With more than 19,000 employees globally, and graduate recruitment a big focus in emerging markets, in this exclusive Q&A with Sabine Hansen Peck, Senior Vice President, People, Culture, Communication & Brand, Amadeus, see how the company contextualises its people processes for growth in Asia.

Q Starting your career back in 1993, there was something special about your first stint with Citi that made you loyal for more than 16 years. What was it? 

At the time, Citi offered me a place in one of the most coveted management associate programmes. I was hired in the US, chosen to be part of a group of 10 MBA students placed across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. This allowed me to gain experience in marketing, finance, credit risk and human resources. This broad breadth of experience early has stood to me throughout my career.

I was also attracted by the company’s true global outlook, and the international and diverse workforce I could work with and learn from. It allowed me to take my career across functions and geographies, such as the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and the US.

Q With the depth and range of experience you have picked up internationally, what was the most interesting thing about HR in these geographies?

Fundamentally, human needs are the same. Around the world, we all share similar dreams, we want to have meaningful careers, grow personally and professionally and provide for our families. However, this might be expressed differently due to cultural and socio-economic factors. To be effective, it is important to understand these factors. This makes our job very interesting.

Q Having been with Amadeus for 10 years now, what makes you so close to the company and what were some of your highlights during your career?

I joined Amadeus just before the company’s IPO. Supporting this from an HR side was, of course, a unique opportunity. Now, 10 years later, we have more than doubled our workforce to over 19,000 people made up of more than 150 nationalities,working in over 190 countries. In recent years we’ve welcomed over 3,000 employees from sizeable acquisitions, such as Navitaire, Newmarket International (NMI) and TravelClick.

I am proud that we have been able to create an environment and culture, where employees can experience personal and professional growth, work with the best minds in the industry, participate in award-winning benefits and equity plans, and develop as people leaders or as experts. The programmes we put in place have allowed us to attract top talent who are developing mission critical solutions for the travel technology industry.

Q What is the thinking about calling it People and Culture at Amadeus, instead of HR? What are the people priorities you look at?

I wholeheartedly believe that people and culture are the biggest assets as well as the true competitive advantage for a company.

There are plenty of examples of companies who have the same inputs, but the outputs are vastly different. The differentiating factor are people and culture. If we get the people and the culture equation right, all the rest flows.

From all the variables which contribute to business success, this is the most complex and the most fascinating. People are unique and company cultures are unique and that makes my job challenging but also incredibly motivating.

Many of our employees are Millennials in APAC, with an average age of 37, and we are always looking at attracting more.

Q I understand one of the challenges you face is attracting and retaining younger staff, whilst maintaining Amadeus’ heritage and original culture. How are you tackling this? 

Many of our employees are Millennials in APAC, with an average age of 37, and we are always looking at attracting more. To do this, we are focused on digitising our work culture and recruitment processes. We have a strategy in place to go mobile, as our workforce demands on-demand accessibility, flexibility, and agility when it comes to their work life.

We have also transformed our recruitment model to enable a better digital end-to-end candidate experience, from upskilling our recruiters to master new digital techniques, to modernising our techniques to streamline the application process through digital interviews and assessments.

Beyond processes, we have also evolved our talent management strategies, while maintaining our culture. Since our founding, our culture has always been built on diversity and inclusion, one that allows our people to be the best version of themselves at work. To do this well, our team works tirelessly to understand the different motivations, drivers, and needs of our diverse talent pool, so we can create an environment for them to flourish in.

For example, from research we know that Millennials are highly ambitious and unafraid of tackling challenges in their careers. A few examples of our initiatives in this area include global engagement surveys, award winning share match plans, leadership programmes with the world’s leading universities and innovative gamification tools.

Q Talk us through your latest initiative, ‘Green is the new Blue’. How it is tackling the importance of ‘sustainability’ for talent acquisition and retention?

‘Green is the new Blue’ is a company-wide environmental movement which includes all Amadeus employees. Imagine how big a difference a company of 19,000 employees around the globe can make if each one of us takes up a small action to help the environment.

We have been setting different environmental challenges to our workforce, linked to specific green topics, such as plastic reduction, eco-friendly holidays and zero waste. We are encouraging and equipping our employees to accept these challenges and to share their experiences via our company-wide social media platform.

Initiatives like this create a ‘sense of purpose’, which many Millennials are looking for. Not only does it keep our staff motivated, it also helps us stand out to potential employees.

Q With Amadeus making a big push to Asia, and your recent visit to the region, how are you managing your talent planning processes for growth in these emerging markets?

To enable growth in these markets, as well as future business sustainability, our talent acquisition unit has a mission-critical objective to attract and engage a diverse talent pool. To do this well, we ensure our teams have deep local knowledge, as well as regional and global context, due to the uniqueness of each country they are operating in, in Asia’s highly diverse talent market.

Graduate recruitment is a particular focus for us in emerging markets, to fuel our expansion with home-grown talent. We have various partnerships with local universities, to expose them to Amadeus, including what we do and our culture, as well as to mentor them.

Not only is the talent market diverse in Asia, but so are the geographies. Philippines and Indonesia, for example, are archipelagic countries comprising of thousands of islands. This required us to adapt and digitise our techniques and application processes by offering video interviews and remote real-time assessment, in order to help us expand our net across countries, and not just within key cities and metro areas.

Q Who is your inspiration for leadership? What was the greatest thing they taught you?

My inspiration is Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was described by many as the greatest leader. He wanted to be the first man to cross the Antarctic on foot, from one end to the other. When he advertised the positions for the journey on ship, he received over 5,000 applications, from which he recruited only 27 with complementary skills whose expertise he lacked.

On 19 January 1915, the ship, Endurance, became frozen fast in the pack ice. Shackleton decided they would live on the ship for nine months until the ice would break up. Towards the end of this period, a fierce blizzard eventually caused the ship to be crushed by ice and Shackleton quickly adapted to the new situation and revised his goal.

The new objective was to get everyone back home safely. After camping on the ice for some time, he made the decision to use the lifeboats and aim for Elephant Island. After a few harrowing days at sea, the exhausted men reached the island. However, it was not a good place to stay for a long period of time as it was far from any shipping routes. Consequently, Shackleton decided to risk an open-boat journey to the South Georgia whaling stations, where he knew help was available.

Five men, including Shackleton, began the sea journey. The remaining men would stay with his trusted Number Two. Shackleton made it to South Georgia Island, but then realised that they had landed on the wrong side of the island. They were separated from the whaling station by 26 miles and 3,000-metre high mountains and glaciers.

In an act of true courage, they decided to make the 36-hour walk. Frost bitten, in rags and starved, they finally saw the whaling station. Shackleton returned to Elephant Island after 22 long months. After almost 2 years in constant danger, hardship and deprivation, all men survived, and Shackleton’s incredible leadership made the essential difference.

There are many learnings from Shackleton’s leadership that I believe are core to great leadership:

  1. Select outstanding individuals and hire a great team – talent matters
  2. Set clear expectations and inspire employees to do their best
  3. Share a core set of values
  4. Lead by example – Shackleton’s actions spoke louder than words, leading from the front.

Q What do you personally believe is the one thing HR can do without in 2020?

For me, the biggest challenge for HR in 2020 is the internal tools and technologies available to employees. We live in an ever evolving and global world. People are becoming more flexible in how, when and from where they work.  While this is exciting, it is also demanding and means that we need to find better ways to collaborate. Unfortunately, many companies are playing catch-up, needing to invest in technologies that allows the employee experience to be as good as what they experience as consumers.

At Amadeus, we continue to make significant investments in our internal tools to simplify our interactions and allow our people to work simpler, better and faster together. Our goal is to deliver a completely integrated experience across our whole suite of collaboration tools, making the lives of our people much easier.