As an international content marketing agency focused on the airline industry, Spafax is an organisation well versed in the complexities of doing international business. Simon Ogden, Chief Operating Officer at Spafax explains how it has adapted to meet changing needs and why it is crucial to build and maintain a positive corporate culture.
Please provide some background information on yourself and your career.
I graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in economics and went on from there into management at McDonalds, following which, I professionally qualified as an accountant by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and joined Aspen. In 2000 I joined Spafax as CFO and became COO in 2013.
What are the key trends/issues that global businesses like Spafax are currently facing and what strategies are the company using to overcome these?
In common with many industries, our business is tackling technological developments head-on. These developments not only shape what we are able to provide to our clients but also, and crucially, the level of provision end-users expect. Consumers’ and business’ experiences are shaped by the ever-increasing technology around them.
This has shifted what people expect from their products and services and companies like ours must respond to this and adapt at a fast pace. At Spafax we are doing so by building products and services that ‘feel’ like people expect, but provide content beyond what end-users can experience elsewhere. In addition, Spafax has moved to a strategy where what we produce is platform-agnostic and can be monetised by our clients. Taken together, these help us maintain and grow our world-leading position in our industry.
Is the business landscape more complicated now than it was ten years ago?
Yes and no. The airline industry tends to go through cycles. Ten years ago, airlines were in a more difficult place with increasing competition. Today, competition is fierce but not increasing. Instead, cost pressures are paramount with every dollar counting and the need to reduce spend across the board.
As the organisation has expanded around the world, what difficulties has this created in terms of creating a unified corporate culture and shared set of values?
One of the largest challenges whenever a firm expands into a new market or region is the need to get the right type of people from the get go. The people you hire must be a cultural fit from day one and be able to maintain your corporate culture as the new office or enterprise grows.
At Spafax we know how important it is to get this right. Whenever a new office opens, hire the right people at the top and ensure our corporate culture is spread from there. Local leadership is vital in making any venture a success and they will only be able to do so if they are in line with a unified corporate culture and shared set of values.
How important has the company’s finance department become in recent years to help it overcome some of these challenges?
As part of WPP, our finance department is among the most important we have. To this end we have regional finance directors in the Americas and EMEA, a streamlined reporting process and systems in place to manage the multitude of currencies and tax regulations we deal in.
Without these processes, systems and staff, Spafax simply could not operate on a global scale – meaning we could not operate at all.
What top tips would you offer fellow executives to help them manage teams that span multiple markets?
The most important thing is to hire well. Any problem that presents itself can be overcome with the right people in the right positions. Any new hire must be a cultural fit, but beyond that I would advise to look for attitudes rather than absolute qualifications. The need for adaptability is greater than the need for the exact experience.