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Portrait of Gregoire Pavillon

Since he was four years old, Grégoire Pavillon wanted to be a chef. Not because he cared especially for food but because nothing compared to the joy of cooking for others, seeing them happy and creating a family ambience. A career in hospitality was his calling.

We had a chance to speak with the Grégoire – now the Director of Alumni Relations at EHL – about the secret behind service that sparks joy. 

Hi Grégoire! Could you tell us more about your career in hospitality? 

Since I was four, I wanted to be a chef. Cooking for others and pleasing them was my goal. This led me to start my apprenticeship as a chef in Switzerland at 15. My father encouraged me and advised me to understand management, so I pursued my management education at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). That’s when I discovered the essence of hospitality – the joy of serving people and listening to what they need. 

After working in the hospitality industry for 12 years, I took a break to go backpacking around the world for six months. Unexpectedly, I got a job offer literally the day after I arrived in Bali. The position was in Tel Aviv, and this resonated a lot with me because, during my time at the Beau-Rivage Palace Lausanne and Lausanne Palace & Spa, I had the chance to learn a lot about the Jewish community. So, I flew from Bali to Tel Aviv and stayed there for three years. 

From here, your career took an unconventional turn away from the hospitality industry. What changed? 

I like to say that I went from being a chef, cooking liver for my guests, to helping liver patients! Because in Tel Aviv, I made the shift from pure hospitality to hospitality in the medical field.

A few years ago, I realised I wanted to reach a point in my professional life where I could scale back and focus more on giving back.

Grégoire Pavillon

I joined the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) as the executive director, setting up their office in Geneva, where I got to observe and learn from an industry that also focused on helping and serving people. Eventually, I returned to Geneva and managed their operations for ten years.  

But I’m a person who likes to challenge myself constantly, so I left the association to pursue education and followed courses at the University of Geneva in not-for-profit association management.

I obtained my master’s degree and then received an opportunity to head the Geneva School of Economics and Management (GSEM). However, I realised that the university had many regulations, which was challenging for me as a creative person. 

So, when EHL contacted me about a position to enhance the alumni department, I was immediately interested. I always wanted to return to serve my school. So, since 2020, I have been the head of alumni, and it has been the most amazing job of my life. Leading this community is a privilege, and I cherish the chance to connect with alumni across generations. 

You have also volunteered for several organisations. How do you find the time? 

Spending time and giving back to people has always been important to me. A few years ago, I realised I wanted to reach a point in my professional life where I could scale back and focus more on giving back.

For over ten years now, I have been serving the Fondation Suisse contre le cancer du foie (Swiss Foundation against Liver Cancer) as a Secretary General. I also work for Network, an association that supports various initiatives for the LGBTQ+ community.

I love to serve my friends and those in my community. I live in a small town with just 500 residents. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, I cooked and delivered food to older people and retirees who were unable to go grocery shopping.  

But the most rewarding aspect of volunteering is my role as the proud owner of a wonderful black Labrador named Guapa. She’s 12. Guapa and I visit a retirement home regularly. She interacts with the residents, providing them with cuddles and companionship.

Grégoire Pavillon and his dog Guapa

I also take Guapa to an association close to my heart called Ose Thérapie in Lausanne. They support cancer patients undergoing treatment or in the recovery phase. It’s incredible to see how interacting with her changes how they feel. She effortlessly brings happiness and love to everyone she meets.  

A creative approach to service comes naturally to you. What can other industries, like banking, learn from the hospitality industry? 

You know, it’s like a roller coaster. I’m a great believer in the importance of professional development and lifelong learning. But for me, the customer is at the centre. As customers ourselves, we are unique, diverse, and that’s where we need to focus.

I’m a customer of a private bank in Switzerland. They try to provide good service, but there are some significant gaps. There needs to be more empathy and emotional intelligence because a customer-centric approach is crucial across all industries. That’s why I value the education I received at EHL. 

There’s a surprising parallel between the core values taught at EHL and the Swiss army. In both spaces, you learn respect, family values and benevolence. These values are timeless and always appreciated. The ones who understand this can be successful. 

Is there a good example from the hospitality industry that demonstrate these principles? 

Here’s a personal experience. I had to go to Montreal for a meeting a few years ago. The flight from Zurich to Montreal was great, and I received fantastic service from Swiss (International Airlines). However, after I checked into my hotel, I received a call from my father. My mom had a heart attack, and I had to fly back immediately. I arranged my flight back and arrived at the airport the next day. 

It was a sensitive time, so my face was not like it was the day before. To my surprise, the cabin crew recognised me, noticed something was wrong and asked me about it. I explained the situation, and even though I was flying economy, they immediately took me to the first-class cabin. No other passengers had booked first-class seats, so there was no food for first-class passengers. However, the entire team ensured my comfort throughout the flight back to Zurich, with a stewardess staying next to me, taking care of me and offering emotional support.  

I’m a great believer in the importance of professional development and lifelong learning. But for me, the customer is at the centre.

Grégoire Pavillon

This experience happened about ten years ago but will remain with me forever. It is a fine example of the importance of considering people and doing everything possible to help them, no matter who they are or what happens to them. 

What role do you think education plays for students entering the hospitality industry, and how does EHL prepare students for the challenges of this future? 

That’s an interesting question. The future is changing, so students need to prepare for careers that exist today but also for the roles of tomorrow. EHL students get the opportunity to expand their knowledge, skills and mindset so that they have the best chance to succeed in this diverse and evolving field.  

We are fortunate to have experienced professors who provide valuable insights and a mix of theoretical and practical aspects. Learning by doing is a big part of their education because practical experience gives them the confidence and tools they’ll need to deal with future challenges.  

You have also helped build strong networks within the hospitality industry. What advice would you give to others looking to build and maintain their own professional networks? 

Listen. Care. Engage. And give. People tend to misunderstand how networks really work. The more you give, the more you get.

When I was five, I lived in Val-de-Travers, a small municipality in Switzerland. Every Saturday, I would clean around the house with my father. Our house was literally in the centre of the village. 

For a few months, every Saturday, I would see a very elderly couple. I began greeting them whenever they passed by. After a few weeks, I was cleaning alone while my father was having an apéro at noon. As they passed by, they saw that I was by myself and checked in on me. I said, “You know, my father is having an apéro upstairs, so please come with me, and we’ll go together.”

In a way, this was my first networking interaction. They didn’t really know my parents, but I didn’t care. I invited them to join us. My parents welcomed them, and for ten years, we celebrated all birthdays, Easters, Christmases and anniversaries together. They treated me as their own grandchild. 

And when they passed away, they left everything to the town – their money, cars, house – but they left me their prized clock. It’s a famous clock in Switzerland, and I still have it hanging on my wall.

I love telling this story because it represents my roots and my values. It’s all about respecting people, maintaining engagement, listening, giving, and not expecting anything in return.  

How do you define wealth beyond money? 

For me, human relationships, diversity and benevolence are key. Whoever you are, whoever you want to be, these are a huge source of wealth. Learning from others is also crucial. Helping others always teaches me new ways to fulfil my inner purpose. 

Thanks, Grégoire!  

Speaking of passion, don’t miss our interview with the legendary Swiss Ironman, Ronnie Schildknecht. He shared his journey through a challenging career, and how he’s currently using passion to give back to society. 

About the author

Driven by a need for clarity and simplicity on all things wealth related, the i-vest team works closely with senior financial experts and advisors to dive deeper into the world of finance, investment and wealth to make it more relevant for you.

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