Leaders as Humble as They are Successful

Refreshingly candid conversations with some of today's most humble leaders. Adam Kaufman dives into topics often left unexplored. His guests’ challenges, fears, and motivations show what it takes to become a humble leader.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify

Philippe Bourguignon: A Life of Creativity and Passion

| S:2 E:2

Philippe Bourguignon meanders and dreams. His creativity and passion has led him on adventures around the world and placed him at the top of many successful companies and renowned organizations. He has served as the CEO of Euro Disney, Chairman and CEO of Club Med, and the co-CEO of the World Economic Forum. Listen in to find out what Philippe Bourguignon has been Up2 and what can be learned from him.

Where to Listen

Find us in your favorite podcast app.

Adam Kaufman: Right now I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about Calfee, Halter & Griswold, a full service corporate law firm with attorneys throughout Ohio and in Washington D.C. Calfee’s mission has been to provide meaningful legal and business counsel to entrepreneurs and investors, private business owners and nonprofits, public corporations. I’ve referred many successful entrepreneurs and investors to Calfee knowing how well they’d be taken care of. And it’s for those reasons that I would encourage you to visit their Web site calfee.com. That’s C A L F E E dot com. Thank you very much to Calfee. Hi. I’m Adam Kaufman and you’re listening to the Up2 podcast. I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to be networking and serving and working with some of the most successful and influential leaders in America. Eight years ago we started Up2 as a live event series which showcases leaders who I thought were as humble as they are successful. The humility piece is very important as we identify these leaders who can hopefully inspire others. And over the years we’ve interviewed trailblazers from the fields of medicine, from business, from the military, nonprofit leaders, from politics and more. We really focus our interviews on the non-business aspects of their lives and we found that there is a real thirst to explore their hearts and their minds in maybe atypical ways. So time and again, attendees of Up2 asked us to expand the event so that more people could participate and benefit from the special conversations taking place. And that’s why we started this podcast. Today’s episode features one of the most accomplished, frankly most colorful, global leaders I’ve ever met. Philippe Bourguignon. We traveled to Washington D.C. to sit down with Philippe who is the former CEO of Euro Disney, a longtime board member of eBay, a board member currently of CAVA, one of the fastest growing restaurants in the US with close to 300 locations. He’s the former CEO of Exclusive Resorts, the former CEO of Miraval a luxury spa destination in Arizona. He was the CEO of Club Med and the one time co-CEO of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He’s so creative. He’s always optimistic, always looking to challenge himself in new ways whether it’s painting or racing sailing yachts. I’m so glad you’ll get to know this extremely humble leader today. Philippe Bourguignon welcome to Up2.

Philippe Bourguignon: Good morning.

Adam Kaufman: Have you ever been on a podcast before?

Philippe Bourguignon: Once yes and thank you for inviting me.

Adam Kaufman: We’re so thrilled to have you here I know you are a true global citizen and we’re are grateful that you gave us some of your valuable time today. Philippe I want to start with this. Do you ever take time thinking about, out of all of these leadership positions that you’ve had, what are your strengths? Was it by chance you ended up being the CEO of so many amazing companies or are they all capitalizing on some strengths of yours?

Philippe Bourguignon: I think I’ve been very lucky. I think life is about encounters and the moments and when you combine the two you create opportunities or you don’t.

Adam Kaufman: So you’ve been able to create some opportunities?

Philippe Bourguignon: And I believe also that life it’s not a straight line. You meander, you have ups and downs and you rebound on your low moments.

Adam Kaufman: Yes.

Philippe Bourguignon: You learn from the low moments.

Adam Kaufman: I call that navigating a curve in the road.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes that’s what it is. So I personally believe you have some successful people who have a big ego.

Adam Kaufman: Yes that’s a lot.

Philippe Bourguignon: But I think you are even more successful if you have a limited ego because ego closes your eyes. It’s difficult to make encounters because you don’t even see the people.

Adam Kaufman: That’s a great point I haven’t thought about that before. And just today I had a marketing professional listen to some of our podcast and I asked him for feedback and he said, “Well this is kind of my area of expertise. Do you want real feedback or are you happy with the way things are?” And it was tempting to just say, “Hey I’m glad you like it.” But I ask for the real feedback. And it was very humbling. To your point it is very humbling. But my eyes were opened.

Philippe Bourguignon: And you forget, you know you said I’ve been CEO of a number of impressive companies, in fact not too many is just happening that in the last 14 years as partner with Steve Case at the Revolution I’ve been in charge of a number of companies within the…

Adam Kaufman: Family of business.

Philippe Bourguignon: The family of businesses.

Adam Kaufman: No but this is you being humble.

Philippe Bourguignon: There is, but there is one.

Adam Kaufman: Euro Disney that wasn’t related.

Philippe Bourguignon: For me… First, again I’ve been lucky and I really liked any single of my jobs.

Adam Kaufman: You’ve liked them all.

Philippe Bourguignon: All. But the one where I learned the most and which I think is the reason why I’ve been successful after is my 14 years with Accor.

Adam Kaufman: International hotel company.

Philippe Bourguignon: We were not talking about startup at the time. I started at Accor in 1974. There were five motels in France, two co-founders, exceptional people. They taught me everything.

Adam Kaufman: How did you end up with them? Were you already in the hotel industry or how did that even start?

Philippe Bourguignon: No I wanted to find a job. I didn’t follow the advice of my father. My father told me you take whatever job which pays the most because your salary follows you the rest of your life. You know you are increased by 10 percent of the starting point.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah.

Philippe Bourguignon: So the starting point is very important. But my goal was to travel.

Adam Kaufman: Did you grow up in France? Or I thought Morocco maybe you were born in Morocco?

Philippe Bourguignon: I was raised in Morocco. I arrived in Morocco I was two years old and I left when I was 17. So it broadens your mind, your moral core. At the time and still today is a very young country and you’re raised… My parents put me in a public school.

Adam Kaufman: Wow.

Philippe Bourguignon: And in public school you had Muslims, Jewish, Catholic, Protestants.

Adam Kaufman: Pretty homogenous though.

Philippe Bourguignon: And nobody cared. And there was this community of people in Morocco. That’s the world I’ve been living in. And I’m thankful to my parents to you know first to live in Morocco.

Adam Kaufman: Put you there yeah.

Philippe Bourguignon: Because living abroad also opens your eyes you know, broadens your mind.

Adam Kaufman: I interrupted you so you were saying your father encouraged you to take a job and then so you started with Accor.

Philippe Bourguignon: But I wanted to travel. I didn’t want to stay in France. I love my country but I wanted to travel the world because travel makes you dream. And I’m a passionate person and I’m a dreamer. So I found a first job but I couldn’t travel. So I looked for a job and Paul Dubrule, the founder of Accor, again very small company then interviewed me and he had again five motels in France and they were planning to open a hotel in Brussels which was their first “international hotel.”

Adam Kaufman: Give me a snapshot were you like in your 20s at this point or how old were you?

Philippe Bourguignon: I was like twenty five.

Adam Kaufman: So pretty early in your career.

Philippe Bourguignon: And at the end of the interview he told me, “So you wanted to travel. We’re going to go international. Do you prefer Africa or the Middle East?”

Adam Kaufman: Wow.

Philippe Bourguignon: And remember 1974 the Middle East just started. Oil prices went up after the war six days. You know ’73. The United Arab Emirates became independent from the British. So 1974 was Middle East was the place to be.

Adam Kaufman: What an exciting moment in time.

Philippe Bourguignon: And so again I’ve been lucky because who would dare to take a young kid, 25, 26 years old and tell him, “OK Middle East. Go there.”

Adam Kaufman: Spectacular and your job was to find new properties to open?

Philippe Bourguignon: Was to develop new hotels and in countries I didn’t know. So you know I started in Saudi Arabia then went to what’s called the Gulf at the time. I lived and traveled in Lebanon which Adam you know well.

Adam Kaufman: Oh yes.

Philippe Bourguignon: I live there. In fact I traveled to Jordan, travelled to Iraq, travelled to Afghanistan, to Iran, to Oman, Muscat, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt. What else? I mean when you’re 26, magic!

Adam Kaufman: Spectacular.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

Adam Kaufman: This is before you were married or had kids so you were able to move around pretty easily.

Philippe Bourguignon: This is before. Yes.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes.

Adam Kaufman: Tremendous.

Philippe Bourguignon: I was very available and you had to be at the time because at the time there was cell phone.

Adam Kaufman: Wow.

Philippe Bourguignon: And hardly you had Telex which you had to use. You know can I tell you an anecdote?

Adam Kaufman: Please do.

Philippe Bourguignon: So the first time I arrive in Dubai. So I’ve already talked about Dubai and look at the pictures of Dubai today. Dubai was one thing called the creek and the creek was this little port. This was Dubai. There was a little hotel called the beach hotel owned by a Lebanese.

Adam Kaufman: Of course.

Philippe Bourguignon: And in poor shape but OK. It was the only hotel anyway. So either you had a room or you had no room. If you had no room there was a huge parking adjacent to the hotel and you could rent a cab for the night, sleep in the cab.

Adam Kaufman: Oh my gosh.

Philippe Bourguignon: And in the morning you could take a shower outside in the parking. And then wait in line to send your Telex to Paris explaining what you did the day before.

Adam Kaufman: So you did do this yourself.

Philippe Bourguignon: Oh absolutely. A number of times. The other thing is at the time you had a meeting with a Shia or and Emir for let’s say Wednesday at 2 pm and you could meet with them Thursday, not Friday, Saturday or Sunday. There was no notion of time. So some time you would get there and stay for a week for one meeting.

Adam Kaufman: Wow.

Philippe Bourguignon: But I learned so much. I learned patience.

Adam Kaufman: Yes.

Philippe Bourguignon: I learnt another thing. One day I’m in Pakistan and I’m spending a weekend in Peshawar which is a place you cannot go today anymore. It’s full of Taliban.

Adam Kaufman: Dangerous.

Philippe Bourguignon: But at the time it was an amazing place. And I drove the Khyber Pass which is the historic pass where the Greeks invaded Pakistan, Asia. And the Khyber Pass is between Peshawar and Kabul. So I was there in the mountains and I enjoyed it and I was supposed to take a flight on Friday night to meet with the CEO of Pakistan Airline who was like really a very important—

Adam Kaufman: Big time person yeah.

Philippe Bourguignon: Used to be Air Marshall Noor Khan used to be the commander in chief of the Pakistani army during the war with Bangladesh.

Adam Kaufman: OK.

Philippe Bourguignon: And I had a meeting with him that Saturday and I am in Peshawar. And the flights are canceled. At the time again you had no cell phone, no nothing. So I couldn’t tell him. And so I showed up like 24 hours late. I see his assistant and I say well when can we plan meeting. And at the same time Air Marshall Noor Khan and gets out of his office. “Oh Phillipe you’re here.” I said, “I’m so sorry I’m late and I apologize.” He said, “Why apologize Phillipe? When it’s impossible? It’s impossible.”

Adam Kaufman: So what did you learn from that? I mean what’s your takeaway?

Philippe Bourguignon: Exactly that, when it’s impossible it’s impossible.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Philippe Bourguignon: That’s a very important thing. So you don’t force destiny. So many people get upset and stressed because there is something going on because it’s impossible to do anyway.

Adam Kaufman: So you’ve already mentioned like 20 countries in the first 10 minutes we’ve been talking. One of the things I planned on asking—

Philippe Bourguignon: No but those countries mock me because that’s where I learned and I wish those countries were in better shape today.

Adam Kaufman: Of course. You now choose to live in the United States part time and in France part time. What do you like about the United States? I imagine someone like you, you could live anywhere. Why do you choose to live in the US? What do you like about the U.S.?

Philippe Bourguignon: So many things I could tell you.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah.

Philippe Bourguignon: So first of all when I lived in Morocco my father was the head of Caterpillar for Morocco. At first in Africa after.

Adam Kaufman: Ok a good U.S. company, Caterpillar.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes Peoria, Illinois.

Adam Kaufman: Sure.

Philippe Bourguignon: And every year my father would take me when I was a 10 and older to Peoria, Illinois.

Adam Kaufman: Wow.

Philippe Bourguignon: With him because you had a business meeting. I would stay with the kids of his boss for like three or four days and then my father would take me to somewhere, another city. So that’s how between age 10 and 16…

Adam Kaufman: You got some exposure to the U.S.

Philippe Bourguignon: I first I got to know Peoria which is in the heart of America. You know it’s deep America.

Adam Kaufman: Heart of America.

Philippe Bourguignon: But also discovered San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Houston and so on. And from that time I had something with the U.S. That’s the first step. The second step is I graduated, I did a master’s in economics at University of Aix-en-Provence and University of Aix-en-Provence was in the South of France.

Adam Kaufman: Yes.

Philippe Bourguignon: Was a twin with University of Texas.

Adam Kaufman: Oh okay.

Philippe Bourguignon: And if you were doing your last semester in Austin you would have the master from borth universities.

Adam Kaufman: OK.

Philippe Bourguignon: So we a to France we are four of us. We moved to Austin last year.

Adam Kaufman: OK.

Philippe Bourguignon: I graduated from University of Texas.

Adam Kaufman: Awesome hook em horns.

Philippe Bourguignon: I lived there. Fell in love with country music.

Adam Kaufman: Wow.

Philippe Bourguignon: And a country music singer. By the way I was not married again.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Philippe Bourguignon: And I really loved it.

Adam Kaufman: During the first season of the Up2 podcast I had several companies and entrepreneurs approach me about potential partnerships but I’m really selective before choosing to do something like that. One choice we did make happily is to partner with VividFront, a full service digital marketing and web site design agency based in Cleveland that works with both local and national brands. They’ve built their entire client base on referrals and they’ve won a lot of awards including the 2019 Inc Magazine top 5000 fastest growing companies, North Coast’s top places to work and several others. They’re known for their talent. They’re known for their creativity. They’re known for their culture. A firm I liked before we agreed to partner together for the show. Check out vividfront.com or you can email me and I’ll introduce you to their dynamic leader. Andrew Spot. Hello my name is Adam Kaufman and I’m thankful you’re joining us today on the Up2 podcast. I want to tell you about a group that I’m grateful for and that is TownHall, Cleveland’s most popular restaurant and one that I can say is the only place my wife tells me she can eat every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. TownHall was the first all non-GMO restaurant in the U.S. a few years ago and they’re now expanding into Columbus, Ohio soon. I’m also very selective about who we choose to partner with for this podcast and it was with open arms that I embrace the idea of partnering with Bobby George and TownHall. To learn more about what they’re up to you can visit townhall ohiocity.com.

Adam Kaufman: You’ve mentioned your father a few times already. Was he a role model to you? Do you have a good relationship with your father?

Philippe Bourguignon: I had a great relationship. Not easy all the time. My father was in the military when he was young during the war. By the way he joined the U.S. Army and did D-Day but in Provence with Patton.

Adam Kaufman: Wow.

Philippe Bourguignon: So his mind was very square, military.

Adam Kaufman: Yes very regimented. Yes. So he taught me a lot of good values. At the same time I didn’t have… Me and my sisters we didn’t have fun every day. You know it was not easy. But ultimately you know in hindsight it was good. We think we had a good education.

Adam Kaufman: Do you think those character traits of your father have affected the type of father you are? Whether going in another direction or being similar?

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes. Probably much more flexible.

Adam Kaufman: More flexible, less regimented.

Philippe Bourguignon: Two things. One is really an anecdote. But you know at the end of the war they were switching the lights in the places where you leave so you were switching on the lights only if you had to, late at night. But you know—

Adam Kaufman: Controlling electricity use, is that what was going on?

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes because it was restricted during the war and you are careful and so on and so forth. So my father would keep switching off the lights everywhere and I would keep switching them back up.

Adam Kaufman: After the war.

Philippe Bourguignon: And as a reaction, talking about reaction to stupid things. But I cannot live in a place where I don’t switch all the lights. Now my grandchildren are telling me…

Adam Kaufman: Turn off the lights.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes. For other reasons.

Adam Kaufman: But that has stayed with you all those years.

Philippe Bourguignon: So its funny. So I’m starting switching off.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah. Well good you’re learning from your grandkids.

Philippe Bourguignon: Oh sure. My grandson is 10 years old. Just before this broadcast he called me. You saw my phone call just before?

Adam Kaufman: I saw you on the phone right.

Philippe Bourguignon: He was asking me what I felt about the situation in Venezuela.

Adam Kaufman: A 10 year old.

Philippe Bourguignon: 10 years old.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Philippe Bourguignon: And every day either calls me or send me an e-mail. Ten years old, to ask me a question about this problem and what I feel about you know that decision on global warming here. What I think about my whole decision to do this, what I think about the wall in the U.S.

Adam Kaufman: He’s an engaged young man.

Philippe Bourguignon: My point is I think that at our age we were much more submitted to the environment we lived in.

Adam Kaufman: You mean when you were younger?

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes. And which is obviously your family environment. Your culture and environment, your education environment, your religious environment and whatever way of formatting you. And you didn’t have a chance to go directly and extrapolate from yourself.

Adam Kaufman: You can digitally meander now you can digitally look at different things.

Philippe Bourguignon: And therefore you are independent intellectually and much more than we were.

Adam Kaufman: How do you consume information? Are you a digital reader or do you still read magazines? You’re always one of the most up to date person I know on trends like how do you consume information?

Philippe Bourguignon: First I never talk about trends.

Adam Kaufman: OK.

Philippe Bourguignon: Because trends it’s already the past. I talk about tipping points. There is a point where a certain science or technology or things reaches a tipping point and then things are happening.

Adam Kaufman: Can you give us an example that just so we can apply that?

Philippe Bourguignon: Yeah. Three or four years ago I explained that the combination of voice with Internet of Things, I.O.T., and artificial intelligence would change a number about things. Alexa was not born then.

Adam Kaufman: Alexa, Amazon. Siri, Apple.

Philippe Bourguignon: Siri Apple and so on. But there was a tipping point and it all happened within a year.

Adam Kaufman: That’s so forward thinking. That’s amazing. I love how you are such a global citizen. One of the ways you and I have gotten to know each other is through this conference you co-founded in Chamonix, France every September with other leaders from business and the political arena and from science and technology. You were at one time the co-CEO of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland which is still today probably the most renowned gathering of leaders in the world. Why did you start something different in Chamonix, what’s going on at that Summit of Minds as you call it?

Philippe Bourguignon: It happened totally independently and not to recreate something different or equivalent or whatever. We come back to meandering. So I moved to Washington now 14 years ago and the first thing I work on with Steve Case is Miraval.

Adam Kaufman: Miraval the resort in Arizona.

Philippe Bourguignon: And Miraval if you had asked me, “Pilippe, are you going to take a few days in a spa?” A spa? Spa is the wrong word for a number of places like Miraval. Miraval is a place where you bump into yourself. Miraval is a place where something happens. You meet people again who can help you in a number of ways even if you don’t need help. So it was a revelation. So for me I obviously wanted to understand Miraval. So I did a number of things there but I discovered that this was for me.

Adam Kaufman: More than a spa.

Philippe Bourguignon: More than a spa. And it was helping me in the above ways. And by the way my daughter who I am very close to have a great relationship told me it was like two years ago. I wish you had done Miraval when you were 30 years old.

Adam Kaufman: So she has seen the change in you.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes it made me better. It’s called mindfulness.

Adam Kaufman: Mindfulness.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yeah. People talk more and more about it. But again remember 14, 15, years ago…

Adam Kaufman: Right. Again you identified a trend very early I know you don’t call them trends but.

Philippe Bourguignon: First I love the place. The place itself there is something in the ground and I felt that we should do a conference there and mix knowledge, insight, and mindfulness.

Adam Kaufman: Sure.

Philippe Bourguignon: So I felt we should do it at Miraval. And we started working on it with my little think tank but then the crisis happened 2008, 2009. So we couldn’t do it. And my partner at the think tank, Terry proposed me not to do it in Miraval but to do it in Chamonix in France which offers kind of the same…

Adam Kaufman: The outdoors, hiking…

Philippe Bourguignon: Plus there is a spirit there, there is something there.

Adam Kaufman: Something special there.

Philippe Bourguignon: So that’s why we created it not to recreate the new Davos whatever. And I think as of now still today we are the only place where you can do a mindful hike in the morning or something which physically you would not do, try to climb but as an amateur I’m not climb proficiently. And learn about yourself.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah I’ve been lucky enough to go the last four years. Thank you I’m the least accomplished person there. But the guides are wonderful for the outdoor experience.

Philippe Bourguignon: Did you learn something about yourself by climbing or doing? And so we do it in the morning and in the afternoon we try to reconcieve the world and learn from each other.

Adam Kaufman: Big problems.

Philippe Bourguignon: So that’s what we try to achieve. And I think we’ve been successful in achieving it.

Adam Kaufman: And then you recently just had a similar conference in Armenia. I understand.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes.

Adam Kaufman: And do you plan on taking this model into other locations as well?

Philippe Bourguignon: We’re going to do one in Quebec.

Adam Kaufman: OK.

Philippe Bourguignon: More in America. So Armenia. We’re going to redo it next year it was a real success by the way. But more like a place to discuss Eurasia. Relationship between Europe and this part of the world and Armenia is ideally located in addition to being the historic center for Christianity.

Adam Kaufman: The first Christian country in the world.

Philippe Bourguignon: In the world, the oldest.

Adam Kaufman: You were so kind you and Terry to introduce me to the president of Armenia and I was thinking, “What on earth can I say to this esteemed person that will resonate at all?” And so the only thing I said I was authentic was I’m Lebanese by ancestry and I feel like our countries are similar. And he lit up. President Sarkissian and said, “We love Lebanon! We’re kindred spirits with Lebanon.” I love that he said that he’s such an affable person.

Philippe Bourguignon: Plus he’s a very interesting person, he compares politics to a quantum science. I think it’s painted very well. It’s very interesting.

Adam Kaufman: I want you to switch gears a little bit. I’ve always been impressed with your creativity whether it’s the crazy socks you’re famous for or the painting that you like to do. Where does that creativity come from? Because I think I’m not that creative. Were you always creative?

Philippe Bourguignon: Well I don’t know if I was always creative but again I come back to my father. My father kept telling my two sisters and myself that as we become adults we should keep our child’s spirit.

Adam Kaufman: Keep your child’s spirit.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes. Not take ourselves seriously.

Adam Kaufman: Well you’re doing that your father would be very proud of you. You are definitely living that life.

Philippe Bourguignon: And if you adopt it you know it’s still very kids like a kid and they have dreams whatever by definition your creative. Also I’ve been living in environments which were creative. I was telling you about the two co-founders of Accor. Normally in a company you have rules.

Adam Kaufman: Yes a lot of structure.

Philippe Bourguignon: You have structure.

Adam Kaufman: Process.

Philippe Bourguignon: You had values but no processes. Therefore you can express your creativity. And they were like if you are doing mistakes they were not blaming you. They were just talking to you to redo the same mistake but successfully next time.

Adam Kaufman: Has this culture of creativity have you tried to create that and the other companies you’ve led?

Philippe Bourguignon: Oh yes. I’ve been trying hard and one of the reasons after Accor I joined Disney.

Adam Kaufman: A very creative company.

Philippe Bourguignon: It’s an amazingly creative company.

Adam Kaufman: Yes.

Philippe Bourguignon: Imagineers by the way their names. They have it. And when you work for four years like me at the beginning you know I work four years with imagineers trying to conceive new places before I became CEO of Euro Disney. You see amazing things because the same thing they… No constraints.

Adam Kaufman: Anything is possible I bet they think.

Philippe Bourguignon: And I’ll give you an example. And this example I again I learned things from Accor. Then I learned things. Michael Eisner and from imagineers.

Adam Kaufman: Michael Eisner the longtime CEO of Disney.

Philippe Bourguignon: Was my boss when I was at Disney. And so the first time we worked on a new hotel project. OK so normally you go to an architect and you tell him here’s the land, it’s rectangle. I want to 300 rooms, 18 stories. The room has to be 300 square feet. The width of the room has to be that. The restaurant has to be on the first floor. The kitchen is to be adjacent to the restaurant and the architect delivers the matchbox which feeds everywhere.

Adam Kaufman: Standard.

Philippe Bourguignon: You don’t do that at Disney. At Disney you go to the architect, and I forget to say, and you give him the budget.

Adam Kaufman: Sure.

Philippe Bourguignon: At Disney you say you’re going to do 300 rooms. Here is the piece of land. You do as you want.

Adam Kaufman: Do whatever you want.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yes. The shape, the number of floors, you put the restaurant wherever you want.

Adam Kaufman: What a fun environment for working.

Philippe Bourguignon: Right, so the architects come back. And obviously he will deliver something which doesn’t work because it’s twice as much as the budget because he was going to put white carpet and which is dirty after 48 hours of use because he’s going to put the restaurant on the top floor and the kitchen on the ground floor. And it doesn’t fly whatever but it’s called the infernal triangle. That’s what I learned at Disney. OK so you have three peaks right. So you turned the architect no constraints and then three people review what’s done. The finance people, the operational people, and the creative people and they developed a compromise versus the idealistic, crazy thing the architect has developed. And the compromise is better than the matchbox. I’m telling you.

Adam Kaufman: Great. I like that. And do you try to bring that type of thinking in everywhere?

Philippe Bourguignon: Everywhere. Oh yes.

Adam Kaufman: You know one time you were kind enough to visit us and I interviewed you in front of a group of CEOs in Cleveland, Ohio and you talked about meandering and you mentioned this at the beginning. But I want to come back to it because years later I still have people coming up to me saying I’m meandering like Phillipe taught us to. My wife, certain colleagues of mine. Talk a little bit about why meandering is important to you and how you take a different route home from work when you’re walking.

Philippe Bourguignon: So first you know I’m lucky enough that I can walk in the morning to the office and back home in the evening. In the morning I walk straight to the office. In the evening, I never take the straight road. Unlike driving a car or being in the middle where you see nothing.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah in the metro you can’t see anything right.

Philippe Bourguignon: In the car, if you see a like new window in the store or a group of people in the street or a musician or whatever you cannot stop with all the traffic while here you can stop. So I meander almost every night. I sit down with people and talk with them.

Adam Kaufman: Spectacular.

Philippe Bourguignon: I listen to a musician. I don’t know. Walk in Lafayette Square. You have a whole group of interesting people.

Adam Kaufman: That’s tremendous.

Philippe Bourguignon: And yeah. No no it’s it’s fantastic.

Adam Kaufman: It’s fantastic and it sounds so simple and obvious but most people don’t think about that, let alone do it. So I really am glad you shared that with us a few years ago. Let me switch gears a little bit something you and I have in common, we both do a lot of entrepreneurs earlier in their businesses. We both look at companies for possible investment or coaching them advising them. What do you look for in young entrepreneurs? I know you’re peppered with a lot of opportunities but what are the traits you look for before you decide to support a particular founder?

Philippe Bourguignon: So me personally.

Adam Kaufman: Yes.

Philippe Bourguignon: You look at the division, whether appears interesting to you or not. Then you look at the person.

Adam Kaufman: What about the person? Like their track record in business or their character?

Philippe Bourguignon: No, person. I do a very personal interview. We don’t talk business. I’m trying to understand the person and how he reacts or how you judge he’s going to react in jobs or in times of crisis.

Adam Kaufman: OK.

Philippe Bourguignon: Adversity.

Adam Kaufman: Sure.

Philippe Bourguignon: How they interact with people. What sort of relationship he has. So I grill them with personal questions. And one thing I really try to see but sometimes it’s hard is whether they have an ego or not. Because if they do it’s a bad sign.

Adam Kaufman: Absolutely.

Philippe Bourguignon: They work for a while and then when success is coming, the ego takes over.

Adam Kaufman: For sure.

Philippe Bourguignon: And you start having problems.

Adam Kaufman: So how do you measure that? I mean how is that…

Philippe Bourguignon: You don’t measure but your word is wrong. You cannot measure somebody. You make a judgment based on these behaviors, body language, how he looks at you in the eyes, whether he is candid when he answers your questions, whether he’s trying to manipulate you, whether he has a level of arrogance or you know and it’s all the type of answer. The way the answer is given, everything else.

Adam Kaufman: You are so busy with your professional life, your personal life I know you still have family in France also. What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Philippe Bourguignon: A lot of things. I listen to music and when I say I listen to music I try to listen to new talents.

Adam Kaufman: And you also paint don’t you?

Philippe Bourguignon: I paint.

Adam Kaufman: Do you paint stills or people or what do you paint?

Philippe Bourguignon: Not people much. I try to do a few. Some of them are okay. Not much I do on people is collages. But otherwise I paint acrylic.

Adam Kaufman: I’d like to put up a couple pictures of your paintings on our Web site once we have the podcast out that’d be cool for people to see that. And you also are a competitive yacht racer aren’t you? Like a major ocean racer?

Philippe Bourguignon: Major I don’t know but…

Adam Kaufman: Well you have countries asking you to join their teams.

Philippe Bourguignon: No. By the way I’m missing a— I missed a race last weekend and I’m missing the America’s Cup launch next weekend which makes me very upset. So you raised is the wrong subject. No. What happened is when I was the CEO of Euro Disney you may remember there was a huge crisis and in the head of the crisis it was very difficult because it was very public so you couldn’t get out without people telling you you were dumb. Blaming you or blaming you— Anyway, it was hard.

Adam Kaufman: Sure.

Philippe Bourguignon: So you need to do something. That’s when I resumed doing little paintings to kind of relax.

Adam Kaufman: Kind of an outlet for you.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yeah. But I felt I need to do something which really challenged me. And one day an amazing person who I knew called Peter Blake.

Adam Kaufman: Peter Blake.

Philippe Bourguignon: Peter Blake is a world sailor. He won the race around the world and a number of races.

Adam Kaufman: What country? Is he English or what country is he from?

Philippe Bourguignon: Australian or New Zealand. I don’t remember.

Adam Kaufman: OK.

Philippe Bourguignon: Peter Blake was an amazing guy and he had a project to go around the globe in a balloon. No stop. And he asked me whether Disney help him you know sponsoring the project whatever. And I looked at it and I went back to him and told him yes if you take me on board.

Adam Kaufman: Wow. This I didn’t know about you.

Philippe Bourguignon: So came back home, told my wife. My wife told me I was nuts.

Adam Kaufman: Of course she was right.

Philippe Bourguignon: And a week later we had a dinner with a friend of mine. Peter Blake I knew him, he was not a close friend but a close friend of mine was a French setting champion. And we had dinner at home and my wife Martine tells him you know the latest crazy thing of your friend?

Adam Kaufman: I see where this is going.

Philippe Bourguignon: So he said, “Philip you’re nuts.”

Adam Kaufman: Yeah let’s do this instead.

Philippe Bourguignon: Peter is a is a great guy. But to be up there.

Adam Kaufman: Literally up there.

Philippe Bourguignon: If you want to do something, you know how to sail. Basically I would teach you how to race with me and I’ll take you. And if you can practice enough whatever.

Adam Kaufman: Martine liked this story your wife I’m sure was uncomfortable.

Philippe Bourguignon: So he told me he taught me to become navigator. Navigator is the guy who on the boat tries to forecast the weather but the last is in touch with the route on the ground. So he taught me that then he sent me to New Zealand because the best in the world his name is Mike Quilter.

Adam Kaufman: So you learned from the best navigator in the world.

Philippe Bourguignon: I went there so while I did Disney crisis I went to New Zealand once a quarter for one week to learn navigation with this guy and then I started racing as navigator.

Adam Kaufman: I’m getting an idea crystallising about your next book and it’s gonna be about you the navigator in business and life and on boats because you learned from the best but you’re like I said you identify trends you told me they’re not trends but there is a theme here. I think developing. Let me ask you I and I know I interrupted you because we only have time for one more question and I’m so grateful you gave us this much time. What are you most excited about in the future? Anything giving you a lot of hope right now or excitement?

Philippe Bourguignon: I decided, we discussed it why to go, I decided that for me retirement was about living my passions.

Adam Kaufman: Living your passions not relaxing.

Philippe Bourguignon: So retirement is not for me playing golf and watching television. It’s living my passion and your passion can be working with somebody you like or working on the project you like. It can be painting. It can be sailing. So today I’m living my passions.

Adam Kaufman: What a blessing to be able to live your passions. Well you have a very impressive way wherever you are you like get the most out of that community. And when you came to Cleveland for something I was hosting we had like a half an hour or a free time in between an afternoon activity and the evening event. And most people would have relaxed for half an hour, checked email for half an hour, maybe a quick workout or a quick nap. But Phillipe you wanted to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a half an hour.

Philippe Bourguignon: Yeah. It was a nice visit.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah. And you went to that I am pay building and you saw like one fiftieth of the place but you maxed out his 30 minutes. You do that everywhere. It’s very impressive.

Philippe Bourguignon: But again that’s what you know you take advantage of the moment.

Adam Kaufman: Let’s go back to that.

Philippe Bourguignon: Moments you create them. You know you have people who watch the train passing you need to decide to jump on the train. And everywhere there is something to do, walking around…

Adam Kaufman: Going to the museum real fast.

Philippe Bourguignon: Real fast or not. Depends. No it was awesome, this visit. I remember very well. Yes.

Adam Kaufman: Well we’re grateful that you spent an hour with us today Philippe. Thank you so much.

Philippe Bourguignon: You’re welcome.

Adam Kaufman: Your a big influence on me personally so this is quite a thrill. All of us from the Up2 community are thankful.

Philippe Bourguignon: No no. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Adam Kaufman: Five takeaways from our conversation with Philippe. I could spend a whole other hour talking about what I learned from him. But we’re going to stick with five short points. Number one, life is about encounters and opportunities. It’s up to us to combine them and to make the most of it. Number two, we’re most successful if we have a limited ego, for with a big ego our eyes are closed. Number three, when something is impossible it’s impossible. Don’t stress about it. Number four, we should take advantage of how easy it is in today’s digital world to meander. Letting our minds meander. Number five, as we become adults we should work to keep our childlike spirit. Don’t take ourselves too seriously. A special thank you to all of our listeners to each of you. I’d love to know about a favorite moment or even a favorite episode. You can email me at adam@up2foundation.org. Up2 is a production of Evergreen podcasts. A special thanks to our producer and audio engineer Dave Douglas. I’m your host Adam Kaufman and thank you so much for listening to the Up2 podcast.

View Less

Recent Episodes

View All

Scott Wolstein: Creating Consensus and Leading with Compassion

Up2 | S:2 E:4
Scott Wolstein has presided over a real estate empire with billions invested in the ground all over the United States. However, his legacy is about investment in people.
Listen to Scott Wolstein: Creating Consensus and Leading with Compassion

Joe Pulizzi: "The Godfather's" Goal-Setting Practice that could Change Your Life

Up2 | S:2 E:3
Joe Pulizzi is known as the Godfather of content marketing, but he knows the value in setting work aside from time to time.
Listen to Joe Pulizzi: "The Godfather's" Goal-Setting Practice that could Change Your Life

Ambassador Doug Holladay: Embrace Your Fears and Live a Life of Meaning

Up2 | S:2 E:1
Ambassador Doug Holladay and Adam Kaufman talk about what really matters in life.
Listen to Ambassador Doug Holladay: Embrace Your Fears and Live a Life of Meaning

Special Series with Umberto Fedeli: Session Three

Up2 | S:1 E:11
Umberto Fedeli shares life lessons from 40 years in business, philanthropy, and politics. Special attention is given to the importance of relationships in both business and personal life.
Listen to Special Series with Umberto Fedeli: Session Three

Connect on social media or subscribe to our newsletter

Connect