Defining Visionary Leadership: An Interview with Scott Strickland, EVP & CIO at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

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I had a wonderful conversation earlier this month with my good friend Scott Strickland, the EVP & Chief Information Officer at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. Scott has been a valued member of the HMG Strategy community for many years and it’s always a pleasure catching up with him. In our conversation, we discussed the qualities and characteristics of visionary leaders who achieve success in dynamic and highly competitive markets.

With 24 brands in 95 countries and more than 9,000 hotels, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest hotel franchising company. From big cities and small towns to beachfront resorts and highway hotels, the company’s iconic brands bring a diverse perspective to the travel experience, offering friendly service, thoughtful amenities and a wide range of options for travelers.

Here’s a lightly edited and condensed transcript of my conversation with Scott:

Hunter Muller: I’ve had the privilege to know you for nearly a decade. From your perspective, what does success look like in today’s innovative and disruptive environment?

Scott Strickland: Hunter, it’s a pleasure working with you and your team at HMG Strategy and the Global CIO & CISO Executive Leadership Alliance (CELA). It’s been a phenomenal partnership and it’s contributed to my career. Thank you! And now to your question: What does success look like? We have three different customer groups here at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and I need each one of them to be successful if I’m going to consider what we’re doing a success.

The first customer group is the guests, the people who stay at our hotels. Are we giving them the technology they need so that they have the experience to allow them to interact with us on the channels they want? If we can’t give them the technology and the hotels that they’re accustomed to having at home, they won’t stay with us.

Our next customer group is the franchisees. We have 6,000 + franchisees. They’re small business owners. If we can give them the technology they need to run their properties and be competitive and successful, that’s another success for all of us.

And then there are the internal team members here at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. If they have the technology they need, then they’re successful. The table stakes have gone up and the expectations are much higher than ever before. Technologies that were once thought of as luxuries are now normal and expected.

HM: Talk to us about your relations with the C-suite and the CEO.

SS: I’ve been really fortunate to work with a CEO here who believes in the power of technology. That’s really allowed us to earn the proverbial seat at the table. And I use that word very carefully. You’re not given that seat – you have to earn it and keep earning it. So, in terms of building those relationships, you need to be a partner and a business leader. Get out there, understand what the business needs, make suggestions.

Also, we are interacting with our peers. I heard a saying once we have one mouth and two ears for a reason: It’s so that we can listen more. When you’re interacting with your peers, listen to their needs and suggest solutions. Spend time with them.

HM: Innovation matters more than ever. What are the key innovations that you and your team are working on now?

SS: What I love about the innovations we’re working on now is that they’re not just pure technology – they’re going to be good for society and good for the world. One of our innovations is providing electrical vehicle charging across our hotels. We have 6,000 hotels in North America and an additional 3,000 worldwide. Out of those 6,000 in North America, 90% of them are located within a mile of an interstate. We are in a great position to set up an EV charging network working with our partners that would benefit the environment and benefit our 100 million loyalty members worldwide.

We’re also working on green initiatives within the hotels. Here’s a simple one: If you’re staying at a hotel for a short time, you can go to our app and enter your preference to skip housekeeping. Then we don’t have to change your sheets, pillowcases and towels. If we get a couple of percent of guests to skip housekeeping, suddenly you’re making a difference in the environment.

Another innovation we’re working on right now is turning off the wireless when you leave your room and turning it back on again when you return. Wireless is actually a big consumer of electricity, so when you leave the room, let’s shut it down. And then as soon as you return, we turn it back on. It will save a lot of electricity and ultimately reduce monthly costs for the small business owners who operate our hotels.

HM: Building and leading a world class culture really matters. Give us some tips and insights into your leadership style and what works for you.

SS: It’s about establishing that trust with your key folks both within your organization and outside of the organization. What works for me is servant-leadership, removing the roadblocks for people and then more importantly, telling their stories and learning how to build a narrative that helps you sell the vision.

HM: What does visionary leadership mean for you?

SS: Visionary leadership is about having that compelling narrative, having that vision and selling it so everybody can get excited. It’s also about ensuring that everybody understands how they fit in. We have 2,000 people in our organization. How do all of those folks understand how they fit in with what we’re trying to deliver? It’s also about explaining the mission behind that vision. Mission today is more important than ever. When I meet with the folks we’re hiring out of universities, one of the first things they’re asking me is, “What is Wyndham’s mission and vision?”

Being able to articulate that narrative and explain your company’s mission and vision and how people fit in – that’s absolutely critical. And then finally, you have to do cool stuff. That’s how you retain people. That’s how you grow people. That’s how you keep people excited to work within the organization. Cool means different things in different industries — you’ll have to define it for yourself and for your organization.

Key Takeaways:

  • Visionary leadership is about envisioning what the future looks like and clearly communicating that to employees and key stakeholders
  • Building a world-class culture includes removing the roadblocks and impediments that make it difficult for employees to do their jobs effectively
  • CIOs and other leaders can help foster a winning and happy culture by providing fun activities and other engaging offerings that help to retain employees

Scott Strickland will be a featured speaker at our upcoming 2023 New Jersey CIO Executive Leadership Summit on May 18 at The Madison Hotel. Click here to review the agenda and register for the event. 

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