BHM 2021: The Bristol Bus Boycott

30 April 1963 marked the Bristol Bus Boycott, which arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ Black or Asian bus crews in the city of Bristol. To understand why the Bristol Bus Boycott happened, it’s important to understand the history in the UK at the time. In the late 40s and throughout the 50s, mainland Britain faced a labour shortage after World War II, and looked to its Caribbean colonies to help fill the gap. Thousands of people, known now as the Windrush Generation, answered the call and arrived in Britain between 1948 and 1971. By 1963, there were an estimated 3,000 people of Caribbean origin living in Bristol. Many experienced racial discrimination, were violently attacked, denied housing, and, despite labour shortages, were refused jobs because of the colour of their skin.

In 1955, the Transport and General Worker’s Union passed a resolution that banned people of colour from working as bus drivers or conductors, and the Bristol Omnibus Company did nothing to dispute this. In response, a Jamaican man, Roy Hackett, helped set up the Commonwealth Coordinated Committee (CCC) in 1962, with the purpose of uniting the Caribbean community and supporting any Black person who was facing discrimination. Another Black-led organisation at the time was the West Indian Development Committee (WIDC), run by Paul Stephenson, Bristol’s first Black youth officer. Together, the CCC and the WIDC campaigned against racial injustices and their biggest fight was in 1963 against the Bristol Omnibus Company.

A plaque at Bristol Bus Station commemorating the boycott

Paul Stephenson brought the company’s racist policy to public attention. He put forward a well-qualified man named Guy Bailey for a vacancy as a bus conductor with the Bristol Omnibus Company, but when the employers realised Guy was a Black Jamaican, the interview was cancelled. In response to this, there was public outcry and, inspired by Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the CCC and WIDC called for a boycott of Bristol’s buses.

The boycott soon attracted national and international attention, with an array of big names lending their support to the campaign, including Prime Minister Harold Wilson, local Labour politician Tony Benn, and famous West Indian cricketer and diplomat Sir Learie Constantine. With pressure growing on the Bristol Omnibus Company, it was finally forced to end its ban in August 1963. 

A significant milestone in achieving racial equality, the boycott resulted in the employment of the first conductor of colour on 17 September 1963, Raghbir Singh. This demonstration ultimately influenced the passing of the Race Relations Act 1965, making “racial discrimination in public places” unlawful, and subsequently the Race Relations Act 1968, which extended protection from racial discrimination to employment and housing.

To find out more about the Bristol Bus Boycott, listen to the The History Hotline’s episode – available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

“Paul Stephenson’s life, as readers of this book will see, offers living proof that history is made by the people who make the effort.”

Read Paul Stephenson OBE’s autobiography, which details his hugely influential life and his role in the UK’s Civil Rights movement. Available from the Bristol Museums website.

World Mental Health Day 2021

1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems each year, and having a colleague in your corner can make all the difference. The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day every year on the 10th of October (this Sunday).

We wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some information and resources available to you, and to let you know about what we have planned for next week.

Information and resources

There are lots of resources available on our SE World site, but here are a few we thought were particularly relevant:

Soon we’ll be launching a new global Employee Assistance Program that will give all our global employees access to 24/7 online support and six face-to-face counselling sessions. We will be sharing more details about this very soon.

On Monday 11th October at 11 am, we’ll be running a virtual yoga session. You’ll just need some comfy clothes for this calming breathwork and simple stretching session, which is suitable for everyone, from beginners to seasoned yogis. We’ve added this to your calendar

On Tuesday 12th October at 11 am, our meditation master Monica Auro will be running a session – we’ve added this to your calendar

Mindful colouring is proven to help us relax – so we’ll have a selection of colouring materials in the office for you to take a creative break throughout the week

Tea and talk: On Thursday 14th at 10 UK time, we’ll be meeting for 45 minutes to have a cuppa and a chat – we’ve added this to your calendar

Spending time outside can benefit both your mental and physical well-being. At 12.30 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we’ll be heading outside for a relaxing walk together – come along and take some time to clear your mind

Healthy breakfast: Look out for healthy breakfast options next week to help nourish your body and mind for the day ahead!

The kindness form is open!

This month, we’re trying something a little different! As well as our usual virtual messages, we’ll have physical kindness cards in the London office. Write your lovely message and pop it in the “kindness box” in the kitchen, then we’ll deliver it to your recipient (UK-based only). Please make sure that you put first and last names so we can get your message to the correct person!

Our new kindness cards were designed by the wonderful Warsan Abdullahi! If you’d like to help design some cards, please get in touch with wellbeing@secretescapes.com, or speak to Warsan!

Submit your kindness note here, or pick up a card in the office! 

BHM 2021: Tilbury Docks, Essex & HMT Empire Windrush

Taken from Germany by the British government as reparations at the end of WWII, the Empire Windrush began her life as a troopship and became an emblem of something much greater; the UK government’s systematic failing of a generation. On 21st June 1948, the Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury Docks in Essex. Over 800 of her 1,027 passengers gave their last place of residence as somewhere in the Caribbean. Most had embarked in Jamaica, but some had also joined the vessel in Trinidad, Bermuda and Guyana. They had been beckoned to Britain by the promise of job opportunities created by the UK’s post-war labour shortage. 

Many passengers ended their journeys in London, settling in places like Brixton and Clapham, while others continued north to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, to work in the staff-starved NHS and transport systems. Those who landed at Tilbury Docks may have been the first passengers to arrive from the Caribbean under this scheme, but they were not the last. The British Nationality Act of 1948 gave the right of settlement in the UK to any person who had been born in a British colony, and between 1948 and 1973, it is estimated that almost half a million people moved from the Caribbean to the UK. 

Windrush scandal protests in 2017

Those who arrived during this time—dubbed the ‘Windrush generation’—were not given any documentation on arrival, because as citizens of British colonies that were not independent, they had the right to permanently work and live in the UK. However, in 2012, Prime Minister Theresa May introduced the ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation, designed to make the UK ‘unliveable’ for undocumented migrants. Stories began to surface of members of the Windrush generation being unlawfully detained, deported and denied access to public resources, including the NHS, bank accounts and driving licenses unless they could prove their right to remain. 

Proving this was an impossible feat for many; especially those who had arrived as children on their parents’ passports. The Home Office—who in 2010 destroyed the landing cards which proved many people’s settled status—demanded one official document for every year they had lived in the UK; an unfeasible burden placed on the backs of those who had done nothing wrong. 

The Windrush Scandal is far from over. In 2020, an independent enquiry into the scandal found that it was “foreseeable and avoidable”, and a compensation scheme was announced. But there are a huge number of cases that have not been resolved, thousands of people awaiting compensation, and the policy which allowed this to happen in the first place—Theresa May’s ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation—is still in place today. 

Watch & Read

To find out more about the Windrush Scandal, watch Sitting in Limbo, a BBC drama which focuses on the life of Anthony Bryan, a Jamaican-born British man who was a victim of the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation. Bryan had lived in the UK for 50 years when the government’s policy identified him as an “illegal immigrant”.

“How do you pack for a one-way journey back to a country you left when you were eleven and have not visited for fifty years?”

Read Amelia Gentleman’s book ‘The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment’, an exposé of the Windrush scandal that shocked the nation, and led to the resignation of Amber Rudd as Home Secretary.

Celebrating 10 years of Secret Escapes

2021 marks the ten-year anniversary of Secret Escapes. 

Since our launch in 2011 we have welcomed over 60 million members globally and delivered great value deals on dream escapes to some of the most incredible destinations around the world. While a lot has changed over the past decade, one thing still remains the same; we’re committed to delivering irresistible discounts on luxury travel to help our members discover corners of the world they might never have imagined. 

To celebrate, we’re looking back over our key milestones from the past ten years.  We’re incredibly proud of the company we have built, the people we have employed and the successes we’ve all contributed to along the way; from hiring our very first employee (Dan Evans, who is still part of the team), to reaching our 5 million member mark and acquiring the businesses that make up the Secret Escapes Group today.

We’ve been financially supported by some of the world’s greatest investors: legendary venture capital firms such as Index Ventures, global powerhouses like Temasek, no greater household name than Google and (among others) the UK’s greatest home-grown venture capital success story, Octopus Ventures. They have believed in us, celebrated success with us, stood by us in tough times, and have truly been an integral part of the Secret Escapes story.

2011

The big one! Day one. The Secret Escapes Group launched and our website went live in the UK with just 5 deals (they must have been good ones!).

2012

We launched our very first TV ad – the one everyone remembers to this day. Starring Camilla Arfwedson, whispering a slogan that has since become synonymous with our brand, “the worst kept secret in luxury travel”.

2013

We expanded into Europe and Scandinavia, with Secret Escapes launching sites in Germany, shortly followed by Sweden. In just two short years, we had reached over 5 million members in the UK, Germany and Sweden.

2014

We acquired two new brands, Travelist  (a flash deals brand in Poland) and Germany-based JustBook, a mobile-based specialist in business travel sector bookings.

We expanded even more with Secret Escapes launching in Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, and later in the year, the US.

2015

We expanded to four new territories; Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.

2016

We spread our wings in Asia, expanded to France and made more moves in Eastern Europe.

2017

We acquired 100% of Slevomat Group (Slevomat.cz, Zlavomat.sk and Skrz.cz), Central and Eastern Europe’s leading travel deals and experiences company.

2018

We acquired the assets of TravelBird and restarted the website as part of the Secret Escapes Group.

2019

We launched our iOS App in January 2019.

We acquired Empathy Marketing Limited, welcoming Ireland’s leading marketplace for premium hospitality and e-commerce into the Secret Escapes Group. 

We appointed Kate Swann, as Chair of the Secret Escapes board.

We sent 6 billion emails to our members this year alone!

2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic turned the world of travel upside down, but in the face of adversity, the Secret Escapes team rose to the challenge, helping over 100,000 members in a single month.  

When lockdowns eased, we inspired our members with a wide range of refundable deals – perfect for a ‘Staycation Summer’  to get around international travel restrictions. 

In November, we launched our Android app!

2021

We bounced back after the toughest 18 months faced by the travel industry, offering a wide range of domestic and international stays to our travel-hungry audience. 

The Secret Escapes Group sustained strong performance despite months of widespread uncertainty and changing guidance on where and when people could travel.

The future…

Looking back over the past ten years shows just how far we’ve come, but we certainly aren’t slowing down yet. 

As we return to the office, trialling our new, more flexible way of working, we’re excited to see our core values, ‘We are good people’ and ‘We make stuff happen’ continue to be at the centre of what we do. We look forward to sharing plenty more irresistible deals on luxury (albeit not-so secret any more) escapes with you in the years to come!

Your £500 referral trip: Jasmine in Bali

One of our core values at Secret Escapes is 'We're good people' and one of the ways that shows is in our employee referral scheme. If you successfully refer a candidate for a role, we reward our employees with £500 credit to put towards their next big trip! We caught up with Jasmine, our Senior ATL Manager who took her husband to Bali for a magical getaway!

Where did you go, which hotel(s) and for how long?

We decided to spend 10 nights in Bali, moving around to three different areas & staying in some amazing hotels. We chose Plataran Ubud & Spa in Ubud, Plataran Menjangan Resort and Spa in West Bali National Park, and finally Plataran Canggu Resort and Spa in Canggu.

Who did you take? Why did they deserve to go on this trip with you?

I went with my husband who definitely deserved to come and share the experience of Bali with me (and also to look after me as I was 5 months pregnant at the time!). 

Was this trip for a special occasion or simply using your well-deserved annual leave?

It was originally planned for my 30th birthday, but then also turned into a mini babymoon! 

How would you rate the hotel and any of the amenities? Did anything standout?

Everything was brilliant, the staff were very accommodating and lovely. The final hotel was very luxurious with our own villa and pool. 

What’s your favourite experience from this trip?

Getting to see how chaotic Bali is and visiting different areas of the island was great as they all had very different and unique appeals! 

Would you go back to this destination or hotel?

Yes! 

What’s one top secret tip you learned on this trip you could share with our employees and members? (e.g. local bar or restaurants, breathtaking viewpoint, popular beach, best swimming spot, local delicacies…)

If you want to relax in a beach bar one day, Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak has a really low spend cap for the main beds which I don’t think people always realise, so you can live in luxury for the day at the expense of a few drinks and a meal – plus, it’s a stunning spot to watch the sunset! 

I personally think it’s best not to drive and to instead get cabs everywhere because the roads were too crazy for us to attempt to be safe! And finally, we went at a really lovely time of year at the end of February when the Balinese were celebrating a festival and in the lead-up, the streets were being decorated and the day of the festival itself was very lovely! 

Where would you like to go next?

Greece!! 

App development review for iOS and Android

At Secret Escapes, we want to create an enjoyable and seamless experience for our members; from browsing and booking to storing all the useful trip information in their account. That’s why we are continuously developing and improving our web platform and apps, to provide a tailored and effortless experience for each user.

In the last six months, the mobile apps team, quirkily named “No Doubt” have been focusing on providing a frictionless user experience, by delivering structural changes to the iOS and Android apps. Reducing friction was our starting point, as we wanted to streamline our customers’ experience, to help each one find the best trips that are tailored to their search requirements. 

After that, one of the biggest implementations we have been working on is the ability to deep-link our app users from an email to inside the app. During the pandemic, our business model changed and evolved rapidly, with our catalogue of deals growing by almost 15 times in one year. Consequently, our team has been working on projects like deep-linking, so we can assist customers in navigating their way through this enormous amount of choice while maintaining optimum performance speeds. This technical challenge alone is massive!

Now, when a member clicks on an email link, they are sent directly to a specific in-app location, instead of being sent to our mobile website. As well as improving UX, this also means we can optimise our marketing campaigns around a single deal, stage or part of our catalogue without worrying about user navigation. Email continues to be one of our most successful marketing channels and ensuring we make the experience consistent for app members is important. Since we’ve added that functionality, we have seen our retention increase by 10% in the apps!

In the last few months, we have also been interviewing & surveying our members within the apps, then going through the feedback in order to understand the browsing pain points in our mobile applications. We discovered that our app homepage, which is naturally the most visited page, was too long for some. This made it hard to distinguish between each section, so some of the important content was easily being missed. From that, a new hypothesis emerged: to improve retention and ultimately conversion, we would need better presentation tactics that provide context for why we are showing content.  

We are excited to say we are just a few weeks from getting our first changes in front of our members. These changes include improving the navigation of the app homepage with clearly defined deal sections and improved navigation tools to help users find their dream destinations faster, plus deliver improved deal recommendations. We are also thinking about how to optimise the experience for our tablet users, as the audience is also growing on these devices. We will make changes incrementally, using a backend driven UI approach that allows us to make modular changes to the different sections and their order on the page. We will then be able to efficiently measure, test, learn and adapt our content strategy to deliver the best experience to our app users. 

Iphone before

Iphone after

Ipad after

Ipad before

Most recently, we have changed our search technology on both the website and the apps, which now means that search results load 20% faster than before.

Every day we learn, test, build and iterate incremental changes to the mobile apps. We continue investing in researching our customers’ needs to enable them to find the right deals faster, smarter and in an enjoyable way.

Meet the Execs: Jen Lang – Chief Customer Officer

Want to know more about what it’s like to work at Secret Escapes? Have a read of our “Meet the Execs” series to understand more about the day-to-day challenges, hurdles and successes, what it’s like to be a part of their team and to learn about their own career development while getting a little insight into what your future career could have instore for you.

How long have you been at Secret Escapes, and how long in your current role as Chief Customer Officer?

I joined Secret Escapes in February 2012 in the Marketing team. After that, I led the charge on international expansion, before moving into various General Manager roles. I then held a Strategy Director position before starting in the Chief Customer Officer role in 2021, around my 9 year anniversary.

What’s the biggest risk you have taken in your career and has it paid off?

Joining Secret Escapes. I was faced with the choice of some very sensible media agency options or taking an undefined job at an unknown company with huge ambitions. I’d like to think my decision paid off!

What has been the best career development opportunity for you here at SE?

The biggest opportunity is the sheer variety of options for progression. My first big role was becoming General Manager for Scandinavia. It was my first opportunity to take real profit and loss responsibility and it was a crash course in management, with the added complexity of cross-territory teams. I also got to meet some awesome people across the region, as well as enjoying a few crayfish summer parties along the way!

What is most important to you when fostering your team culture?

Fairness and transparency. If people feel they are treated fairly and understand why decisions are made then a great culture will follow, and the team will have created it.

What have been some of your favourite projects or recent successes?

Two of my favourite projects were both ‘firsts’:  One was launching an ambitious TV advertising strategy, despite being seen by many as an upstart brand. The other was launching Secret Escapes into new markets outside of the UK. The success of both of these decisions underpinned where we are as a business today.

More recently, I’ve been awed by the resilience of our teams during the COVID pandemic. Travel has been hugely impacted, but thanks to their energy and determination, we haven’t just survived the crisis, we have emerged even stronger, both as a business and a culture.  I’m incredibly proud to be part of it.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? What about the challenges?

Our most important corporate value – ‘We’re Good People’ – couldn’t be more true. I love the people I work with. Everyone at Secret Escapes comes to work wanting to solve problems and try new things.

In terms of challenges, there are just too many good ideas. We have to be ruthless in our prioritisation!

What does a typical day look like in the life of a Chief Customer Officer at SE?

It’s pretty diverse… It might start with Marketing campaign reviews, end with a Product roadmap session and have some Group Strategy squeezed in the middle.  The sheer breadth of activity here is a great motivator.

What’s one thing that sets Secret Escapes apart from other companies?

It really is the people. We are so lucky to have hired and to continue to hire talented, hard-working people who can get stuff done and have a great laugh along the way.

What is the one stand-out thing you look for in a candidate?

Problem-solving. If you can make complex things simple, you can find great solutions and make amazing things happen with the right support around you.

What is the best thing about your team?

We all really care about what we do. We’re passionate about results and we know collaboration is key to achieving our goals.

Where’s your next travel destination and why?

I’m really hoping to get to France to see my grandparents this summer, they haven’t been able to see their great-grandchildren since 2019. After that, I feel a few cocktails calling me from a Mediterranean beach (without the kids!). Let’s hope we all get the chance to get some sun by the end of this summer.

Meet the Execs: Dan Evans – Director of Global Contracting

Want to know more about what it’s like to work at Secret Escapes? Have a read of our “Meet the Execs” series to understand more about the day-to-day challenges, hurdles and successes, what it’s like to be a part of their team and to learn about their own career development while getting a little insight into what your future career could have instore for you.

How long have you been at Secret Escapes, and how long in your current role as Director of Global Contracting

I was the first employee of Secret Escapes – I’m coming up to 11 years in the business!

What’s the biggest risk you have taken in your career and has it paid off?

The biggest risk I’ve taken in my career was joining Secret Escapes! When I joined, there was no company, no website, nothing! I spent my first morning in the job building my desk! I think it’s pretty safe to say that it paid off!

What has been the best career development opportunity for you here at SE?

I’ve been able to develop from a contracts manager into someone who leads large teams so that is the biggest development opportunity. The scale of my role has developed in line with the scale of the business. 

What is most important to you when fostering your team culture?

Most important for me is transparency – people need to be able to speak their minds and feel comfortable sharing their issues and problems. That’s the only way we can improve. In return, the leaders need to be able to explain decisions and reasoning honestly. Then, even if someone disagrees they at least understand. 

What have been some of your favourite projects or recent successes? 

I particularly enjoyed taking Secret Escapes into new territories, whether that was by opening new points of sale or sourcing hotels in a certain destination for the first time. I was lucky enough to be heavily involved with this work in the early days. More recently, I’m really proud of the way we’ve bounced back from Covid with a new model and ways of working. 

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? What about the challenges?

I’m a hotel and travel geek so I absolutely love that side of it but I also love working with people all over the world, both internally and externally. That diversity also brings lots of complexity though – it’s not easy staying on top of all the different teams, projects and plans! 

What does a typical day look like in the life of a Director of Global Contracting at SE? 

If you find out please let me know! I love the fact that almost every day is different depending on the team or the project that’s the current focus. The one constant is ensuring that we’re on track to hit our targets, or working on solutions if we’re not. 

What’s one thing that sets SE apart from other companies?

I think the trust that we put in every employee is quite unique – everyone has the power to control their own part of the business and make it grow. 

What is the one stand-out thing you look for in a candidate?

The ability to learn. Experience is great but as long as someone is open to learning new things there’s not much that can’t be taught. 

What is the best thing about your team?

The diversity. I love working with lots of people from different countries and backgrounds with different skills and unique outlooks on things. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to other professionals?

Take a risk if you think there’s a chance of big success further down the line – those steady jobs at big established companies will still be there if it doesn’t work out. 

Where’s your next travel destination and why?

Anywhere would be nice right now but I’m lucky enough to have a trip to Cornwall planned for the Summer! Covid cost me several holidays last year so I want to organise those again – Corfu is the first on the list.

Meet the Execs: Jean-Charles Lacoste – Chief Operating Officer

Want to know more about what it’s like to work at Secret Escapes? Have a read of our “Meet the Execs” series to understand more about the day-to-day challenges, hurdles and successes, what it’s like to be a part of their team and to learn about their own career development while getting a little insight into what your future career could have instore for you.

How long have you been at Secret Escapes, and how long in your current role as Chief Operating Officer?

I joined Secret Escapes in January 2018 as UK MD. When the company went through a reorganization last year, I took over the responsibility of COO for SE Brands.

 

What’s the biggest risk you have taken in your career and has it paid off?

I think I have taken many, but the one that caused me the most sleepless nights was the decision to leave TripAdvisor to run a small start-up back in 2014.  At that stage, my whole career had been in online travel and I had spent 8, very successful years at TripAdvisor: but I wanted to prove to myself and the world that I could thrive in a different sector in a CEO role. Thankfully this was a success but it was risky and very challenging. 

 

What has been the best career development opportunity for you here at SE?

Without hesitation, I can say it is the move to COO. Most of my roles before this move have been revenue-generating and, for the first time, the biggest challenge in my role is to optimise cost while improving the quality of what our teams do. This has been enlightening and a lot easier than I had expected, as I was lucky enough to inherit great teams with very strong leaders who have been instrumental in making this transition a success.

 

What is most important to you when fostering your team culture?

Very early on, the COO leadership team and I developed a vision for the department:  “We are here to do more for less, so that our customers are more satisfied and our profitability grows by continually improving accuracy, optimising processes and leveraging technology.” From this vision, we developed strategic pillars and from these strategic pillars, we developed OKRs for our various teams. I think this approach has helped develop a culture for the COO group which was originally three very different unconnected teams before we brought them together to achieve this vision.

 

What have been some of your favourite projects or recent successes?

Since Q3 last year, the team has relentlessly been trying to deflect contact from users. This means improving the way the Editorial team writes deals, or the way the operations team loads offers, or the information that’s available to customers in FAQs etc… It has been a coordinated effort from all COO teams (Editorial, CS and Ops with the support of the Project team) and the results are easy to quantify. Before that initiative took place, we had a continuous backlog in CS (over 900 cases waiting to be worked on in the queue).  This backlog started in 2019. We were continuously overwhelmed by customer contacts and struggled to reply in a timely manner. Since we eliminated the backlog last summer, it was never an issue again. The team is really proud of this accomplishment.

 

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? What about the challenges?

Never a dull day! Always a new challenge pushing us to find creative solutions to get BAU done and also improved. But to make this work, we need a strategic approach for running the department, to improve our processes and tools throughout the year to continuously optimise our BAU and provide better support without wasting resources.  With that said, our department is very BAU focused. We support the CRO org but also deal with our customers before they purchase, after they purchase, while they travel and after they return. This is a huge responsibility and if we drop the ball we can make customers really unhappy or cost the company money. I think it is this need to keep all our balls in the air without dropping any of them, all while constantly improving processes that makes my role so enjoyable day to day.

 

What does a typical day look like in the life of a Chief Operating Officer at SE?

I don’t think there is such a thing! The common thread throughout the day is usually problem-solving. Like most of us, I spend a lot of time in meetings where issues are raised and the flip side of that is finding the departments or people we can help to solve these issues, either within the COO org or within the rest of Secret Escapes and sometimes through vendors and partners. It is a very hectic role, but very rewarding for someone like me who gets bored by predictability and repetition!

 

What’s one thing that sets SE apart from other companies?

Our people and our approach to people management. I think there is a lot of respect between colleagues here at SE and that is felt throughout the day. In lots of companies, there is tension between departments and lots of politics. I think we manage to avoid that at SE. This is very important and makes working here a lot more enjoyable than most other companies.

 

What is the one stand-out thing you look for in a candidate?

Oddly enough, I think it is enthusiasm and resilience. Our work can often be technical and require lots of stamina as there are lots of challenges to overcome at all levels of the COO organisation throughout the day. So, often, having a positive attitude is more important than technical skills. Technical skills can be taught, a positive attitude, not so much. 

 

What is the best thing about your team?

Their positive attitude, enthusiasm and resilience in adversity!

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to other professionals?

If you want to keep growing in your career I would suggest venturing outside your comfort zone at every opportunity. Keep challenging yourself to do things you don’t believe you can do. We can be our own worst enemy and our worst critic which in turn stops us from trying new things, which ultimately is what allows you to progress. 

 

Where’s your next travel destination and why?

Interesting question in these interesting times!  Pre-COVID this was a fun question to ask me. I have been known to answer “North Korea” or “Kazakhstan” but today, it’s a lot closer to home: France. I have not been able to go back to France for a year because of the travel restrictions that are in place and this is the longest period I have not been able to see my family and friends there. Really looking forward to crossing the channel. That feels very exotic at the moment. Strange how this pandemic has recalibrated a lot of our expectations!

Meet the Execs: Eirik Pettersen – Chief Technology Officer

Want to know more about what it’s like to work at Secret Escapes? Have a read of our “Meet the Execs” series to understand more about the day-to-day challenges, hurdles and successes, what it’s like to be a part of their team and to learn about their own career development while getting a little insight into what your future career could have instore for you.

How long have you been at Secret Escapes, and how long in your current role as Chief Technology Officer

I joined SE in September 2017, when I took over from the previous CTO. 

What’s the biggest risk you have taken in your career and has it paid off?

In 1999 I resigned from my consulting job to start a company with some of my university friends.  I went 6 months without being paid, but 15 years later we sold the company to Yell so, yes it did pay off quite well in the end!

What has been the best career development opportunity for you here at SE?

What’s been so exciting about working at SE is being part of a company that’s in multiple countries with multiple business units.  I went from leading a platform with one product and one(ish) country to keeping on top of multiple platforms with different business models and that has been quite the learning curve!

What is most important to you when fostering your team culture?

The tech team has built on top of the core values of SE to capture the tech-specific values and behaviours and what’s important to us is that we really do live by them.  One of our practises for instance is a monthly ‘Stars and Fails’ session.  We give ‘stars’ to our colleagues for their “good deeds”, and we put ourselves forwards for the ‘fails’ to shout about our mistakes.  This is to reinforce a sense of ‘psychological safety’ in the team, which is shown to be a good predictor of team performance.

What have been some of your favourite projects or recent successes?

There have been so many step changes over the years that have advanced the platform that it’s hard to pick a favourite!  A real significant project ongoing at the moment is the re-platforming of Travelist, one of the group companies, on to our ‘Tracy’ platform.  That’s exciting as it’s an important step towards consolidating a portfolio of group-wide applications.  This project also impacts Horizon, which is our move to a decoupled frontend architecture, which in layperson’s terms means we should be able to innovate more quickly on our user experience and again be able to share our work across the group.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? What about the challenges?

There are two things that stand out.  Firstly, my colleagues – it is a pleasure to work with such intelligent and thoughtful people.  They keep me on my toes all while having a good laugh along the way.  And secondly it’s what we do.  We make it possible for people to have experiences and create memories beyond what they would have normally expected to be able to afford.

In terms of challenge, I guess the perennial issue is building up and retaining the team.  The employment market for engineers is frothy and you are competing with a lot of companies over the same resources, but I am confident we have a lot to offer which is evidenced by a whole bunch of veteran team members who’ve stayed with us way beyond industry averages!

What does a typical day look like in the life of a Chief Technology Officer at SE? 

My role is quite a mix of operational and strategic.  I could be thinking through our 5-year plan one minute, and dealing with a website outage the next – it’s certainly never boring!  I don’t unfortunately get much time to get into some coding anymore, which I do miss.  But we have a collaborative architecture and system design process via workshops and design documents so I still get to make technical contributions.

What’s one thing that sets SE apart from other companies?

I really enjoy the conviviality at SE, we like to work hard and play hard and that works because we have such a friendly and inclusive atmosphere.

What is the one stand-out thing you look for in a candidate?

We always look to see our company values reflected in our candidates – and that will generally trump pure knowledge or skill.

What is the best thing about your team?

Two things that really impress me about the team is their resilience and ingenuity; they don’t give up easily, no matter the challenge, pulling from their creative reserves.

What is one piece of advice you would give to other professionals?

We spend so much time at work, it’s important to make sure you are doing something that you love so you can enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Where’s your next travel destination and why?

My next trip will be to visit family in Florida and South Carolina – haven’t seen my mum, brother or my sister and her family for coming up to 2 years!