Travel Buyer Q&A: Stephen Swift, Ford Motor Company

Catherine Chetwynd talks to the travel and relocation manager EMEA at Ford Motor Company

How many travellers do you manage and how far afield do they travel?
In EMEA, we have more than 15,000 travellers, going mainly to our plant and head office locations. The main destinations are Cologne, Germany; Essex in the UK; Valencia, Spain; Istanbul, Turkey, and Craiova, Romania.

Outside the EMEA region, Detroit is a huge destination for us, along with Shanghai, Dubai and Johannesburg.

How consultative is your approach? Do you poll your travellers and how does that inform your travel policy? Do you get good compliance?
We have just completed a policy review and we do this every two years. Our travel policy was written on the scale of War and Peace, so we have simplified it so that anybody could pick it up and read it. We do talk to travellers, and people come to us with suggestions of hotels that might go into the programme.

As a manufacturing organisation, we are heavily cost-focused and our policy reflects that. People often point out where we could make further savings, too. We have excellent compliance to policy: 99 per cent on air and around 86 per cent on hotel. We’re very proud of that.

How did you become a travel buyer and how long have you been at Ford?
I started working in the travel industry in 1989. I had several roles at British Airways but ended up in sales as an account manager; then I moved to Forte Hotels for three years as an account director before joining Ford in 2001. The intention was to round off my CV and head back into the travel industry, but I’m still here, so that plan didn’t quite work!

What do you love (or hate) about the job? Has it changed over the years?
Anyone who works in travel will usually tell you that they love the industry, and it’s the same for me. Every day is different and you work with some great people.

The most obvious change is the natural increase in attention to duty-of-care over recent years. For example, our travellers are definitely asking more questions about hotel safety in certain locations we manufacture in. The fragmentation of distribution and the segmentation of air fares by internet-based airlines has had a big impact on managing and delivering the programme in a way that’s easy to understand for the traveller. This drives frustration with the TMC’s ability to bring all these distribution channels into one portal to give a full range of choice and maximise cost control; and then incorporating (or not) new players such as Airbnb, Lyft and Uber into the policy with the right level of attention to duty-of-care.

Have the changes in the automotive sector affected your job? What is specific to your job in that industry?
Cost has always been a driving factor in putting the programme together. However, the intensity of focus has definitely increased and I am having to be more creative with the resources that support the department, relying more heavily on our TMC for certain aspects. American Express has been on the account for years and is a very good business partner.

What have been your biggest challenges at Ford and what have been your greatest achievements?
The biggest challenge when I joined was learning the culture of the company and how we do business with each other. I had to build internal networks and find people in the business to go to for advice, and with all the up-coming travel patterns, to get ahead of the demand took a while.

On achievements, I visited all our new plant locations (Romania, Russia, Nigeria) in the region to walk the walk our travellers will take before they do. I wanted to make sure that we’ve got them staying in the right places, so there are no surprises for them or the TMC.

More recently, I’ve got involved with the Ford Racing Team by being part of a deal with IHG Hotels to sponsor the race team. It’s a different part of the business and a lot of fun, too.

How do you relax and what will you be doing this weekend?
This weekend I’m helping my daughter pack to go to New Zealand. She’s off travelling for a couple of years. Otherwise, I usually play football, go to the gym and play golf. Somebody once said to me, a bad day on the golf course is better than a good day at work…

Ford Motor Company sold its first car, the Ford Model A, in 1903 and has been a pioneer in the global automotive industry ever since. It has manufactured all types of road vehicle from buses to tractors to sports cars. It has some 200,000 employees worldwide and continues to manufacture cars, now with the latest environmental and high-tech innovations

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