Unlike her equals at some other multinationals, Credit Suisse managing director Mick Lee doesn't buy into the theory that big corporations should seek a single worldwide vendor for travel management services or technology. That's part of the reason why Lee is surprised that one agency, HRG, has won Credit Suisse's businessin 16 countries, including two of the financial firm's largest, during multiple bidding phases over the past year.
"When Credit Suisse embarked on the RFP, we didn't have a pre-conceived notion that one agency would do it," said Lee. "In fact, I was of the belief that based on my previous experience, one agency, in fact, would not be successful." After HRG won the United Kingdom and United States business in a "phase one" RFP ending in August 2006, "We didn't intend to implement 14 more countries with HRG--and yet they earned the business country by country," Lee said last month. Those additional markets included France, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Spain and nine countries in Asia. Lee said HRG had long serviced Credit Suisse in its Switzerland headquarters "very successfully," and has retained that.
About 80 percent of Credit Suisse's travel volume, including $220 million globally for air travel, is derived from the United States, United Kingdom and Switzerland. Those three nations were put in play during phase one after Credit Suisse on 1 Jan 2006 launched an internal restructuring that brought four business units under one brand. "Although the majority of the internal integration occurred effective in January, throughout the rest of 2006 we were focused on continuing these efforts with smaller locations in order to ensure compliance to policy and that the different components of spend were fully managed," said Lee. "We consolidated those additional business units under the same travel policy, which was challenging as many travelers were used to working with small local agencies with whom they had personal relationships and they were not accustomed to following a set policy."
Credit Suisse transitioned from American Express to HRG in the United States and United Kingdom in December of last year, as it moved to HRG's call center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as well as an on-site in Credit Suisse's New York office. But that was just the beginning. "We conducted a thorough tender process which was comprehensive and detailed. However, the work truly begins from the moment you award the contract until day one of operations," said Lee. "The work was extensive. The communication was extensive. The implementation managers within HRG were prepared to address pitfalls we would be facing, and there were a lot of internal Credit Suisse changes that occurred at the same time. The major adjustment was the transition for the U.S. and the U.K.; however, there were also many other smaller agencies being used in those countries. That's where some of our biggest challenges came from. There was resentment about the change in agencies, which in fact had nothing to do with our selection, and everything to do with local offices having to accept change and a mandate for the first time.
"It was a new agency and, for many people, enforcement of the policy for the first time," said Lee, noting it was HRG that often took the brunt of traveler discontent. "They blamed the agency for why they suddenly had to do this, which I know my colleagues from other companies have also experienced with their transitions."
Addressing industry scuttlebutt about HRG's capabilities, Lee called "amazing" the "rumor mill and what happens when you're at a travel function--what are perceptions versus the reality. What is generated by HRG's competition, versus what is fact. We all know the wrong company often gets blamed in the travel industry when it has nothing to do with them--for example, the agent might get blamed because an airline is late or the bags are lost."
Lee actually used the word "perfection" in describing HRG's first day with Credit Suisse and noted that HRG met expectations even during the transition period. While praising the vendor, which is something she said she does not do lightly, Lee also said HRG has been winning the Credit Suisse business because of its willingness to customize solutions, its track record of quality service to the firm and demonstrated executive-level commitment.
"They did not throw a box on the table and say fit in it," said Lee. "We had the senior executive across the table from us throughout the process, and the commitment that senior management would continue to be involved was not lip service."
Despite the existing HRG relationship in Switzerland, Lee said the selection process was as rigorous as any she had managed during her 15 years in the industry. Joining travel management personnel on the selection committee were representatives from Credit Suisse's independent financial team, supply management, technology and an external travel consultant.
"Having a diverse group of individuals involved with the process adds value," said Lee. "It's important to get a perspective that is outside the travel industry and question the status quo. They point out things that we think are acceptable, because we have been around them for years, when in fact there may be other options. We organized the evaluations with people outside the travel industry, to ensure everything we were doing was being questioned. So when vendors came in for best and final presentations, they were sitting across from a group of 21 on my team."
She called the phase one selection process a "seven-month long dance" including multiple on-site visits. "We visited the offices of each bidding agency, they visited Credit Suisse offices and we ensured an even and equal exposure to our team and our process." said Lee. "Everyone was treated exactly the same. The amount of time spent with each company was exactly the same. The only company that had a leg up in the U.S. and U.K. was of course the incumbent"
The travel consultant was not allowed to vote on the bidders, but the 20 people who did all picked HRG, Lee said.