Q&A: Yves Galimidi, Ikea

Alex Blyth talks to Yves Galimidi, global travel and meeting purchaser for furnishing giant Ikea

When Yves Galimidi was a boy, a close family friend worked in the travel industry. “He would come to our house and tell us all about where he’d been and what he’d done,” recalls Galimidi. “I would listen, enthralled by the stories he would tell. It all seemed so exciting. Then a few times he took me with him, and I was hooked. I knew straight away that I wanted a career in the travel industry.”

So, in 1985, Galimidi joined Carlson Wagonlit Travel as a travel agent. After six years in that role he secured a job as a leader of cultural tours around the world. He loved the job – and met his future wife while doing it – but felt the need for a more settled existence and a long-term career. So in 1993 he joined Inter Ikea Group (the owner of the Ikea concept and the granter of franchises) as its first travel manager. In 2003, he took a step up to become global travel and meeting purchaser for Ikea, the retail side of the business.

He is still in that high profile and challenging role, and it’s one that he relishes. It may have been romantic notions of exotic adventure that inspired Galimidi to join the travel industry, but it is an understanding of people and an appreciation of technology that has helped him succeed in it.

What does your role at Ikea involve?

I am responsible for purchasing flights, hotels, car travel, ground transportation and external conferences, as well as procuring all the associated applications, payment solutions, risk management and booking tools for all Ikea travellers in the world on behalf of Ikea Global Travel Management.

What is the best part of your job?

It is the range of fascinating people I get to meet and to work with. Also, this job never gets dull. I’ve been in the travel sector for 27 years, and it’s constantly changing. There’s always something new to learn.

What is the greatest challenge you face?

We are a rather decentralised organisation. We operate across 46 countries, with more than 46 management teams and through 16 travel management companies, so one of my greatest challenges is to encourage adherence to a single purchasing process, and a single sourcing strategy.

And how do you achieve that adherence?

The most effective tactic is education. We have to work continually to explain in writing and verbally why we need to use global, not local, suppliers. We need to help executives in countries with small volumes, and so little contact with the corporate centre, to understand that what makes sense locally as an isolated purchase is not necessary the right decision for Ikea globally.

How has the role of travel manager changed since you entered the industry?

The role of travel manager is no longer just about travel. When I started out it was about booking flights or hotels from a list in a book, using your own knowledge of those routes and venues; now travellers can do their own booking and my role is more about influencing people and using technology to save time and money, and reduce environmental impact. It is a dramatic change in a relatively short space of time, but the role is not any less interesting for it. The role of travel manager has become more than purely administrative – it is now a central and key position in most organisations. We are important stakeholders and are closely involved with all departments, from finance to HR, risk, corporate social responsibility [CSR] and IT.

What would make your job easier?

My role would be so much easier if we could all be much clearer and more open. I don’t mean this only on the suppliers’ side. We, too, need to be more open with data and clearer about what we want in contracts and what we expect from suppliers.

What do you think to the unmanaged travel concept?

I think that allowing people to book what they like within budget parameters can encourage responsibility and a greater understanding of budget constraints. However, I do have concerns about the effect it would have on our duty of care responsibilities, and on our CSR and environmental management programmes. Those issues are right at the core of everything we do in the travel and meeting purchasing division, and we would need to ensure individual travellers understood the issues and were able to act accordingly. The idea of unmanaged travel may need some refinement before it becomes a reality at Ikea.

What plans do you have for the future?

We are about to implement our travel sourcing strategy, which will help local offices to understand the thinking behind our travel sourcing policy. We are also reviewing our airline programme, improving our risk management, and developing our key performance indicators so they reflect not just direct costs, but also total value contribution.

It is clearly an exciting time for the company and for your team. What about you personally?

There is much that I want to achieve in the next three or four years. My aim is to make Ikea travellers happy when they travel, and I believe that the enhancements we have planned will help to achieve that goal. Once I have done that I will look for a fresh challenge. For me personally, I am hoping for fewer meetings and less travel. When you are starting out in your career it is exciting to travel, and it is important you do so, but at my stage it is more important – and more appealing – to have time to reflect and concentrate.

What advice do you have for those who are entering the travel industry now and hoping to emulate your success?

Be open, be direct. Travel as much as possible so you see the places you are talking about. Be humble and admit to the things you don’t know. No one knows everything – no matter how experienced they are – and the only failure is not to admit to these skills or knowledge gaps. For this reason I would highly recommend that people join an organisation like ACTE. About 15 years ago I started going to their conferences and it was a real boost to my early career. I learnt a huge amount and so now I am very happy to be serving on ACTE’s board of directors, representing the European region. Above all else, make contacts. I found ACTE conferences great places to meet people who have helped me along with my career, but however and wherever you do it, you need to get out and create relations with people, both inside and outside your organisation. When I entered this industry it was all about travel; now travel still matters, but it’s people who really count.

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