Stuart Silberg: “Our department mantra is go faster”

Name: 

Stuart Silberg

Role and company: 

VP of Technology at Hotels.com

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric): 

Expedia Inc’s turnover for the second quarter of 2012 was $8,956.9m, up 30 per cent on the second quarter of 2011. Adjusted EBITDA for the second quarter of 2012 was $222.9m, up 18 per cent on the same period in 2011.

Employee numbers: 

As of December 31, 2011, Expedia, Inc. employed approximately 9,480 full-time and part-time employees worldwide across its network of brands.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

Hotels.com is one of the world’s largest hotel booking website, with almost 155,000 hotels around the world. Our mobile apps allow users to search and book over 20,000 last minute deals on the go, and our simple and unique Welcome Rewards loyalty programme offers one free night for every ten stayed.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Our department mantra is “go faster”, which ultimately means improving the speed of the site’s performance so customers can continue to access information, sort through it and book hotels quickly and easily. But it also means we’re always looking to “go faster” in terms of the speed to market for the new products we introduce. 

In this rapidly changing industry, it’s important that we continue to innovate and offer the best features and services. From our mobile apps to our loyalty scheme, we want to continue to give our customers a premium experience over any other hotel booking service.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

We’re a global company with 76 sites in 39 different languages. Our goal is to continue our global expansion and offer even more places to stay around the world, but we strongly believe in having a tailored, local feel. 

We have a big localisation team who do just this. They make sure that the Hotels.com sites in each region offer customers a truly local service so our country sites are tailored and laid out in way that best reflects what those customers want and need. We’ve found that Chinese websites tend to be very list-heavy, for example, whereas other markets respond better to images, so our homepage should look different depending on each country.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

In a previous job, I once took on an acting role when my boss left. I soon found myself in a position where I was essentially running the business having taken on a lot more responsibility, without any official recognition or support. 

The situation was badly managed and it took me time to recover from the experience. So my advice is, don’t ever take on a bigger “acting” role unless you have a proper support system in place and a solid exit strategy. I would even go as far as to say don’t take on an “acting” role at all – unless you’re in Hollywood, of course!

What makes you mad in business today?

Office politics. All too often you see people making decisions for the wrong reasons, creating mini empires without thinking about the good of the whole organisation. This is something we feel very strongly about at Hotels.com. We try to operate with a very flat and open structure – almost like a start-up – to remove the barriers and politics to ensure that people in all roles have a voice. This means that people can get on with their jobs in a very collaborative environment, driving innovation and creativity.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

The biggest change in the hotel industry will be the maturing of the emerging markets – especially APAC. The sheer number of new customers that will flood the market means that we will need to adapt quickly to ensure we’re tailoring our service for all these new customers. 

Different markets do things differently – in the Middle East, for example, people often book three to four hotels and then cancel three of them at the last minute, depending on where they choose to stay. In APAC we find people often arrive at their destination without having booked anything, meaning that our mobile apps with location based booking functionality will be more powerful.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

I believe that truly good ideas can always get funding. A lot of investors are now returning to the funding pool, particularly in London, which is becoming a real hub for technology innovation with investment into projects like Tech City. So, if you’re offering something genuinely new and exciting, the funding is out there. But it’s not just about raising capital – start-ups also need to be given the right support and advice to help them grow so they use the funding in the right way. 

How would others describe your leadership style?

I thought it was best to ask the team direct! Apparently I’m flexible and understanding, not afraid of getting stuck in, I lead by example and I get things done.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

Apart from my wife, it’s my sports car. It’s a Lotus Esprit and is an absolute joy to drive. Unfortunately it’s stuck in California at the moment, waiting for me to give it a spin when I’m next over there!

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Cut the red tape – there’s far too much bureaucracy and it’s difficult to start up a new business in this country. You have to nurture businesses and encourage them to grow. The government needs to provide small business with more support – it’s not just about injecting cash, it’s also about providing entrepreneurs with the right connections, networking opportunities, mentoring and guidance. The Government should also be working with industry on this. After all, there’s no reason why bigger companies can’t help support new start-ups with the mentoring and advice they need in the beginning.

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