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David Curtiss runs into a fair amount of confusion about his company, Rolls Royce. Fortunately, as the British firm's global travel supplier business executive, Curtiss knows a lot more about Rolls Royce than just the fact that it hasn't made automobiles for more than 30 years. According to Curtiss, every multinational travel manager should learn pretty much everything they can about how their organization works.
Speaking at last month's National Business Travel Association convention here, Curtiss pointed out that one of the most interesting aspects of travel management is that its influence and territory can cross almost all corporate departments. "It's complex, messy and fun, and you have an opportunity to learn more about your own company than a lot of other functions that are pretty much focused in one area," Curtiss said during a panel about the complexities of global travel management.
As the world's second-largest jet-engine maker--with five major business groups, seven primary countries, 10 languages and dialects, more than 50 legal entities, over 10,000 travelers and a travel spend of $136 million ($65 million for air)--Rolls Royce is multifaceted, to say the least. And that's just the structure. Curtiss posited that it is "absolutely critical" to start by understanding structure, which enables managers to deftly navigate additional complexity inevitably brought on by internal politics and other factors.
"We have what I would call a confederation (or, conglomerate) model, and this is the first thing to understand," said Curtiss. "Are you a federation or a confederation?" Describing a federation as more centrally driven and a confederation as more disbursed, Curtiss illustrated his point by noting that within Rolls Royce, each country is responsible for its own profitability.
"It's key to understand your own company from a legal entity standpoint, a financial standpoint and a reward-and-recognition standpoint," said Curtiss. "You have to be crystal clear on how all that works, because it will have a direct impact on your ability to implement your global travel program, and it will affect supplier deals, as well."
Rolls Royce hired Curtiss four years ago to implement a global travel program from the company's Indianapolis office. "There was no formal travel organization, and there still isn't. We have people who report from different functions in to a virtual organization which I head up. There are a lot of procurement people. I report to procurement in the U.S. legal entity, and have global responsibility."
Curtiss said this travel group is sponsored by certain senior directors, who act as a steering committee and receive travel reports several times a year. "I can't say they necessarily clear roadblocks, but it's useful to have their names as we approach different entities to implement the program," said Curtiss. As for bottom-up influence, "Every country gets a voice," he said. "They don't always get the same weight to their voice, but they are all heard."
In describing the ways that travel management is set up, Curtiss also showed his familiarity with a number of organizational charts describing Rolls Royce--and advocated that his peers in other corporations garner the same insight.
"You have to understand where the power lies and how decisions are made inside your organization," said Curtiss, recommending a close look at annual reports and other financial documents. "You have to understand who the people are that you need on your side--the critical players--and talk to them about what you're doing. It varies by country and can vary by organization. My recommendation is to make a model of that, to establish a clear vision of what to achieve (and of course the business case to support it) and to understand where travel management fits as a priority from a total company perspective. That will guide you in terms of the time, energy and focus that you put on it, and where you fit when competing for resources."
Curtiss said transnational travel managers should think of travel as a group of systems, from budgeting through planning and procurement; to purchasing and operations; including expense reporting, data collection and analysis. They should build relationships and "extend their franchise" inside the corporation, he said.
He suggested that all this work--particularly establishing relationships with internal power players--would not only help travel managers make the most of their programs internally, but also would establish clout and respect among suppliers.
Rolls Royce uses a single travel management company in four nations and has a data consolidation project underway for three more.
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