Expert View: 'What Value Do You Add To Your Market And Can You Protect It?'

We spoke to James Lemon, VP Commercial Strategy at Travelport


Ahead of his presentation at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit in London this April 25&26, we spoke to James Lemon, VP Commercial Strategy at Travelport.

James Lemon has been at Travelport for nearly 4 years. Travelport is a leading travel technology business with a global footprint, processing hundreds of millions of bookings each year, and connecting travellers and travel agencies with providers of travel, like airlines and hotel chains. James is responsible for Commercial Strategy and ensures the business is reviewing ongoing strategic initiatives to enable Travelport to meet and exceed customer demands today and in the future. In a business responsible for connecting some of the largest travel providers and sellers in the world, this means Travelport needs to invest in leading technologies around connectivity, automation, data, and mobile to ensure travellers can be offered seamless travel experiences. Additionally, as the Chief of Staff to the Chief Commercial Officer, James maintains oversight of businesses, current performance and priorities to ensure in-year delivery to plan.

How do you think the role of a strategist is changing?

Organisations of different shapes and sizes continue to stretch the definition of what a strategist is - from the sole curator of the company’s direction with an ear direct to the CEO, the one who may lead the business acquisitions and define the vision - to simply a Powerpoint expert who puts other people’s thoughts and ideas into digestible leadership materials.

The best strategists I’ve seen inside organisations are those who are persistent, who raise the quality of the thinking that everyone does in the business, by posing questions across every function, and potentially, resourcing teams who need to come up with the answers, on a whole range of topics around the industry, growth, effectiveness and organisation. They should provoke others who may settle for the status quo, and call out behaviour that doesn’t support the organisation's objectives. A siloed internal consultancy is the worst outcome you can get – so, I strongly believe a mix of intellect and pragmatism that adapts perfect answers to fit the organisation's ability and progress is usually the best.

What are the main elements of a successful business strategy?

A view of what the industry and competitors are doing now and tomorrow; a clear vision that people know and believe in, driven by a set of choices, backed up with resources and investments, and last but not least, a plan to execute across all business units.

What can companies do to adjust to the new climate of the global political and economic uncertainty?

If we’re looking at the broader economy and global politics, it’s about periodically sitting down and looking at the broader context through a ‘what-if’ exercise. Would your plans be robust if key markets went into recession? Or if trade tariffs emerged and labour costs went up?

How can organizations and startups benefit from each other?

This is a really tough one as many industries are littered with organisations that have sucked the passion and growth out of startups. I think a robust approach to partnerships is starting with simpler areas to work together on – where benefits of growth are shared. Organisations often get overexcited by acquisitions and tend to smother smaller businesses with attention – not to mention struggles faced with cultural alignment.

Would it be right to say that risk management initiatives can kill innovation? Why?

Risk management isn’t going away, and there are many other things that can kill innovation that worry me more.

How do you ensure your long term plans are reactive to disruption?

It’s your people, not your plans that need to be reactive to disruption. Be realistic about your planning. How long-term are you really looking? Is that the right approach, given the speed of customer, competitor, and industry change you are seeing? New entrants often start by doing common sense things that incumbents miss, such as gaining customer traction at a fraction of the cost of a legacy player. Ask yourself periodically: What value do you really add to your market and can you protect that value, such as your pricing – in the face of someone who is bringing a totally fresh approach?

What will you be discussing in your presentation at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit?

I want to share a fresh perspective on how we all book flights and hotels. How the travel industry really works, who’s paying, and what it means for travellers. Is Google the world’s biggest travel company, who may be taking a slice of the price I pay? And why do I have to check so many websites before I book? Against this backdrop, how does a technology leader in that space deal with the likes of new entrants like Airbnb - the shift from travel agency call centres to mobile phones and rising customer expectations.

You can hear from James and other industry leaders at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit, taking place in London this April 25&26.

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