Nick Stephens, chairman of the RSA Group and the new non-executive director, ICE ICT talks about the opportunities and challenges for the travel tech industry and says that as human beings we can turn our hands to anything we’re strongly motivated about.
What excited you most about ICE?
I’ve known the founders for the best part of a decade. I’ve seen ICE grow from a small craft business into an international business, following the same growth pattern as my own business, albeit 10 years behind me. It’s exciting to see them internationalise the business and develop a deep niche in ‘Travel’. I’m enjoying helping them navigate the journey – so walking the same path but ahead of them.
How will you add value to ICE?
I’ve built and run (or helped to run) nine businesses as a significant shareholder and I’ve sat on the board of 10 companies. All of them share an important service component and are in some way ‘high tech’. My current (main) business is in executive search where as well as chairing the business I build and grow our board practice, helping public and private companies across the world to review, assess and replace their directors.
There are two things that will be critical in my role as non-exec to ICE. First, to help navigate how we evolve ahead of the curve – building competence so the business is fit for the future and not living in the past. Second, rigour, process and structure are essential in any growth company. Helping to bring these in will make ICE perform better and become more robust as they grow. My job is to hold up a flat mirror to the directors. When you’re ‘down in the weeds’ running your own business it’s easy for the urgent to overtake the important, and I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the travel tech industry?
In a way the challenges and opportunities are the same. There are two key components to this – understanding that the cruise ship’s relationships with customers is more tech-driven and that the ships are effectively cities on water. All these elements need to be enabled by technology. We connect the customer and the business with a tech infrastructure. Our expert understanding of travel and ship operations as well as the mobile world that their customers inhabit allows us to recommend the best partner vendors as well as deliver quality services direct to the client. The opportunity lies in differentiating ICE as the company that is effectively a black box solution. Our sweet spot lies in understanding the continuous development of relevant technologies while helping our clients to delight travellers.
What do good leaders have in common?
The most common characteristics are that they hire and develop the very best people they can, even when those people might threaten their status. They have clarity of vision and objectives and the ability to communicate in a way that motivates and engages their people.
What’s most important when hiring a team – culture fit or expertise?
As a human being you can turn your hand to anything. Almost anyone could be a doctor or an astronaut. It’s about motivation. Do I want to go to work or stay under my duvet? Culture fit and purpose trumps experience every time as long as the organisation has the in-house expertise – hire for attitude and train for skill.