Up­front

One on One with Matthew von Ert­felda, Mar­riott’s of in­sight, strat­egy & in­no­va­tion. Duty of Care tops busi­ness travel trends

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENT -

BT: How does one get a job as vice pres­i­dent of in­no­va­tion?

VON ERT­FELDA: That’s an in­ter­est­ing story. I’ve been with the com­pany 16 years. I was hired in Hong Kong and spent nine years in food and bev­er­age with Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional. About nine years ago the com­pany was look­ing for ways to de­liver greater in­no­va­tion and greater agility. So I and a num­ber of other in­di­vid­u­als were‘ lifted and shifted’– the or­ga­ni­za­tional ver­nac­u­lar for re­as­signed – to serve as the nu­cleus of an in­no­va­tion dis­ci­pline. BT: So you see in­no­va­tion as a dis­ci­pline?

VON ERT­FELDA: There’s a re­ally wild mis­con­cep­tion of what in­no­va­tion is. Some peo­ple con­ceive it as just blue sky, right? Un­moored, un­struc­tured, just di­rec­tion­less. But in fact there is a process, a mind­set. And it’s a sci­ence, it re­ally is. What we’ve done here is shown the ben­e­fits of ap­ply­ing that process.

BT: How does a cul­ture of in­no­va­tion take shape in an or­ga­ni­za­tion like Mar­riott?

VON ERT­FELDA: When we started, we had no idea what we were do­ing. There were no pro­cesses, no tools; so we had to bench­mark other in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies to learn from them. And we grad­u­ally ac­cu­mu­lated a port­fo­lio of projects that got peo­ple ex­cited and got them to un­der­stand a bit more about in­no­va­tion.

BT: Tell us about the M Beta con­cept here in Char­lotte.

VON ERT­FELDA: About four years ago there was a mas­sive ef­fort to re­ally take a hard look at the Mar­riott Ho­tels brand. At the same time, there was a sort of rogue, but still very ex­cit­ing project fo­cus­ing on an ex­ist­ing ho­tel, and ap­ply­ing all of this new work in the guest ex­pe­ri­ence in an ac­tual ho­tel that we would pur­chase and rein­vent from the in­side out. So the think­ing ini­tially was, if we buy this as­set, we can bring all of th­ese in­no­va­tions to­gether un­der one roof. But si­mul­ta­ne­ously cap­i­tal­ize on the need to take the brand in a new di­rec­tion en­abling in­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship. BT: This “live beta” ho­tel sounds like an in­no­va­tion leader’s dream.

VON ERT­FELDA: I have led an in­no­va­tion dis­ci­pline for the last seven years. To me I was just chomp­ing at the bit. I mean, name­sake brand, 500 ex­ist­ing ho­tels, and the sup­port to do some­thing bold and re­ally dis­rup­tive. It was ex­cit­ing be­cause we saw this as a cat­a­lyst for change within the brand, but also within the com­pany and within the in­dus­try.

BT: Do you think the Mar­riott ac­qui­si­tion of Star­wood has been a fac­tor in ac­cel­er­at­ing this push to­ward in­no­va­tion?

VON ERT­FELDA: Be­fore the merger with Star­wood was even con­tem­plated, we had been rec­og­nized for two years run­ning by Forbes as among the 100 most in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies in the in­dus­try – the only ho­tel com­pany to re­ceive that recog­ni­tion. I would sug­gest that there was tremen­dous

mo­men­tum even prior to the ac­qui­si­tion.

BT: How will this cul­ture of in­no­va­tion fit into the fu­ture of Mar­riott? VON ERT­FELDA: It’s even more im­por­tant now, given our new han­dle as the world’s largest ho­tel com­pany. The as­pi­ra­tion now is to be­come the world’s fa­vorite travel com­pany. Lead­ing in the in­no­va­tion space to re­ally, I think, take up the man­tle of defin­ing the fu­ture of hos­pi­tal­ity.

BT: How does a hos­pi­tal­ity brand keep ahead of the curve in a fast-chang­ing world? VON ERT­FELDA: To do that, you need to re­ally un­der­stand in­no­va­tion – how to de­liver against the tremen­dous changes that are hap­pen­ing out­side of the walls of this ho­tel.You can’t be in­su­lated; you can’t be my­opic.

BT: Why is it im­por­tant for you per­son­ally to stay on the lead­ing edge of in­no­va­tion?

VON ERT­FELDA: I’m al­ways push­ing bound­aries. I’m an en­durance racer. I do races in Antarc­tica, in Bhutan, in Ice­land. And there’s a re­ally ex­cit­ing in­ter­sec­tion be­tween that am­bi­tion and those bound­aries, and pro­fes­sional am­bi­tion to push bound­aries. That’s one of the rea­sons why I and my team get re­ally jazzed, be­cause in­no­va­tion and change can al­low us to achieve things per­son­ally as well as pro­fes­sion­ally.

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