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Travelling Companion: Bertrand Saillet

Some people call it a bug, but it’s more than that. Travel can be a preoccupation, an obsession – or a way of life. For Bertrand Saillet, Managing Director of FCM Travel Solutions Asia, it is most definitely the latter as he pilots the company to new levels of service in an increasingly competitive corporate travel market in Asia.

Bertrand Saillet

Bertrand always had a clear map of his career journey. He worked for European telecommunications company Orange before moving to Airbus’s IT division in sales and marketing, and from there he jumped to Amadeus, an IT company for the travel industry.

“I was always fascinated by the travel industry,” Bertrand recounts. “I’m quite passionate about travel. When I moved from Airbus to Amadeus, it was to get closer to the travel industry, and when I started in the industry, the thing that fascinated me was its ‘ecosystem’ – the connections between different components of the industry, which is unique.

“You talk to competitors, suppliers, providers – everybody’s mingling together and it’s a very social industry. It’s a very people-driven industry,” he says. “We keep talking about technology now, but it very much still remains a people industry.”

Corporate travel has evolved in the past decade as executives need – and now demand – greater flexibility and immediacy in travel itineraries to meet their business imperatives. The changes, says Bertrand, have inevitably pushed travel organisers to adopt smarter ways of operating.

“We moved from ‘we are here to issue your ticket’ to ‘we are here to serve your travellers and help them all the way through the journey’,” Bertrand points out. “I would say technology has helped us to provide solutions with better reporting, better relationships with vendors, and obviously, tracking travellers and making sure they are safe. For corporate travellers, it’s about mobile apps that give you lots of tips to make the travel much easier. It goes much further than the traditional model.”

FCM Travel Solutions has embarked on a significant investment in online technology with FCM Labs to streamline their interactions with customers. “FCM Labs is the work of very smart people looking at what our customers need, the trends, and what we can do about them as a company. We have people sitting in Boston, London, Barcelona, Bangkok and Brisbane, coming up with solutions to help our customers get more from us.

That led us to SAM, which was initially a Barcelona-based startup that we purchased last year. Apps in the travel industry were still quite isolated – they don’t give you full support along your journey. SAM wanted to come up with something unique, very personal. That’s why it’s called a personal travel assistant, to help you along the journey.

“When we acquired SAM, it was already very strong, but now what we do is keep making the app better, integrating new solutions and modules all the time to improve the customer experience. We keep a strong connection with our customer base and the industry in general – we hear from them what they need, what would make the app better. That’s the external part of it.

“But we still have travel consultants in all our countries to serve our customers. I insist on that because, for us, success resides in building a blended model between online and offline, and making sure that customers always get someone they can talk to, should the technology reach its limits,” Bertrand explains.

FCM uses a flat management structure to involve staff in both everyday activities and broader corporate directions. It has, says Bertrand, core values and a common purpose. “No-one here should feel entitled. Everyone should get the same rights in the company,” he insists. “I don’t have a private office. We want to make sure that operations between everyone remain extremely free. That, to me, is the best way to do it. I’m very much into collaboration.

Bertrand Saillet

“It’s very important to be across the entire organisation so people realise they can talk to you and keep a strong connection with the business. We want to share opinions, share ideas, and sometimes we want to share frustrations. I think they’re very important to hear about.

That’s our style of leadership. I think if you don’t ‘feel’ your business anymore, you become insignificant, because one day you realise that the business has gone one way and you’ve gone another, and the gap has become so big that you cannot recover from it. So, it’s very important to keep the link with people in the business.”

“It’s very important to be across the entire organisation so people realise they can talk to you and keep a strong connection with the business.”

A key factor for success, says Bertrand, is making sure that what customers are told is happening internally as well. “That means changing the mindset of our own people. We do ‘town halls’ – training, learning and development, and a lot of programs to make sure our people understand what we are trying to do for our customers.”

While Bertrand loves all the travel his role brings, he also gains real satisfaction in other aspects of his job. “I enjoy building our strategy – having the opportunity to do something for my company to reach our goal, which is to dominate Asia by 2025. That lets me look at different opportunities across the region and ensure we make it happen. It’s fascinating,” he says.

“The second part is customer interactions. I really make a point to stay close to our customers. The third is our people. We try to make a difference every day, to make people happy while at work by providing the stimulation to do better and to grow themselves. Those three things are what make me extremely excited to come to work every day.”

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