55 Promote Partnerships with Huw Slater, COO at TravelPerk

7 April 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 55: TravelPerk | With Huw Slater, COO

Huw Slater is hugely passionate about technology that facilitates innovation and enhances both people’s work and personal lives. Currently, he is COO at TravelPerk, a next-generation travel booking and management platform that is pioneering the future of corporate travel. Previously, Huw served as CFO at TravelPerk and Typeform, with a long career in finance, business, and technology. Huw has helped lead his company through the pandemic and into the new world of corporate collaboration and business travel. Through the use of strategic partnerships, TravelPerk is ensuring the future of travel is successfully supported by top-level technology. 

To be a successful CFO, Huw feels you need to do whatever you can to remove friction and extra effort when driving towards success. This requires that you bring in modern tools to help free up your team and employ people that can be creative and don’t just follow standard processes. You need to be someone who over-indexes on being a leader, focusing on the company’s goals first, and finding ways for your finance team to be as supportive as possible. 

Huw believes the job of any leader, and specifically the CFO, needs to be focused on gaining a return on investments. He says you need to run towards the flames and not stand back in the face of adversity. You should always strive to raise the bar, help set the direction, and ensure speed and efficiency. 

In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Huw talks about how over-communicating and transparency have benefited him as a leader. He explains why taking on hard tasks and surrounding yourself with great people will help you to be successful. In addition, he provides insight on his career path, navigating a company focused on travel when that was limited due to the pandemic, and how partnerships make companies strong and provide better services to customers. 

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Guest Analysis

Name: Huw Slater

What he does: Huw Slater, COO at TravelPerk is hugely passionate about technology that innovates and enhances both people’s work and personal lives. Previously serving as CFO, he is now COO at TravelPerk, a next-generation travel booking and management platform that is pioneering the future of corporate travel. Huw has helped lead his company through the pandemic and into the new world of corporate collaboration and return to business travel. He believes over-indexing as a leader and focusing on what is best for the company are important as a CFO needs to raise the bar, help set the direction, and ensure speed and efficiency to garner a return on investment. Through the use of strategic partnerships TravelPerk is ensuring the future of travel is successfully supported by top level technology. 

Key Quote: “I believe this overall in finance, whether you’re in crisis or not, it’s never just a finance strategy. It’s never just a people strategy. It’s a company strategy and then, how do you do that? There’s a finance part, and a people part, and a product part.”

Where to find Huw: https://www.linkedin.com/in/huw-slater/

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From Huw’s Playbook

Be determined to deliver

The journey from strategy to tactics starts with asking how you are going to deliver it? While there may be thousands of options, try to narrow it down to the three best. Then, just keep asking how until you get down to a tactic that you can actually deliver that isn’t so complicated. Assess the actions required and how much work someone will have to put into a task. Also consider the “why.” If you don’t have a good reason for a task, then you’re never going to connect your action to the strategy. 

Remove friction from your work

COVID has accelerated hybrid work and globalization of the workforce that was already happening. This acceleration has driven CFOs to look at their tools and their ecosystem to assess if they’re giving the best solutions to their distributed workforce. Look at ways to make your job and your team’s job easier with tools and partnerships. You don’t want to inundate people with multiple outlets when you can find one that bundles solutions together. Look at the market and find ways to use resources that will help take friction from employees so you’re positioned to do the most for you, your team, your company, and your clients. 

Company comes first

Always make company goals your most important task, even if team goals come second. Too often people believe that to be successful you need to go head to head against other companies and defend your corner. However, that is a recipe for disaster in which you won’t survive and won’t add value. Come together to work out what your company is doing and where it is going. Determine how the finance team can support the company delivering on those goals. Sometimes it is part of the job to say no. So don’t be afraid to say no if it is in an effort to reach your ultimate goals. It is much easier to have the tough conversations where you are open, honest, and clear on what success means for the company then deal with issues that pop up later. 

Dedicate yourself to success

Survival is your first goal in business and as a CFO. Solve for the customer and do whatever is necessary to gain a return on investment. ​​It is not just about the company, your focus, and how you execute your job, it’s also about what’s good for the customer. Communication is also hugely important and a learned behavior, so create habits that force you to do it and don’t be afraid if people don’t engage with you at first. Speed can equal success. While it is important to pick a direction and focus, how fast you can get there will keep the team focused on the ultimate goals.

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Episode Highlights

Keep it simple

“Definitely ambitious leaders or ambitious people take on more than they can deliver. Asking yourself “how” and “why” questions takes you on a path that doesn’t achieve your goals for the year or for the next three years. So, bringing that simple framework in, allows you to focus on the entire organization.”

Promote partnerships

“We don’t want to build everything. We want to partner with the world’s best expense tools, corporate card tools, whatever it might be. Because I think that’s how you win. Winning for us is the customer being happy. It’s that seven star service that we always talk about. Right? We can’t deliver a seven star service in travel and expense, and ERP…that’s just not what we want to do. We want to focus on that travel in the real life segment. And then partner with the world’s best platforms for the other bits.”

Go above and beyond as a leader

“Your job is to give better coaching on accounting or make sure the technical side is done. But much, much higher value is sharing that context. It’s inspiring people, telling them where you’re going as a company, telling them where you’re going as a team. So over-index on leadership because the technical stuff actually can be found elsewhere.”

Head straight into challenges

“Run towards the flames. You just have to get stuck in and don’t stand back. Whether that’s in your current company, go and find the hardest problem that exists in the company. Just go and help somebody get it done. And if it doesn’t exist in your company, then go and find another company. It’s flames everywhere, but that’s how you grow. That’s how you attract great talent. Surround yourself with great people. It’s by doing hard things, not by doing easy things.”

Top quotes:

06:42

“The journey from strategy to tactics is just asking how, right? You start with a strategy and say, how are we going to deliver that? Well, there’s a thousand options, but what are the three best ones? Okay, well, how are we going to deliver those three things? And just keep asking how, until you get down to a tactic that you can actually deliver an action that goes on. So, it’s not that complicated. You just keep asking either how on the way down or why on the way back up, if somebody is doing a bit of work, or why are you doing that? If you don’t have a good “why” to it, you’re never going to connect your action to the strategy.”

07:45

“Definitely ambitious leaders or ambitious people take on more than they can deliver. Right? And breaking that down into simplicity and asking those how and why questions you often find actually, this is a great and really good idea. But, when you say why, it takes you on a path that doesn’t at all achieve our goals for the year or for the next three years. Right? So, bringing that simple framework in allows you to focus the entire organization. So whether it’s company strategy and therefore OKR, so as a consequence or whether it’s your team structure and what’s important for the team, just that kind of one or two tools really help you focus.”

08:38

“It’s speed plus direction, which we say speed plus focus. So, we all have to be going in the same direction and just keep repeating that back to the organization. And it just makes people stop when thinking, ‘I actually am I moving in this?’ I might be going really fast, but it might be going really fast in the wrong direction and that’s not velocity. So we talk a lot about velocity. So it’s just another tool. It’s a very simple tool to help people move forward in the right direction, as fast as possible.” 

16:50

“it’s being honest, I think is the first thing. So it’s over-communicating and that’s something that I could never communicate enough. I keep doing more on what’s interesting. I’m still not communicating enough. I need to share more, share more context, get other people to share what they’re doing between themselves. It’s not always up and down. It should be left and right as well. And I think once you get everyone on the same page, there’s none of this finger pointing.”

22:46

“I believe this overall in finance, whether you’re in crisis or not, it’s never just a finance strategy. It’s never just a people strategy. It’s a company strategy and then, how. How do you do that? And then there’s a finance part, and a people part, and a product part.”

30:26 

“Travel was always about bringing people together, whether it’s more traditional, a salesperson with a customer or consultant with a customer, but it was also this internal travel and we’ve seen that increase as people have gone more hybrid, or left and moved to the suburbs. And now they’re sort of coordinating, coming back together once a week or for two days every two weeks, or maybe it’s an offsite at the end of the quarter. So we’re seeing much more of this, you know, the globalization of the workforce as facilitated by zoom. Internet connection is actually driving a very different type of business travel. That’s not just point to point. It’s not just salespeople traveling to see customers. So it’s an incredibly exciting time.” 

31:34 

“It’s an incredibly exciting time for us. The foundations are still the same, and a lot of the inventories are the same. You still need trains. You still need cars, flights, and hotels. The fundamentals are the same so that deep moat, that huge investment we’ve made in that technology is extremely valuable and will remain so. It was exciting to see how the world is not just travel, it’s beyond that, it’s in real life connection is evolving. It’s very exciting.” 

32:49

“Fundamentally, we want to be an open platform. So companies like Soldo to partner with just being able to partner at an API level, an infrastructure level, is great for everyone, particularly in the SMB space. Because what probably Soldo don’t want to do, and certainly what we don’t want to do is go and sell our solution and say, oh, by the way, take us but you can have to rip out all these four other things at the same time to jam in what is the best travel tool. But if we did cards or expenses, it wouldn’t be best of breed, right? So we don’t want to do that. We want to be an open platform. We want to have great partners like Soldo, where we can go into the customer and say, you know what? You’ve got two innovation centers here coming to you, selling together and building the best of breed.”

33:33

“I think that the acceleration really is from COVID because hybrid work was happening. The globalization of the workforce was already happening, but it’s accelerated massively. It has accelerated and that sort of driven people like me, CFOs to look at their tools, to look at their ecosystem and say, you know what – Am I giving the best solution to my distributed workforce now? Because I don’t want to be sending them a corporate Amex card and going through all the rigmarole, if I fill in this paper form and then like it’s just, nobody wants that anymore. Even the traditional companies are sort of finding themselves, tackling this for the first time, looking around the market and they’re seeing solutions like Soldo, like Travelperk. It just takes all the friction away from them. And that’s where we want to be positioned. We want to be the best in real life platform that exists out there.”

34:20

“We don’t want to build everything. We want to partner with the world’s best expense tools, corporate card tools, whatever it might be. Because I think that’s how you win. Winning for us is the customer being happy. It’s that seven star service that we always talk about. Right? We can’t deliver a seven star service in travel and expense, and ERP… and that’s just not what we want to do. We want to focus on that travel in the real life segment. And then partner with the world’s best platforms for the other bits.”

35:20

“I​it’s not just about us, although a lot of it is our execution ability. As in you can execute better if you focus. It’s also about what’s good for the customer. You don’t want to have to rip out three different things at the same time. That change management cost is massive for a CFO and for what, for a marginal gain on two of the solutions, or maybe even a marginal loss on the solutions to get a gain on one. That’s not how SMB mid-market companies work, incentives are different at an enterprise level. I appreciate that. So, we’re not so focused on the enterprise scale. We are much more focused on bringing enterprise grade travel solutions down to the mid market.”

40:53 

“Your job is to give better coaching on accounting or make sure the technical side is done. But much, much higher value is sharing that context. It’s inspiring people telling them where you’re going as a company, telling them where you’re going as a team. So over-index on leadership because the technical stuff actually can be found elsewhere.”

41:12

“Over index on company goals first, and team goals second. I think it warrants saying, and too often, you see people believe that actually, to be successful, it’s head to heads. Right. You know, the company is over here. And do you have to defend your corner or it has to be about cost or cash. Well, no, that’s just a recipe for disaster. You won’t survive, you won’t add value. So come together. Work out what is the company goal? How can the finance team support a company delivering it? And sometimes you do have to say no, of course. And that’s part of the job. But, saying no when understanding the goal, the ultimate goal of the company is just a much easier, easier conversation.”

41:58

“Run towards the flames. You just have to get stuck in and don’t stand back. Whether that’s in your current company, go and find the hardest problem that exists in the company. Just go and help somebody get it done. And if it doesn’t exist in your company, then go and find another company. It’s flames everywhere, but that’s how you grow. That’s how you attract great talent. Surround yourself with great people. It’s by doing hard things, not by doing easy things.”