April 23, 2024

Culture club

Recruiting, retaining and rewarding talent is the industry’s collective responsibility, says Danny Cockton, Vice President Global Travel Services for Wood

We’re big into culture at Wood. (As the saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast.) One of our three core pillars is to create a great place to work by building an inspired culture, driven by interactions – leadership engagements, team celebrations and engaging with clients.  

During the pandemic, we did a great job of making that happen by virtual means but there’s still, I believe, a need for face-to-face connections. An inspired culture is what builds deeper connections, enables us to innovate and to attract the best talent. The role that travel plays can’t be underestimated.

In 2012, I was one of the founders of the Business Travel People Awards, now run by The Business Travel Magazine. Based on the mantra ‘recruit, retain and reward’, the awards were created on the back of the financial crisis and the subsequent exodus of people from the travel industry. A little over a decade later and we find ourselves in even greater need following the pandemic. 

“An inspired culture is what builds deeper connections, enables us to innovate and to attract the best talent”

Talent acquisition has been discussed at great length but what is abundantly clear to me is that creating an environment conducive to attracting new talent is not solely the responsibility of the supply chain, but a shared obligation of corporate clients.

The priority, of course, has been on getting people into the TMCs and suppliers. There’s been a big focus on TMC academies and educational partnerships and, from a volume perspective, that makes sense, to a degree. However, what we saw in the last couple of years is something of a revolving door. It has been, on occasions, brutal. I know; I was in the thick of it. While much of that was the post pandemic situation, I saw little focus on creating the right environment and solely a focus on numbers and service factor percentages.

The best and most successful travel teams are those that are integrated and engaged at all levels and the responsibility, on me, is to ensure our inspired culture is embedded across my teams. We want the best talent on the account, whether it is the travel counsellors at the TMC, the representatives at airlines and hotels, or my own travel management team and, crucially, we want to retain them. The only way we can do that is to ensure the environment is a great one, especially when the going gets tough, or we will see the revolving door again.  

With this in mind, over the past few months I’ve been on a talent acquisition trail and we’ve built a formidable and diverse team, virtually from the ground up, alongside our global TMC, American Express GBT. 

“What we saw in the last couple of years is something of a revolving door”

Our two recently-onboarded travel managers bring commercial prowess – one specialising in TMC client management and the other in travel technology. 

Additionally, 25% of our travel counsellors are newcomers to the industry. They are individuals we aim to nurture within the Wood account, providing a safe space for learning and cultivating our inspired culture. 

Amex GBT has opened the door to 20/20 Levels, an organisation which champions emerging talent from underrepresented communities. It’s not exclusively tied to the travel sector but has allowed us to add a new team member with great analytical and data skills, bringing a fresh perspective.

Retaining talent is just as important and to create compelling opportunities for our longstanding members, we’ve restructured our in-house ‘travel team,’ into ‘global travel services’. This transformation involved upskilling colleagues from operational roles to more strategic and consultative ones, shifting the focus from transactional activity to signposting, training and supporting.

Our combined team has witnessed the deserved promotion of talent from within to two senior roles – global client manager and global operations manager – which is testament to our commitment to rewarding excellence.

Having diversified our talent sources, retained exceptional individuals, and duly rewarded those deserving, we begin the next phase of our plan with an energised and inspired culture at the heart of our journey.

Danny Cockton is Vice President Global Travel Services at engineering giant Wood PLC. He previously held commercial roles with Amex GBT and Agiito, as well as serving ITM since 2005 in various capacities.