Former Honeywell, ING and Xerox meetings executive Kari
Kesler in October joined Carlson Wagonlit Travel in the new position of senior
director of strategic meetings management program management and solutions. She
spoke with BTN's Chris Davis about
the meetings recovery and the evolving definitions of successful global
Business Travel News:
You were an independent consultant for more than a year. What led to the CWT
Kari Kesler: I
worked for Carlson about 16 years ago, and I was a manager on the Xerox account
before I was hired by Xerox. Being in Minneapolis for the past 10 years, I've
reconnected with a lot of the people there. [Vice president of CWT Meetings
& Events North America] Tony Wagner and I were account managers at the same
time on different accounts back then. The position is compelling to me because
I don't think there is a third party now, and I say this with respect to lots
of friends, that really does a great job of helping clients move forward in SMM
strategy. Of moving programs forward, yes. Securing and supporting programs and
delivering meetings and services, absolutely. But measurably moving SMM
strategy forward, I don't think anyone has been really successful in supporting
corporate needs for that. That's exciting for me because that's what I do as a
BTN: How can you
comprehensively analyze the SMM market, with so many buyers of all sizes and in
very different stages of maturity in each industry?
Kesler: It goes
to customizing every approach. For all clients, the game is the same but the
goals, what constitutes a touchdown, are very different. For some, maybe it's
getting an approved business case to start doing something. Even the ones that
from the outside seem to be very mature really aren't, and they have some very
specific categories where they're not anywhere near mastery. A touchdown for
them might be to have global cohesion in some processes. It's a game of making
measurable progress so you can continue to achieve more incremental results,
and these days, it's results beyond savings and risk mitigation.
BTN: Are we at
the point in the economic recovery where companies, especially those without
SMM programs, are dedicating the resources to advance the process?
Kesler: I would
look at that from a different angle. The recovery only helped put a wonderful
spotlight on the need for SMM. The recovery of meetings has been slow. It's not
yet to pre-2008 levels, but it's getting close. Much like everything else,
there's a more careful look at why people are doing what they're doing and
whether it aligns with business objectives, which I think is fantastic. The
more intentional we are about having meetings, the more likely they are to be
linked to business success and survive rash expense cuts, because it wouldn't
be just an expense. I don't think the recession impacted SMM negatively. On the
contrary, I thought it was the best fodder for proving that SMM needs to
happen. There's a lot more case history now with tangible numbers, so that's
usually compelling enough to make whatever decisions need to be made.
BTN: Do you see
interest in multinational SMM solutions?
been talking about it for years, and companies have said they're doing it for
years, but the reality is that most aren't. But, yes, the big global companies
are ready and moving. For most of them, you have an overarching strategy that
is shared globally, and you have regional or business-specific nuances. Here's
an example: The strategy says we have to have a payment solution in place, so
we have to know and give very clear direction on how we're going to pay for
everything related to meetings. It may be a meeting card in the United States
and something totally different in China, but the big components of the overall
strategy are there. When you go global or multinational, you have to be willing
to accept differences by region or business unit, and that's where these big
companies are now that they haven't been before. They wanted to roll out one
strategy for the whole globe; it hasn't really worked. The acceptance of some
complexity is driving success in non-U.S. regions. The goal is to have
strategic components in place globally and actually working, and that requires
nuances and complexity.
BTN: Where is the
level of SMM technology versus the demands of the market?
are further along in their expertise and expectations than suppliers are ready
to provide. It's fabulous that there's competition in the marketplace for
meetings technology. I like that there are choices that are valid. If you're
really global and need multiple languages and multiple currencies, StarCite's
really the only one there yet, but I do think they have competitors that are
nipping at their heels.
BTN: With whom do
you work in large corporations?
procurement, often the travel person in procurement or the former travel
manager who's now in procurement. It's rarely a head of meetings. Almost never,
actually. Most of the time, it is procurement-led. There are exceptions: Cisco
started out that way, then intentionally moved the program under marketing.
That speaks to the fact that it's a diverse initiative, and wherever it's going
to get the most adoption, support and championing—and that's different company
by company—put it there.
This report appears in
the Nov. 29 issue of Business Travel News.