CEO and CMO: A partnership for speed and agility

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Xavier Mufraggi (CEO, Club Med, North America) and Jerome Hiquet (CMO, Club Med, North America) discuss how they work together to build an organization that adapts to fast-paced changes in the travel world.

New skills to succeed

Xavier: A company with 50 or 100 years of experience can die because there is a new entrant that completely disrupts the market. The developments in technology mean that an attack can come from literally anywhere in the world.

That’s pushed us to make important changes. The first one is bringing in the right talent. I say to all my teams, “If I stayed with what I knew 10 years ago, I’d be an expert on 10% of what’s needed now.” We need a balance of creative and technical skills, especially in marketing, and we’re actively recruiting to get that balance right.

The second thing is to move with speed. We have a flatter organization now. The importance of the CMO is in being closely connected with people in different departments and different siloes to make things happen quickly. A CEO cannot be successful if the marketing organization is not agile, fast, and stocked with the right talent that can work well with the rest of the company.

Jerome: As marketers, we are the guardians of the customer. And at the same time, we have to be close to innovation. To do that, I as a CMO have to be able to work well with other departments in the organization. I like to say that marketing today is 30 percent traditional marketing, 30 percent IT, 30 percent analytics, and 10 percent politics.

That requires a mindset that is without ego, and by that I mean understanding how to incorporate other viewpoints and solutions. If it’s all about doing it “marketing’s way,” it’s just not going to work. Marketing has to be the glue of the company.

Making change happen across the company

Xavier: To change our organization, we started by identifying who was creating value. It was the people who get our customers to come to our properties (commercial) and the staff taking care of our guests once they’re here (operation). The rest of us are here to support them. That was a pretty big mindset adjustment for people, but a critical one.

Jerome: Two years ago, we had a “commando” seminar led by Xavier (CEO). It included executives from across the company, e.g. sales, operations, marketing, etc. We debated our vision for the customer journey, value from data, what impact we wanted to have. We defined what we as an organization wanted to be, and that become the backbone of change.

Then we did a second “commando” seminar with teams to implement the vision. This was a two-three workshop where we examined the data and developed plans to implement the best ideas, for example, how could we create a better customer journey across operations, contact center, hotel staff, etc.

It all starts with what the customer wants. We started with defining the journeys and then got all the departments to engage on them. The COO was critical for helping to implement the journeys. The CEO was critical as a sponsor to drive us. And as CMO, I had to be the glue across the organization to keep the vision of the customer experience journey consistent.

More freedom and responsibility

Jerome: My CEO, Xavier, articulates where we as a company need to go, then gives me the freedom to get there. That is the freedom, for example, to choose my own people, make media spend decisions, etc.  I’ve also been brought in on strategy sessions so I’m much more involved in the business and can bring my passion about the customer to it directly.

Xavier: I made it clear to Jerome (CMO) when I hired him that I expected him to challenge me as well as others in the company. Jerome comes from a digital and analytics world, while I was from branding and international project management. We are well matched. You also have to build the relationship every day.

I value balancing formal meetings on one particular topic with regular but small informal moments together. For example, there is nothing better than a quick coffee in the morning for 10 – 15 minutes every day with your executive team members before everyone jumps into their day: you get everyone in the loop of what is going on (alignment/prioritization) and tackle some quick-hit decisions (speed).

Building an agile DNA

Xavier: Any organization that stands still is at risk of going out of business. My role is to give a direction, make the guidelines clear and then impulse the rhythm, to get us to move forward and give fluidity in the process when it is needed. It’s a “better” mode, not “best.” We test a lot. We analyze trends, and then we use our intuition. It’s important not to try to overthink everything, because whatever you decide to do will evolve. If there’s a good idea, we try it quickly to see if it sticks or stinks. If it works, we move the organization behind it. It’s OK to fail, but fail fast and move on.

Jerome: One mission I have as CMO is to be on top of what’s happening. I have to be curious and get out there to see what’s happening and what people are reacting to. You can’t just rely on the data alone. The truth is that it’s hard to read the trends, which is why we need to be ready to adapt quickly. Last year, we didn’t really know much about Airbnb. Now it is a major player of the industry.

Xavier: One reason we’re agile is that we have people moving around all the time. About 50 percent of our front-office staff moves from one resort to another each year. It’s expensive, but after three to four years, they have experience on at least two different continents and speak multiple languages.

We also put our people in more senior positions quickly. We appoint resort managers who are sometimes as young as 29 (the average is 34 - 40 in the industry) who manage 400 staff and 800 clients every week. Because our people move around so much, they can see new ideas and what works and what doesn’t. We have a reputation for reacting quickly because our people move around, which makes them more adaptable and builds that skill into the DNA of our company.