Kempinski’s luxury innovation
How intrapreneur Emilie Langlois launched a creative incentive to disrupt the field of large-scale hotel brands
In our ‘Trailblazers’ series, we bring you perspectives on creative leadership, social innovation, and positive change from THNK’s worldwide alumni community. Emilie Langlois is a rare breed of corporate ‘intrapreneur’, with a heart and mind focused on the human experience. She shares with us here her take on professional and personal transformation at the corporate level.
the pivotal moment
It was actually Kempinski who discovered THNK first — we enlisted them to conduct some in-company programs that would jumpstart our innovation mandate. I could never have predicated that I would do the full program as a participant, but the in-company program experience felt like such a new beginning.
Unlike many others who take part, there wasn’t any sort of crisis or event or desire that caused me to seek out THNK. I was actually quite reluctant to change in general. But now, I can’t imagine not having been through this experience. It’s changed me and made me better. My environment hasn’t changed. Everything is still the same shape. Except for me.
Kempinski Hotels runs 5-star luxury properties in an arena with vigorous and brilliant competition. Despite the intense landscape, we don’t just want to be good. We want to be renowned as a leader in experience innovation. We want to be totally in tune with our environment, our people, owners, and guests. Without innovation, our business would die. We’ve embraced a state of disrupting — we are rethinking our business model entirely, in addition to our relationships — everybody from suppliers and partners, to designers and guests.
THNK was our path towards a practice of near-constant reinvention, both as individual managers and as a company. The market is constantly reinventing itself, after all. The ideas and expectations that generate delight are a cycle of ashes and rebirth.
the THNK experience
If you’re not part of a creative movement, it’s hard to enter into the vibration of innovative work. At Kempinski, we came to THNK for their in-company program as a group — we knew we needed concrete expertise in innovation tools, and in how to mandate a company-wide commitment to creativity. Returning to the full program as a participant, I gained access to new frameworks for thinking and idea-making. I have a way forward, a roadmap. It doesn’t matter how you enter that movement — for us, THNK was the way. As a group, we had an extraordinary experience. Personally, THNK is a roller coaster like I’ve never experienced before. As a participant, I felt so constantly moved and so touched all the time — intellectually, creatively. It was a shock. Such a good shock.
In order to be open, you must be willing to abandon the way you typically think and react. That can be tough. There’s a clash in terms of how to behave. At THNK, there’s an entire room full of people pushing out of their comfort zones. It’s intense. But it has to be. As soon as you understand that the feeling of confrontation is taking you somewhere, you start to really enjoy it. Struggle is a good sign. It means you’re holding space for something larger.
“THNK was a fast track to the right kind of maturity.”
I was not anticipating that I would be shaken in so many ways. The THNK experience goes by so fast… by the time I was interacting with my classmates and the tools — engaging with full creativity — it was over. I wished it were longer. I had headaches at the end of the day because I was using my brain like I have never before. The debates were so interesting, and the groups so dynamic. One more week would have been total bliss. That said, THNK never really ends — these relationships, this circle of creators, will last forever.
what ‘better’ means: post-THNK
My time at THNK helped me to understand that I can be a leader, not just a strong number two. But at THNK, I learned I could create and experience so much joy by having the capacity to make the change I wanted to see. At THNK, I grew up. THNK was a fast track to the right kind of maturity.
I thought I was curious before. That’s nothing to what I am today. Now, I have a passion not only for my business — luxury, hospitality, travel, exploration, adventure, decadence — but for knowledge. And despite that passion, enthusiasm needs curiosity so it can listen to others. That’s ultimately how you scale passion — by integrating other people into it. By reaching beyond typical insights and inputs.
“Interestingly, it takes quite a momentous effort to stay the same.”
Not knowing what’s going to happen is the state we’re in when we’re growing. Change comes no matter what! If you resist, you’ll just be directionless. Change will happen in any case. So get on board with it, and be intentional. That is what THNK has encouraged me to do.
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About the author: As Kempinski’s COO of VP Corporate Operations, Emilie Langlois draws on decades of international experience in the hospitality industry. She spearheaded the hotel group’s innovation journey to transform and incentivize thousands of employees towards creativity, and to establish the expectation of extraordinary service at every level of each guest experience.