Talking to Christophe Lajus

Christophe Lajus wears many hats. For the past five years he has built with his team the Crowne Plaza Shanghai Fudan into one of the most respected hotels in the northern part of the city – hosting academics and Taiwanese pop stars, including Jay Chou, alike. For the past three, he’s also taken on the area manager role for IHG responsible for five Crowne Plaza properties with nearly 2,000 rooms. Most recently, since September 2009, Lajus has served as Chairman of the International Branded Hotels of Shanghai (IBHS), a social network representing 82 of the top international hotels in the city.

Coming from a family that loved to travel during his youth, Lajus opted for the most stimulating national service he could find as a 21 year old and joined the crew of the Jeanne D’Arc, a helicopter carrier of the French Navy, as a butler. “At the time you had to do 12 months of military service,” he says, “and just going into a military camp or a city for a year is not exciting, it is not what I was looking for.”

Sailing the seas for a year brought him to many parts of the world on goodwill visits, Shanghai included. “When you come to Asia for the first time it’s always very surprising,” he remembers. “You imagine things that are not based in reality, but are more based on what you see on television. The most impressive part of the visit was how well everything was organised in Shanghai when we arrived. It was just starting to open up to the west in 1981, right before Chinese New Year and it was very cold – one of the worst winters on record.”

After his service ended, Lajus gained acceptance to the Ecole Hoteliere De Lausanne, one of the premier hotel schools in the world. “I went to study in Switzerland and it gave me a clear purpose. It developed the foundation I needed to succeed in my career,” he says. “From there I went to work in Morocco first, and then on to the West Indies, which was very nice and interesting. But I had always wanted to go to Asia and though the West Indies was very comfortable, I found the opportunity to work for Banyan Tree Resorts opening a hotel in Indonesia.” Lajus finally made it back to China by the end of the 1990s opening a Garden City Hotel in Chengdu, and, besides a short stint in Thailand in 2000, has been in the country ever since.

“Running a hotel – whether a two star or five star – has the same approach. If you have a good foundation, a knowledge and experience of how to run a business, the difference is how you approach the other issues,” he says. “You need to surround yourself with good people, understand where they are coming from and motivate them to move together in the same direction.”

In a little over 10 years, Lajus has racked up an impressive collection of hotel industry awards. Ever modest, the self-labelled people person gives all credit to his staff. “Anything that has to do with winning an award is due to the people around me,” he says. “There has to be a name attached to it so I am the figurehead, but it’s the hotel team’s award. Awards are always a result of what you invest in your people.”

Another of his accomplishments was being asked to chair IBHS. “I am lucky to be surrounded by great colleagues. The purpose of this organisation is as a platform to discuss social issues, deal with common issues at the municipal level, run educational programs and raise money for children from outside of Shanghai who need heart operations at an early age,” Lajus says. Besides donating to Fudan Children Hospital’s Cardiology Department, IBHS also supports the Shanghai Charity Foundation, the Giving Tree and Mifan Mama, primarily through its annual charity golf tournament. “We are doing something that really helps the community. Charity is like a journey, and it’s not a short-term goal, but it starts from our hearts." 


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