcing Pélisson’s death, calling him an “iconic trailblazer.” 

Pélisson and Dubrule opened the first ibis hotel in Bordeaux, France, launching a network of low-cost hotels in France and then throughout Europe. In 1983, their company, SEIH, which invested in Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, became Accor. 

Their disruptive methods included campaigns, like “A room for 99 francs (€15)” at the budget Formule1 chain, now known as hotelF1.  

For more than 40 years, Pélisson worked to expand Accor’s portfolio and achieved major milestones, including establishing ibis in 1974, acquiring Mercure in 1975 and Sofitel in 1980, leading the merger with Jacques Borel in 1982, launching Formule 1 in 1985, integrating Lenôtre in 1990 and purchasing Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et du Tourisme in 1991.   

Pélisson oversaw Accor publicly listing in 1983 and also served as chairman of the Institut Paul Bocuse. He believed that all roles across the hospitality sector be recognized for the parts they played.   

In 1997, he stepped back from leading Accor and served as co-chair of the supervisory board along with Dubrule.   

“Gérard Pelisson was an entrepreneur par excellence. A true revolutionary of our industry who, together with Paul Dubrule, made Accor a global force to be reckoned with. With courage and determination, they fearlessly challenged conventions, reinvented hospitality, and forever altered the industry’s trajectory, making a global impact. Gérard’s legacy lives on at Accor and we will all endeavor to embrace his daring spirit, mirroring his pursuit of excellence and passion for business. His vision and heart will forever be with us!” Bazin wrote.  

Pélisson was passionate about golf and launched ‘Tee Bleu,’ a tournament open to the company.  

To honor his legacy, Accor will be paying tribute using a virtual commemoration wall