Podcast

Scaling Up [S3.E3]: ‘Joining the dots’ with Sankar Narayan, CEO of SiteMinder

Fairfax, Virgin, Xero, and now SiteMinder. Sankar has experienced scale in many different shapes and forms. In this episode, he discusses the experiences shaping his approach as CEO of SiteMinder, a vertically integrated global software business.

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Ed (02:51): Sankar, welcome to Scaling Up. This is a pleasure to have you on the podcast and I thought a great place to start is probably just a thumbnail sketch of your background cause it’s such a rich and interesting history.

Sankar (03:04): Thank you for that. It’s great to be in this podcast and talking to you about my experiences that have shaped my life and my career and, impacts the way I decide and operate every day. Starting a little bit of my life history, I grew up in India, middle class family in India, and the choices are what most Indian parents want for their kids send the kids off to engineering school or either be an engineer or a doctor. Those seems to be the logical choices coming out. So, I did what millions of other Indian students do when I decided in engineering, got my engineering degree in computer engineering it was called electronics in those days, and moved across to the US and that’s another natural migration. A lot of Indian students go across to the US for continuing the highest studies and then going into research as well.

So, I went across, did my master’s in electrical engineering at Stony Brook in Long Island. Did that for a couple of years and then found a job in the valley that was my first into the valley or having an exposure to valley companies. So, I was a design engineer doing some real high-tech design hardware and software design topic for another day. But then decided after four years, this was the days before the Googles and the Facebooks and all the software companies that I followed since this was, late eighties, early nineties, I decided, okay there’s got to be a career change and don’t want to do something interesting and different. Not that I wasn’t doing anything interesting, but I wanted to do something different. So, I went across, packed my bags, draw across the country to the Booth School of Business in Chicago.

It’s one of the top business schools and was very pleased, really excited to get admission and then went into finance and again, it was a logical choice coming out of it. You go to consulting, or you go to investment banking, one of the two choices that you make at the time, and it got into the Boston Consulting Group into Sydney, and that’s when careers start diverging in terms of what is a more consistent playbook for a lot of other Indians have actually followed this journey. So, I decided from Chicago to come over to Sydney for two years in 1995, and my wife and myself we are still counting down those two years. So became an Australian citizen, had great experiences at BCG, then went on to a range of roles in Australian business became qualified in finance, got my accountant qualifications, became a CPA, and went into the finance route.

People think engineers can do numbers and so that seemed to be a logical choice. Since then, I’ve actually been on a variety of finance and operating type roles. Even when I was in finance, I had a very operating and a strategic focus in the finance roles that I did. So, it wasn’t a pure finance type role. I had some great experiences. I was at Foxtel when there was some big transformation that happened, including the launch of digital services went across to Fairfax, a very, very transformative period when there was a lot of M&A and there was a time of the media loss changing as well. I’ve seen the migration of the ad dollars away from print onto other media and prior to Xero I was at Virgin as well, another very pivotal time. So being through a variety of industries over the years and most recently, just prior to SiteMinder, I was at Xero. I went in as a CFO but became the COO and the CFO. And so, it’s a brief history of my journeys over various industries, various operating environments, various specializations, but that’s probably shaped me in terms of having a very wide-ranging view because I’ve seen and observed business practices and multiple geographies around the world in multiple industries and in multiple professional categories. And so, I think it’s actually contributed to my learning over the years.

Ed (07:15): It’s a wonderful tapestry just to hear you talk about it and how those different journeys have helped you get to this point. And I’m sure a thread that will keep emerging is your experiences at Xero because you have become an expert in really scaling these businesses from that 50 to 500 in revenue, let’s say. There’s a natural point in a business’s evolution that sometimes the founder isn’t necessarily the person to take it to the next level. They might be great startup people, they might be good scale up people, but really not that growth that’s required to bring in the rigor that really makes these wonderful durable companies. And it seems as though you’ve become that go-to guy in a sense. So, let’s hone in on this. You touched on being that strategic CFO or you then moved to the COO role at Xero and now the CEO of SiteMinder, which as I said in in the introduction, one of Australia’s great software companies emerging throughout APAC, but truly global, a hundred million dollars in revenue, billion-dollar valuation. What are the skills that you have learnt over the years, particularly in those strategic CFO roles that have enabled you to become the CEO that you are now at SiteMinder?

Sankar (08:31): One of the skills that I learnt over the years is to be able to join the dots between an investment story to the operating side. You need to be able to join the dots on what drives value from a shareholder and an investor perspective. What does it mean for the strategy of the business and how do you deliver on the strategy from the operating side? And so be able to join the dots into a closed loop and keep iterating has actually been one of my anchor points over the years. So, I really thrived talking to investors, talking to shareholders, listening to the external perspective, looking in into the company, and then forming my strategy or form help form a strategy along with the CEO that I was working with at the time, and working to refine the strategy, tweak it, and actually scale it.

I’ve got a great memory David Kirk and myself, who was still involved with SiteMinder through Bailador. We did a journey right through Germany at the time. This was the days where you could travel freely, and we were doing a road show in those days trying to understand and see how various industries around the world where were coping with structural changes in media and advertising and some of the really transformative strategies come out of every one of those road trips when you’re actually talking to various investors. When you’re talking to shareholders and we are actually talking about your own story, any logic flaws of the way you communicate. If I can’t communicate it very easily within 60 minutes to a prospective investor or a new shareholder, there’s a problem with my story. And so being able to refine that story and be able to translate it across to the company and make operating changes to make sure that you actually have a constructive positive momentum on investor feedback, influencing strategy, driving the operating side, listening to your people, and then joining the dots on it for it to be a positive self, a reinforcing loop has been very powerful to me over my career.

Ed (10:45): And were there any skills as that strategic CFO that you thought were going to be highly transferable and they haven’t turned out to be, or strengths of yours that you thought, oh, that’s going to be fantastic when I am the CEO, and they haven’t turned out that way and maybe vice versa.

Sankar (11:01):I’ve had to develop new DNA being a CEO. I’ve written a few articles on Forbes on exactly that. There is a difference being a CFO when you’re an advisor to a CEO or to the board and to the management team to actually being the person who’s accountable for validating and making the decision. Very often the decisions are very obvious and sometimes you have to make difficult choices and sitting in the seat actually requires a new level of clarity and focus that you need to bring, which takes into account a broader set of variables than what you used to do as a strategic CFO. So, one of my big learning over the last few years, even as a COO at Xero and over here at SiteMinder is how do you bring those inputs which is value based, financial based, economic based into something and translating into something that’s human based because humans drive value the people in software companies drive the value in this business Board Xero and SiteMinder, we are not a manufacturing firm. We don’t buy inputs.

There’s no raw materials that you buy that you actually add value and resell to the market, all other IP is created from within the company. So, it is a very human driven organization. There are more variables at play than what really looks good on paper from our financial plan or a strategic plan and you need to actually really bring into account the broader set of variables your customers, how do your customers feel, how do you work with your teams in the company, and then how do you work with the board and how do you work with the other with the investors as well? You need to be able to join a lot more dots as a CEO and I started doing that at Xero as well, but I had to do a lot more of it when I’m here.

Ed (13:00): It’s wonderful insight. Luke Anear was on the podcast earlier this series, and he described his company as a people company masquerading as a software company. Wonderful, beautiful software, but it is the people that are creating the value and you’ve just reiterated that. And just to pull on this thread a little bit more around the people, let’s talk stakeholder management. As I said earlier, you have now been through two founder transitions, Rod at Xero, and now Mike Ford at SiteMinder. How have you managed those transitions? Because it is a big piece of the puzzle to have this big visionary founder perhaps realize that they’re not the right person for the job to really fulfill that vision. And you need to really buy into that vision. You need to buy into the culture that they’ve built, grab that ball and run with it. So, let’s talk about SiteMinder specifically to start with, Mike’s still on the board and, a managing director so to speak, and yet you are the CEO. How does that relationship work in practice?

Sankar (14:01): It’s worked great. We all bring our own unique skill sets to what is required to successfully scale a business. It’s not easy and I have the utmost respect for those entrepreneurs or founded companies, founded companies of scale and size going through the early journey. And I can just imagine how hard it would’ve been in the early years of founding a company and growing a company. But then it comes a stage in every company’s life where processes, activities, actions that worked really well in a small environment doesn’t scale up when you’re actually having to deal with multiple geographies. People in remote locations, process and communications need to be formalized and it starts getting into a different DNA. Now, it’s not that they couldn’t do it’s a question of you need to have a broader team to help assist and actually grow the company.

It’s been working great with Site Mind. So, what we’ve been doing quite a bit over the last little while is making sure processes, scale products are scaling products are great. So, we are actually working on a new suite of products coming on soon, but we want more importantly make sure we have a way to join the dots on processes that scale on a global basis across multiple geographies, across multiple languages, different teams of people with different specializations. You need to take that next step. It’s really important to make sure that the vision doesn’t get dramatically changed. Of course, you refine strategies, you refine outcomes. You, you, you chart the course, and you work with the board and Mike and the management team to actually chart different courses around as you go. But you want to make sure that the purpose on which you started, and you embarked in the journey actually remains true because that is actually so important to the soul of the company. And you want to make sure you don’t alter the soul of the organization.

Ed (15:58): You have the added advantage of knowing where the speed bumps are and the road hazards as they come at you. A lot of the first-time founders hit the speed bump not realizing that they’ve hit it and then things can unwind quickly from there. So, in a sense there is a huge advantage of having seen the playbook of scaling up before, but are there any qualities of, of the two founders that you’ve worked with that you have brought into your leadership style that have really impacted you?

Sankar (16:25): The two leaders that I worked with, the two founders that I worked with have been great supporting partners in my own personal journey as well. And why is it, because we have actually been very complimentary. I’ve heard other stories in other different environments where it’s been a very difficult transition, but what’s really worked well in my personal situation and I’ve had really two great founders that I’ve had the privilege of working with, and both of them great passion, great vision in starting the company and they’ve taken it to a large big step in terms of going past the initial barriers of scaling up, been successful globally. So actually, taking it a very large journey to the point where they become global players under their leadership. Where the opportunity is, how do you take it from that level to something that is truly scalable across multiple geographies.

For example, SiteMinder, over 80% of revenues is outside of Australia. That’s where the origins wear. But we have a business where substantially it’s actually growing in the rest of the world. We have a high level of market penetration in this particular market in Australia, but for a company of that size and scale, I can’t think of too many of the companies that have the kind of footprint that we have in terms of being multilingual, working in multiple offices around the world and scaling in every continent. So, I think it’s been a great experience that has actually been very positive and both of them have been very constructive and supportive.

Ed (18:02): I certainly want to spend quite a bit of time on the SiteMinder business, but I’m, I’m going to keep pulling this threat around the people. And below you is Jonathan Kenny, very experienced CFO, has been a CFO of listed business before. You’ve sat in his seat before and yet now as the CEO the skills, the jobs to be done for him, and yet he’s a very experienced CFO. How does that relationship work, having you seen that role as clearly as you have over your career?

Sankar (18:36): He is my closest partner in this business in the way we are going forward. I interact with a lot of other players. Other key members of the management team? With the team at large and also with the board members as well. But I work really closely with Jonathan Kenny in a way it makes the language easier because we have both spoken the same language. So, we are not talking at cross purposes, we are talking the same language, but my thinking has evolved since I’ve actually transitioned out of a pure CFO role into more of an operating role. So, Jonathan’s been a great sounding board for me to actually test various strategies, making sure the rational, make sure that I don’t get carried away and bring me back to ground every now and then. I think he actually does a wonderful job. So, I think it’s a partnership that’s working really well.

Ed (19:27): Yeah, and as you said, that is the most important partnership of any business that’s scaling to have that strong CFO is just so, so important. The last relationship that I want to dig into is that with your investors, there aren’t too many software companies of your size and scale with an all-star cap table like you have. And TCV have been owners of your business for a long time and David Yuan specifically sits on the board. Can you describe some of the interactions that you’ve had with your investors and board members that have really been value add?

Sankar (20:06): I love conversation with investors board members and non-board members. That’s been one of the big highlights, I’ll specifically come back to Dave Yuan, but generally my approach to investors is I want to be able to talk the strategy of the business and to be able to discuss strategies as opposed to me telling them. So, my relationship with Dave Yuan predates SiteMinder to the Xero Days. He was a big investor came in at a very pivotal time and specifically with Dave Yuan. I remember going at zero going through the San Francisco airport and we only had half an hour to catch up with each other. He was trying to come through and we were trying to decide whether we should actually, where in the airport would we meet and be able to discuss for two hours post check in.

So in a way that we can actually talk about the Xero seize every opportunity that you can to actually discuss about the business because as I said before, you want to make sure that the strategies and the choices you want to be able to talk through and get some great feedback in terms of what they’re saying and validate it and make sure we just reinforce it or change course. And so, there was one of the reasons why I came across to SiteMinder with the continuity being Dave Yuan, I’ve known David Kirk from my life before SiteMinder as well. So, there’s a lot of common threads coming into SiteMinder. My approach to investors is I actually, even the newer investors that came in as part of the recent capital raising that came in, I’ve got some great investors, but I’ve known almost all of them going back in time.

I’ve interacted with them, I’ve dealt with them before, and I think that I’m truly blessed with the cap table that I have. For me, investors actually goes beyond capital, investors is a way that you can actually talk through various strategies and sometimes you have to make choices and you have to make decisions and I think it’s, it’s a great sounding board for you to say, hey, does it sound right? Does it not sound right? And not that you don’t have conviction on it, but you actually just do want to talk it through. And I think I’ve found all of my investor’s conversations very valuable, including with Dave Yuan, as well.

Ed (22:20): As I’m sure they have with you. Let’s spend some time talking about the SiteMinder business, the opportunity as you see it today and growing into this vertical SaaS playbook. And let me set this up for you. For those listeners that aren’t familiar with SiteMinder, there are, let’s say 800,000 hotels in the world. A lot of those hotels predominantly over 80% are independent hotels, let’s say one to 20 rooms. They might own one or three hotels. The hotels need to be connected to the guests. And historically this has been done through distribution channels, bookings.com, Expedia, et cetera, et cetera. Most consumers should be familiar with that. But initially what SiteMinder did, and this is where the technology was so important, they provided the pipes into those distribution channels so that your mom-and-pop hotel or independent hotel can live time and in real time put up their rates, their vacancy, et cetera, massive opportunity of which SiteMinder pretty much now dominates. So that’s the context for the listeners. How have you thought about now really expanding the touch points of SiteMinder and driving into that vertical knowing that that tip of the spear, that stickiness that you’ve provided through the channel management provides a wonderful opportunity going forward.

Sankar (24:05): All right, great question. Let’s talk about the hotel technology industry before we get to the opportunity that SiteMinder is.

Ed (24:13): A good place to start.

Sankar (24:15): Yep. It is a very fragmented environment, fragmented around the world. You do have large international, global giants like the Booking and Expedia’s of the world, the Airbnb’s and Google. But when you come down to the hotel site in terms of technology that the hotel uses is very fragmented. There’s still a lot of pen and paper. So, if you talk about verticals, that act one of the largest verticals around the world that still have manual processes? The hotel industry is one.

Ed (24:46): It’s incredible to think really.

Sankar (24:47): It is. We are in this space. We started Origins our channel management, but I’ll come back to the way we actually want to go and head to. We are heading towards with the suite of products we have. This is the large wide space and what are the barriers to the large wide space is friction points, friction points and acquisition friction points or the way you use it. So, we provided great connectivity tools to take the friction away. A lot of work that we are doing right now is how do you take the friction out of the acquisition process and how do you ease the friction for the customer going forward? The evolution of SiteMinder has been well underway prior but is going to accelerate even more over the next year or two or on the years to come is the evolution from a channel management business to a platform that drives guest acquisition, connecting to the hotel internal systems and interfacing to the world.

We have the largest open ecosystem with or what thousand connected partners around the world. And that kind of an open ecosystem is a great platform to scale up to get your best of breed software solutions coming in through and provide that connectivity into change for you to be a distribution platform and a revenue enhancing platform beyond the channel management alone. So, what you’ll see over the course of the next year or two, we are well on the journey, but we’ll actually wall even more and more into a more comprehensive guest distribution platform and moving away from distribution to revenue management and revenue enhancement for the hotel itself. So, what you’ll see is a whole bunch of products that are coming out and it’s one of the things that we’ve been working through the Covid shutdown. We all had to make difficult choices, but one of the key features of our response is being how do we keep pushing through the key projects that are going to going to be transformative to the industry and to our company.

As a first step next month, we are going to launch the partner program. Now I’ve seen some great positive examples of partner programs in other environments and that’s something that we, I personally am very excited about only because we’ve got such a big network more than anybody else, and it’s a great opportunity to bring the forces together for us to actually drive a common solution to the hotels through the SiteMinder platform. There’s a lot of opportunities ahead for us to be able to transform that automation that we can bring and actually goes beyond channel management to something that drives good guest bookings for all of the hotels.

Ed (27:34): Yeah, and you touched on it there, but the joy of being a vertical software player is you can have that sticky product to start with, whether it’s an ERP in some cases or a property management system, in your case it was the channel management, but it gives you a couple of strong levers of growth to pool. One is just acquiring customers that you’re doing naturally around the world. And the other is, as you talk about this further expansion of products, once you are such a sticky piece of software inside the business, whether it’s payments as I said, PMS or lead generation for those hotels driving greater revenue, how do you think about balancing those two growth drivers of customer expansion and also product suite expansion?

Sankar (28:21): They’re self-reinforcing because your product expansion also drives customer expansion, but for you to do the customer expansion, you want to make sure that the go to market disciplines and those processes and metrics are actually in the right place. A lot of the work that we’ve done over the course of the last year is scaling up that side of the business as well as we are working on the new product suite that comes out that has been starting to roll out has been in pilot but it’s actually going to roll out. We have three segments of the operating segments in the business. We have what we call is larger enterprises. We have large independence and then we have what we call is a two to 20 rooms smaller independence. So, the smaller independence tends to be all in one solutions. But when we get to the larger independence and the enterprises, we work collaboratively with the PMSs that they have and actually provide that gateway and connect to the world through a whole range of products and suites and services.

And we launched the app store late last year that actually really has lot of different capabilities that was difficult to be interfaced to every single PMS. Then you actually connect to our platform and then get access to all of the hotels that are actually sitting on the platform. The way we have approached this push between ARPA expansion and also customer push, I think they both have to go hand in hand. The way we are thinking is we need to be able to drive customer growth so that he actually drive the penetration and the white space penetration on the world. But at the same time, we actually have new products and services that we can actually overlay on top of that. Over the course of the last couple of years, we have had some really good new products that have come out that have been a major revenue driver for us, and we are looking to accelerate that, including on the demand side of the equation. But also, we’re reinforcing our go to market to be able to acquire hotels more seamlessly.

Ed (30:18): Hearing you speak about it live time, the structural competitive advantage of doing those simultaneously is strong. And the app store’s a great example of driving network effects that will really turbocharge your business in the next three to five years. Having talked about scaling the business model, let’s talk about scaling the business itself. Truly global business, I think 20 officers around the world, across eight countries, 800 staff. There isn’t a country in the world where you probably don’t have a customer. I’ve heard you talk before that the mom and dad who run a hotel in Abu Bojan who were using pen and paper and now using SiteMinder. So, you need to be multilingual as a software. A lot of your staff need to be multilingual. How do you think about scaling the engine of the business all the while these common cultures and values that need to be instilled?

Sankar (31:14): Yeah, it’s a great challenge and hearing lies that opportunity as well. The challenge is that a lot of barriers you need to be able to get the local flavor but have economies of scale. What you don’t want to be is a bunch of local businesses that are pieced together, then all you’re doing is just operating a global portfolio that is not very scalable. But on the other hand, if you’re actually saying it’s a one size that fits all irrespective of local needs and customs and geographies, then that’s not going to be successful either. So, you need to be able to strike the balance. And one of the aspects of my life that has changed during the Covid is my travel. When I was last year as a CEO of SiteMinder, every month I was in a plane and Sydney is a fair distance from any other place outside of Australia or New Zealand.

You’ve got to travel quite a bit to get there. I used to take monthly trips to either Bangkok or London or Island or Dallas and keep rotating. So, that put a lot of stress on your travel, but that’s the only way that I thought was being able to listen to the teams on the ground, being able to appreciate what was happening on the ground and be able to understand the local needs and concerns while we actually build a global platform that has great scale benefits. So being able to join the local needs to a global platform is critical when we are looking to penetrate a big wide space. Now, of course our routines have changed. I haven’t been doing any bit of traveling off late and doesn’t look like that’s going to be a feature. But one of the practices that I’ve continued is being able to listen to each one of the regions and understand them.

So last night for example I was talking to our Asia Pacific head who’s sitting in Thailand, so we had an hour and a half going through country by country. You got to get down to what’s happening in the Philippines, what’s happening in Vietnam, what’s happening in in Indonesia, what’s happening in Thailand. And so, understand what’s happening in market, what the needs are, what the conditions are, and be able to piece together common threads and also points of divergence and make sure that you actually have a system that is scalable but can be adaptable to local needs, which is exactly what we did through Covid. Not every country had the similar type challenges. Some of the challenges in developing countries like Thailand and South America actually where different to the challenges in Australia or Europe or the US. So, we actually modified a product suite to specifically address the needs of those Asian countries in a way that doesn’t put too much burden on the operating fabric of the business.

Constantly listening to people on the ground is absolutely vital as you scale. Then I do a monthly all hands down. So, I do three sessions, one for Asia Pacific, one for EMEA, one for AMERs, for the three regions, and there is an open slider. Now it’s become a matter of some amusement to the rest of the team members in terms of the dialogue that goes on in completely transparent and anonymous. It is really important that you get anonymous feedback because not every staff member wants to be able to raise their hand and actually be able to ask a question in a big public open forum. And so, I have a slider and get some really great questions on the strategy and the performance and questioning management as well. So it’s not easy sessions, but they’ve always been interesting and you actually take a very positive approach to it because you are listening to the teams around the world and you interact with them and they feel that they can talk to me on a personal level that is so important to connect with the teams so then you can understand the issues and the challenges that every team member around the company is actually facing.

Ed (35:27): Let’s pull on this covid thread a little bit more because it is such an important time in everyone’s life that has created stress for many. Do you think one of the net benefits perhaps for the culture of the business is that transparency that is starting to shine through these all hands?

Sankar (35:44): Yeah, I actually think it has been a positive. I think we are more connected transparently today than I was with the team members a year back. I can tell you that only because it’s the approach we take with team communication. So, every month I front up, I talk to them about the performance of the business. It’s important for the teams to understand why you are doing what you did and to have a discussion about it and you need to be able to communicate to the team members as to why we actually took certain decisions or on what path we are on. So, what I do is actually talk about the brief performance of the business. This is the way of seeing, this is what’s driving the thinking, this is the way we are going forward. That interaction between myself and the team members is so critical for us to go forward and actually our frankly think I’m better connected, and we are all better connected as a team today than pre covid.

Now one of the things we do need to watch is the social aspect and the collaborative aspect that actually has taken a bit of a backseat. You can only do so many whiteboard sessions on Google Jam boards and others, you lose the spontaneity a little bit when you actually have 10 or 15 people in a call. So, we are looking to make sure we actually capture that through smaller sessions and also making sure we are able to meet in a physically safe way for those who are actually able to do so. But for the most part I think we’ve we went remote in March, and we’ve been actually working quite constructively through the period. So, the focus for us is how do we retain the good elements of that communication and the flexibility that remote working does provide we don’t call it remote, we call it flexible working. And how do you combine it with the collaborative aspects of actually being able to brainstorm different ideas together.

Ed (37:40): Do you think this hybrid model of collaborating together perhaps in person while doing your deeper work in a more dispersed way is, is the future of work? A lot of CEOs that I’ve spoken to can’t wait for everyone to get back in the office because they have really found challenging in terms of productivity that might have seen a little tick up to start with starting to wane, the collaboration’s fallen off. How do you think about what the future of work at SiteMinder does look like?

Sankar (38:08): I feel it is going to be unlikely people are going to come in rush in peak traffic five days a week. I personally feel and believe that those days are gone. So, you’re going to have people are meeting socially, but yeah, I was just driving through coming this morning, people are moving around, but I didn’t see that many people on the road commuting and, it was a bit of a rainy day today. I guess a lot of people do find they’re more productive staying at home and working through. So, I actually believe that this crisis is changing the way we actually do work and collaborate and will be a permanent change in the future. Having said that, I do think we haven’t fully sold our ability to maintain a culture which has been heavily influenced by all physically working together. Physical environment has been such an important part of how we have worked over hundreds of years.

And for us to be able to maintain a culture, some companies have done it well, but to be able to maintain a culture in a slightly distance way is actually so critical. And me working on various strategies to be able to do that, including open transparent communication that I talked about and a lot of ways to make sure you actually start making sure teams feel part of each other. That sense of belonging needs to be really reinforced as we actually working in a remote environment. So, this hybrid model, I believe is absolutely there to stay and companies that embrace this hybrid model are going to be even more successful, is actually drawing on the best of both worlds.

Ed (39:50): One of the dark sides of isolation and working from home is mental health and it’s now being well documented. How do you feel about, as a CEO it can be a lonely place at the best of times, but as opposed to being able to just spitball in the office, maybe an idea or see CFO or any other sort of trusted advisor that you have in the office. How have you managed your own mental health and how has that helped shaped your empathy for others in the business?

Sankar (40:22): I think it’s very critical aspect of human life that we have to continue evolving. It’s been one of the big themes for me personally and I’ve made it a priority for us to address mental health. So, I tackle that. I address it in every, all hands to make sure we talk about us taking measures to look after our own mental health first before we actually look, look for the others as well around us. Let’s talk about human behavior. We are all social creatures we like going to work, we like interacting at work and for hundreds of years, I don’t know, for me, I haven’t looked at it even beyond, but this office environment type structure has been all people working together in a physical location. There’s a big social aspect of you coming to work and that doesn’t exist anymore, or others exist in a very reduced state.

So, I actually do have concerns about people being able to sustain mental health. People are working in confined spaces for long periods and going from one Zoom meeting or Google Hangout after another. And so, want to make sure that we do break that. It’s been a big part of our employee program. Dionne our chief people officers has really been working very closely with Dionne to make sure that we do roll lots and lots of mental health programs to make sure we look after each other. A personally seen instances of degradation and mental health outside of SiteMinder, not at SiteMinder, but outside in my experiences outside. So, it has been a big key focus area of mine and we’ll continue to evolve. We do a lot of mental health programs, and we rolled out lots of initiatives including social initiatives as well that actually brings that additional dimension apart from Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting or Google Hangout after Google Hangout.

You do need to actually make sure that you bring that social construct in a work environment, especially when a lot of people are working in an isolated way. I get out, I try to get out on the weekend and so you want to maintain your own what are the things that we talked about outside our mental health now, and this goes to the previous question is how we actually set common goals and objectives for the team for a long, long time. We are all managed through visual signs of effort. People come in early in the morning, late in the evening, oh what you’ve done, you’ve done a great job or you’re working really hard. People are toing equally hard in some cases and homes and we don’t know about it. So, you don’t see those visual clues are not there you don’t come in in the morning.

So, when I used to come in the morning at 7-7;30 because, I have different times to coordinate with global time zones. I used to come in in the morning, I see somebody there at 7-7:30 and if that person’s still there at 6:30 and doing it more often than not, I would say why are you working? What projects are you working on? Why do you have to work this hard and what can we do to actually help support that? But you don’t have those clues anymore. It is really important to go from management by effort to management by outcomes and objectives. Everybody says that, but it’s something that we have actually really pushed forward really strongly. That is actually to the mutual benefit of both the team member and the company to make sure what are we trying to achieve?

What are you doing? So, making sure that the effort is properly sized even though we are not sitting in a same place, and we don’t have those visual cues over hundreds of years, which has been the basis of management in terms of how people are managed. So, one of the new DNA, it’s always there before, but it’s something that we are actually driving very hard, which we did last quarter. It’s a young company and so we are actually all worked together. Everybody knew what to do, we are all in the same place. And to actually have more structured communications and what the goals are and objectives and making sure we are able to communicate that effectively. It’s

Ed (44:30): It’s a wonderful and eloquent way of putting it, the management by outcome rather than effort. Let’s zoom out just for one last question and that’s around the macro impact of Covid. If you’re just looking at a high level, you probably think Covid has had a material impact on SiteMinder, the small independent hotel business has probably really suffered, but at the same time, the other side of that coin is if they can get through this initial jolt, I feel as though there is going to be a shift towards the small independent hotel in the future because of future pandemic concerns and health and germs and the like. Do you have a view on that?

Sankar (45:14): I have very strong views on it. What’s happened over the last little while is corporate travel’s been impacted, international travel’s been impacted, but regional areas, many parts of it have actually been booming quite a bit. Occupancy levels in some parts of regional New South Wales has actually been very, very strong. Small centers outside of Sydney, so hard to get restaurant bookings on a weekend at short notice. So, what’s happened, and I’ve seen that, I’ve seen this happen in Sydney, looking at the data in Madrid, I’m looking at the data in London, I’m looking at the data in the US I see a very, very consistent pattern that is emerging. Metro areas are actually more challenged from a hotel occupancy perspective. Regional areas less so. Not saying that they are not, there have been lots of challenges for them, so I’m not trivializing the amount of challenge they have.

We all went through a big lockdown, but there’s a greater line of sight to a recovery in it. Particularly in a place where when you can’t travel outside of state as there’s been here in Australia and lots of Europe, parts of Europe are actually going into similar strategies with localized lockdowns. But with borders being shut and bubbles emerging, what you’re going to see is regional tourism being much better placed than major metro areas. And while we do have lots of properties in big metropolitan areas around the world and we work really closely with them to help them see through the crisis as well, we actually over index on hotels outside of big Metro’s. It’s only because of the size of it, because they tend to be bed and breakfast or smaller size properties, largely independent properties that are outside of the, of the CBD.

And so, we’ve been working very well on that. We’ve seen some very positive trends outside of the CBD whereas the city center itself is undergoing a bigger challenge. So actually, do think for the health and the economy to come through we do need the CBD to come back in terms of having travel. And I’m an optimist on that front, but I do see that hotels with relatively low travel restrictions in a localized environment are actually doing fine at this point in time. So, we are working on both sides, and I actually think how do we work better with the hotels that actually do have higher levels of occupancy and how do we drive greater demand and distribution for those who actually have a challenge attracting guests. We’ve rolled out a lot of new tools because we got so much data on our platform and be able to share trends and behavior in a macroenvironment to help them see through the crisis has been one of the key hallmarks and features of our response to our hotels.

Ed (48:04): Let’s wrap this all up in a bow where you’ve had a wonderful career over many years now and it feels as though the best is yet to come. But if you could give some advice to a young Sankar at university studying electrical engineering and the southeastern tip of India, if there’s one piece of advice that you could roll out knowing what now, what would it be?

Sankar (48:30): Aim high. Don’t set modest goals for your life. You may not achieve it, but you always have to aim high.

Ed (48:37): I think that is wonderful advice for everyone listening. Sankar, thank you so much for your time. This has been an absolute pleasure.

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