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For this episode of my Leadership Lessons series, I had the chance to talk to the CEO of the world’s leading provider of online travel about how to lead through uncertain times and survive a downturn. The amazing Glenn Fogel, president and CEO of Booking Holdings, is one of the most engaging, charismatic and thoughtful folks I’ve ever hosted.
With products and services available in more than 220 countries and territories, Booking Holdings — the parent company of Booking.com, Priceline, Agoda, Rentalcars.com, KAYAK and OpenTable, as well as subsidiary brands including Rocketmiles, Fareharbor, HotelsCombined, Cheapflights and Momondo — operates in more than 40 languages across Europe, North America, South America, the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Africa.
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Fogel joined Booking Holdings (then known as Priceline.com) in February 2000 after stints as a trader at a global asset management firm and an investment banker specializing in the air transportation industry. Two weeks after he joined, the stock market peaked and the dot-com bubble burst. Soon after, the September 11 attacks happened, hampering people’s desire to travel. And when the 2020 pandemic hit, the industry was shattered yet again. So there’s no better leader to get advice from than this one.
Below are nine essential lessons from my conversation with this inspiring and gifted leader:
1. As bad as things can be, they will get better. Be resilient.
Fogel has time-earned wisdom. He’s been at Booking.com over the most tumultuous periods in recent American history, so he’s seen the ebb and flow of markets with great clarity. Despite spikes in post-Covid “revenge travel,” Fogel reminded me that travel will always be top-of-mind for people because most of their fondest memories are on vacations or trips. Plus, traveling to someplace new is always on someone’s bucket list. So the industry will always rebound after a downturn.
2. Keep employees happy and challenged, and they’ll stick around.
If they like what they’re doing, they probably won’t think about leaving your company. Life is short, so there’s no justification for them to stay somewhere they dislike.
Related: What Has This 100-Year-Old Business Done to Ensure Its Longevity? Its CEO Follows These 7 Leadership Principles.
3. When it comes to M&A, always consider the value and the pitfalls.
When thinking about acquiring a company or merging with one, be cautious. Most deals don’t work out for the buyer. You need to dive deep into if the deal will create value and help the customer, and also how it could go wrong.
4. If you acquire a company and its existing employees are necessary to run the ship, make sure they’re incentivized to stay.
Like a marriage, Fogel says, both sides have to want to be in it after the wedding.
5. Every day is a fight if you want to keep succeeding.
People will always come up with new ideas to do the things you’re doing in different ways. For travel, there are so many alternatives now. The best defense against newcomers is to make sure you’re providing value so that people still feel the best way to do this transaction is through your company.
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6. You’ll always have a chance to improve.
Your lifespan will include many “lives,” so a career is never definitive. In the end, you’re just as human as the next person, and your story will be a long one. You’ll have opportunities to do better.
7. Work hard but efficiently.
Remember that no matter how hard you work, you will likely never feel the job is finished. But at least if you do it efficiently, you can spend more time with the people you love to make that work worthwhile.
8. As with most things in life, always ask yourself WHY before making a decision.
For example, if your goal is to be a CEO, figure out why you want to be one first. Make sure it’s for the right reasons, and be prepared to constantly strive to do better.
9. Make things more convenient for the customer, and you’ll have fans for life.
Everything should be easier with technology, but that’s not always the case. Customers yearn for a simple all-in-one experience, like local travel agents used to offer before the internet disrupted that method. Fogel says his company rectifies that need by offering “a connected trip.”
For more from my hour with Fogel, watch the full webinar here. The growing collection of episodes from our series gives readers access to the best practices of successful CEOs from over 30 of the biggest brands, including Heineken, Headspace, Zoom, Chipotle, Warby Parker and ZipRecruiter, to name a few.
Related: Not Every Leader Has to Be Steve Jobs, And 9 Other Pieces of Advice from Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman
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