When Kenneth Macpherson took on the job as CEO for InterContinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) operations across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa (EMEAA), he was given the challenge of leading one of the world’s largest hospitality companies across a number of different regions. For some, the task might have appeared overwhelming, but not for Kenneth. “Yes, it is a lot of countries, and the markets are huge, but IHG is versatile. I am privileged to help lead the business and help build on the scale that we now have,” he says.
Though Kenneth’s responsibilities might appear daunting, it’s a natural next step for him. Appointed to his current position in 2018, he originally joined the company in 2013 as CEO for the Greater China region. Before that, he held various roles at multinational alcoholic beverages company Diageo for more than 20 years, cultivating the global experience he would bring to his current role representing over 1,000 hotels across 72 countries.
“Having firsthand experience with these markets and cultures has been of direct assistance to me in this role,” he says. “I have learned through experience that, when you represent an international business, you become a student of international culture. You must be willing to learn all the time.”
It is this experience that made the diversity of markets on offer with this job attractive to Kenneth. “As opposed to focusing on how complex this role is, and how difficult it can be to operate this sort of business, I have always found it appealing to be in a position where I could embrace and harness diversity,” he says.
For me, the opportunity was in overseeing multiple regions with great scale and variety. It was a fabulous chance to build a high-performing business in markets I am interested in. Before that, I had been fortunate to work in South Africa, Réunion Island, Singapore and China, so when they said to me, ‘Here’s this chance, do you want to do this?’ I had to say yes.”
During his tenure at IHG, Kenneth has sought to decentralise responsibilities and decision-making within the separate regions and entrust those working closely in individual markets to play an active role in the direction of their operations.
“When I arrived in this position, the first thing I did was to establish a model whereby four managing directors across our separate regions operate the business. Within those units, we then have sub-units, which follow the same model. It is all about ensuring the right leadership is in place and with our four experienced and knowledgeable managing directors, we can meet the needs of our partners and owners quickly.
“When you represent an international business, you become a student of international culture.”
“When you operate in these overseas markets, it is imperative to acknowledge the strengths of anyone you have the privilege to work with. You must respect them and the insights they bring to the table.”
It is this respect for local markets that drives success for IHG, and helps Kenneth overcome the challenge of operating across multiple regions. “We spend a lot of time focusing on how to respond to the eccentricities of each market. And of course, that means we must ensure we have a diverse array of people who are able to meet these challenges.”
Integral to IHG’s approach towards these varied regions is its commitment to “delivering a unique experience for guests”. For example, in its Holiday Inn hotels, IHG has reinvented the traditional hotel lobby format to give guests what it calls an ‘open lobby’ experience. Combining the front desk, lobby, restaurant, bar, lounge area and business centre into a single cohesive place, the concept is based on how people use space in their homes.
On a company-wide scale, another important investment has been the development of the ‘Concerto’ system, which will consolidate a wide range of operations into one global guest reservation system, while saving IHG an estimated US$125 million in service costs by 2020. It is all part of the Group’s focus on increasing personalisation for guests while driving down costs for owners.
“Across the business, we have common brands and capabilities, but an operational excellence mindset is essential. We need to repeat the same processes successfully day in, day out, and deliver a wonderful guest experience, and these programs will help us do just that.”
At IHG, though, Kenneth is persistent in growing the reach of its brands, including bringing the Kimpton brand into the UK, acquiring Regent Hotels and Resorts and launching the new upscale brand ‘voco’. And with the recent deal to bring IHG’s new mainstream brand, avid hotels, to Europe for the first time, Kenneth sees the Group’s continuing growth as integral to the business’s ongoing success.
“The question for us is, ‘How do we take advantage of opportunity and diversity?’ And this expansion of our portfolio coupled with initiatives to strengthen our existing brand is how we go about it. I’m enjoying the role I can play in making it all possible.”