Georg Hesse became the new CEO of TOMORROW FOCUS AG on 1 January 2016. We spoke to him about his first couple of months in the online travel industry.
Georg, can you begin by telling us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Munich, am 43 years old, married and have three cheeky, wonderful daughters. I began my career in media and switched to the online retailer Amazon in 1999. I started out there by setting up the editorial and marketing departments for the music division and then assumed the commercial responsibility in the following 16 years. I was also responsible for the establishment and expansion of the video games, software, toys, home and garden, large electric appliances and furniture product groups. In addition to working at Amazon, I also completed an MBA at the Henley Business School in London. In my spare time, I am interested in music and I am an enthusiastic, albeit not very dangerous, martial artist.
What drives you?
I am curious, love complex challenges and really enjoy building and leading teams. Throughout the course of my career, I have had the privilege of being able to set up many organisations that lastingly changed industries with their focus on customers. I am driven by the conviction that this will also be possible in the travel segment of the TOMORROW FOCUS Group.
What about the new job at TOMORROW FOCUS appealed to you?
Firstly, the industry appeals to me. Even though a lot of market participants talk about customer orientation and there are currently many exciting innovations in the travel industry, I can't help but notice that there are only very few industry players that make holidaymakers the focus of their efforts and whom I, as a holidaymaker, would trust completely. I see a unique opportunity here for our Group because as a ratings portal, we have always stood on the side of the holidaymaker. To sharpen that profile even more and to set a new standard with regard to customer orientation is an exciting task, for which it is worth starting anew – even though I already had a great job.
What is your first impression of the TOMORROW FOCUS Group?
The Group has very strong consumer brands in the travel sector. In their markets, HolidayCheck and Zoover are enjoying the unrestricted trust of their customers. That puts them in a unique position and allows them to help shape the future of their market segment. They also have customer orientation in their DNA, which fits right into how I want to lead a company. One example is providing information on the horrific terrorist attacks in Turkey. Among major online travel portals, HolidayCheck was the only one to immediately provide information to holidaymakers and their families on its website. In the short term, that certainly didn't improve sales but it was the right thing for holidaymakers and therefore the right thing for us.
Obviously, the TOMORROW FOCUS Group is undergoing a fundamental transition from a mixed company with different Internet brands to a focused, agile and innovative travel business. With Timo Salzsieder (COO), Dirk Schmelzer (CFO) and the two managing directors Anja Keckeisen and Philipp Goos, we have an excellent management team that, even prior to me joining, had already initiated the correct but partially painful change processes. That means I am not starting from scratch. Since a lot of the changes are currently not yet visible from the outside, I think that the new potential of the Group is still being underestimated.
What are your plans for the TOMORROW FOCUS Group?
It is our vision to become the most holidaymaker-oriented company in the world. Agile, innovative, with a long-term perspective and customer-oriented to a fault. We are focusing on helping people to easily find and book their well-deserved holiday. That is already in the DNA of our team, but we have to sharpen the comprehension of what that means in practice. I know from my experience at Amazon how to make customers the focus of all of a company's processes and to not only pay lip service to a culture of innovation and customer orientation, but to specifically implement and support it. After only a few weeks, I can already tell how much energy that releases in our company, and our product development department is taking important steps in this direction. That is good news for our shareholders: a team that is clearly focused on what helps holidaymakers, while developing products and services that are better differentiated. That helps replace marketing costs by recommendations from satisfied customers.
Which opportunities and challenges in the travel market can you identify?
The travel industry is currently undergoing a disruptive change. But I am convinced that a lot more innovation lies ahead of us than behind us and we want to play a major role in that. The central European travel market is unique and is particularly dear to us. Our deep understanding of German-speaking and Dutch holidaymakers provides great opportunities for our brands. Maybe we are not the biggest in the world, but we want to be the best for our customers.
What should your employees know about you?
I'm a happy guy and generally easy to get along with (laughs). I don't think what you say becomes any truer when it is conveyed in a stroppy manner. However, I won't be satisfied with superficial answers and expect that our decisions will be made based on data. What I expect from all employees, whether in the service centre, development, marketing, sales or HR, is that they make holidaymakers the focus of their actions. I want them to think big and long-term, take responsibility, innovate, communicate openly and never rest on the laurels of what they have already achieved. And I want my employees to give me feedback if I should ever not act in the same way.