“Agility Matters”: On the State of Travel & People with John F. Rizzo, CEO of Deem

April 9, 2020

It seems like the situation in the world changes radically every day now. As novel Coronavirus hotspots move between cities, states and countries, governments offer new directives and pass new bills to help. Businesses are repurposing facilities from making cars or fashion to create more of the supplies we need, such as ventilators and masks, to help the world get healthy again.

Sheltering in place at our homes offers nearly equal complexity. We’re working from home, handling the kids’ homeschool challenges and managing their pent up energy, and (if we’re following the guidelines) only venturing outdoors to run essential errands or maybe walk our pets.

There are vast changes happening suddenly to all of us. It can be difficult to keep up with just our own lives let alone the pandemic, despite everyone’s need to know the latest news. And there’s so much misinformation to parse out, making reliable sources more challenging to find.

So, how are people getting information they trust? According to a recent 10-country study, from their employers. With this in mind, we turned to our own CEO of Deem, John F. Rizzo, for his industry expertise and leadership.

Q: Deem has hundreds of employees around the world. How are you taking care of them?

JR: We were acquired by Enterprise Holdings about a year ago. As a privately held company, we don't have to worry about whether we can go to the capital or venture markets to raise money; that stability at the bottom line helps me sleep easier. However, we are being more cautious with our forward hiring trajectory. We are slowing that down, and we're being more thoughtful about how we're spending money.

I'm recording videos every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I start my day with a two- to four-minute video to our employees to share with them my perspective on what's happened in the last couple of days and weeks. Those videos are a mix of my industry observations, what I'm experiencing personally, and what friends and colleagues are experiencing. I've not done that before. It seems to be pretty effective and it brings us all closer as a team.

Q: How might the pandemic change the travel world permanently?

JR: We’re learning that video conferencing is pretty good. It begs a question: do we need all these offices and the associated real estate costs? Does everybody have to be in a physical office eight hours a day, seven days a week? Or do we only need it for special occasions? Some companies are already entirely virtual.

Then there's a question about whether you need to get on an airplane to visit people, or in the near-term, rent a car to create a safer environment. In many circumstances, getting in front of people face to face is more efficient than doing it over video, but I think people will think harder about whether or not they want to take their next business trip. Certainly, business travel is going to feel some impact from this. People will be naturally wary about traveling until there's a reliable vaccine, and the ramp will be slow. Even when those issues are gone, people will say, “Well, I really don't need to get on a plane because I can accomplish this through video, like I was doing during the outbreak.” But I also believe certain things can't replace face-to-face interaction.

Q: Might business travel become more of a premium experience than it's been previously? Would we use video to backfill the lower 50% or 70% of meeting needs and save business travel for when it really matters?

JR: There is that chance. However, there's another trend going on, largely driven by younger people entering the workforce: the notion that travel is not just about business. If I'm going to go on a business trip, why don't I spend a couple of extra days and do some leisure travel? The trend might be a counterbalance to less business travel overall.

Having the entire business travel sector shut down for several months is going to force a whole bunch of thinking around innovation and value-add. Ultimately, it will help us be a better industry and fix some suboptimal practices. We've got to get back on our game and demonstrate that business travel is something people should be doing. Change is coming in ways we can't even imagine.

Our challenge will be to identify how Deem’s software platform might play a role in injecting some of those value-adds into future business travel. I want us to continue driving toward making the experience of business travel frictionless. Nobody should have to worry about the trip, only getting the job done while on the trip.

Q: What is your advice to the travel community right now?

JR: Stay focused on collecting as much real data as you can. There are a lot of points of view out there, some of which are motivated by self-interest and politics. Every day, I check as many news sources as I can to try to triangulate what's really happening. I look at the raw data myself.

Also, realize that employees have different personalities and are in different stages of dealing with things. We have to be mindful of that and situationally lead based on who they are. People now have a whole different set of pressures in addition to doing their job in a different way. They have to worry about taking care of their kids or teaching them because they're home from school or dealing with the difficulties of getting basic things like food and supplies.

Q: What qualities will best help people in times like these?

JR: The world is totally different today than it was two weeks ago. It'll be different three days from now. Agility matters. If you're not thinking on your feet, odds are pretty high that you're going to make the wrong decision for your business and your employees because you are looking at the world through a lens that’s a month old and thus out of focus.

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Deem Editorial

The Deem editorial team brings important, informative commentary and data to travel managers and everyone interested in technology and the corporate travel industry.

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