We are excited to launch the next feature in our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.
This week, we talked to Chris Storey, Technology Director at Travelopia, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and developers.
What are your current role and responsibilities?
I am the Technology Director at Travelopia. I look after our Brand Technology Teams, Sales & Martech teams, and Transformation teams, and sit as part of the Group Technology leadership team.
We have some fantastic brands, ranging from Sunsail & The Moorings to Quark Expeditions. We own jets, boats, hotels, resorts, and ships across our brands, so from a technology perspective, there is no shortage of diversity!
What was your journey like?
I graduated from Durham University with a Software Engineering degree, spent 5 very happy years at Sapient (Consultancy) working with some brilliant people and great customers (including Expedia / hotels.com, COLT, Telefonica O2.)
I then joined Sainsbury’s and spent 5 years there managing programs and portfolios spanning logistics, supply chain, labor management, and trading platforms before I joined Travelopia.
What drew you to the tech industry?
I have always had an interest in technology, going back to when I was a kid, the cliché thing of building a PC at home, etc.
I then went on to a Computer Science degree at Durham University which was great but taught me quickly that my strengths did not lie with programming, rather with project management and understanding applications of technology in a commercial context, which set me on the path I am on now!
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
I take inspiration from some of the great leaders I have been fortunate to work under. I won’t embarrass them here by naming them individually but I was fortunate to receive some really great mentoring early on in my career at Sapient, which taught me so much of what I practice in my day to day working today (especially about communication.)
Then, when I was at Sainsbury’s, I was fortunate to spend a few years working for a Head of IT Delivery who gave me great opportunities and taught me about “leadership”. These are the 2 people who stand out.
What do you think are the most important qualities of successful tech leaders today?
They have to be great communicators. I don’t believe you can be a successful leader of any sort unless you have exceptional communication skills.
You also need empathy and patience. Recognizing when you are not the expert, and allowing the experts in your team to take the lead and teach you.
How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
Working for a travel business during a pandemic is certainly giving me plenty of opportunities to keep my team motivated!
Despite all of these difficulties, obstacles, and often conflicts, it’s all about being open and transparent, facilitated with a regular heartbeat of comms. This can be in many different forms (1-1’s, updates, videos, emails, newsletters) but you need to keep everyone aligned to the commercial realities of the business, especially during these uncertain times.
The teams I have managed in the past have always appreciated a regular cadence of comms.
What is expected of you? What are your expectations for your team?
Of my team, I expect them to try their best, and not to blame. Of course, this means delivering stuff and fixing stuff but more than this it means always do what is right for the business.
I expect them to challenge, question, and ask “why.” I would rather we failed fast and moved on than failed slowly trying (which invariably costs more, takes longer, and demoralizes everyone!)
What are your current goals? What are you currently working on?
We have a big program of work underway across the Group to make better use of the data we have. We are coming from quite a long way back in terms of basic CRM capabilities, so we have programs underway to make better use of our Salesforce and Hubpot platforms, and powering them with more customer insights and data from our data science teams.
We are also building new ships and jets (which have a reasonable amount of “tech” involved!) and digitizing our entire Yachts business base operations. We have also just re-organized our technology division to centralize all of our tech capabilities – which is exciting.
Plenty going on, and some great tech investment.
What are you the proudest of in your career so far?
I spent 3 years supporting the Yachts & Le Boat businesses in Travelopia as Head of Technology. I am proud of how we grew the team, hired some brilliant talent, significantly increased technology investment, and really shifted the dial in terms of delivery. We removed some really critical legacy applications and moved the whole technology agenda of the brands forward.
Technology truly had a “seat at the table” commercially within the businesses.
What is the favorite part of your job?
At Travelopia, I love building teams. I love making the most of people’s skills and coming up with new/different ways to leverage people’s potential to help the business in new/different ways.
I also love working for a group of travel businesses. I have been fortunate to become connected to so many amazing brands and experience some of their products – from Yachts in the Caribbean to Ships in the Antarctic, to Boats in France – and everything in between. We are so fortunate to have such a brilliant selection of brands.
What has been your greatest challenge from working as a tech leader?
Growing as a leader, and not just being a manager. Knowing the importance of building the team around you, and having depth of expertise and knowledge that you can trust, allowing me to focus on what is coming up and motivating the team. But at the same time knowing when you need to dive in and sensing when there are problems.
It’s always a difficult balancing act, I don’t always get it right either!
What’s the most important risk you took in your career and why?
It wasn’t really a big risk as such but about 5 years into my career, I felt I could make a bigger impact on businesses from “Within” and so shifted my career away from consulting to working for businesses themselves. I have never regretted this shift, and whilst I could never entirely rule out a move back to the consulting world, I feel I have found my sweet-spot doing what I am doing at the moment!
How do you continue to grow and develop as a tech leader?
Pre Covid-19 – I would spend time at industry events/conferences, and pushing myself to present at such events too – which is a great way of sharing your experience, and also allows you to take a step back and realize your achievements too. And it’s a bit outside of my usual comfort zone, which is great.
Beyond that – I value having mentorship from outside of the technology domain – helping me to maintain a sound commercial grounding with the businesses I support, which is super important to me.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
You are only as good as your team when you are not there. You need to build a team around you who can be relied upon, and who want your job … a good measure of how well you are doing with this is to look at what happens when you are not there!
Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?
During my time at Sainsbury’s, and more recently at Travelopia, I have always been able to spend time “on the shop floor”, whether it is stacking shelves and handling customers turkey collections at Christmas at Sainsbury’s or sitting with the sales teams and answering calls during busy peak booking times at Travelopia.
All great experiences I look back on with fondness and they all help you to remain grounded in “why” you do what you do in technology…. It’s about selling beans, or selling holidays … not technology for the sake of it!
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and testers who want to grow in the tech industry?
First of all, I would consider testers as engineers, in the same way I do developers, analysts, etc. I would also recommend testing as a great way to start your career in technology, it gives you exposure to a wide range of different skills (UX, design, development, DevOps, integration, support ….) which may lead you to unexpected changes of direction in your future career. I can think of several brilliant testers who have worked for me who have gone on to shape varied careers in technology.