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Lessons from Olivier Bisserier – Booking.com’s former CFO: Scaling Businesses and Modern CFO Challenges (Sponsored)

A few days ago, Airwallex sat down with Olivier Bisserier, former CFO at Booking.com. In that interview, Olivier spoke about scaling a business at speed, how we are thinking about work-life balance wrongly, and why modern CFOs must be tech-savvy and think like Olympians. His insights provide a valuable roadmap for navigating the challenges of today’s dynamic business environment.

Olivier’s career is a testament to his expertise in driving growth and innovation. From his pivotal role in Booking.com’s global expansion to his forward-thinking approach to technology and leadership, Bisserier’s experiences offer a masterclass in modern financial strategy. In partnership with Airwallex, we delved into the key lessons from the conversation to highlight the strategies and mindsets that have defined his successful tenure and can inspire the next generation of business leaders.

Lesson #1: Scaling at Speed

Olivier Bisserier’s time at Booking.com was marked by rapid global expansion. One of his key strategies was anticipating and addressing potential friction points that could impede growth. This forward-thinking approach involved constant evaluation of processes, systems, and team capabilities to handle increasing volumes efficiently.

He recalls the significant challenge of entering around 20 new countries annually. This expansion required establishing local entities, managing diverse regulatory environments, and ensuring the platform was localised for each market. The proactive approach to identifying and eliminating growth barriers was critical to sustaining their growth trajectory.

Lesson #2: The Tech-Savvy CFO

In today’s tech-driven world, Bisserier emphasises the necessity for CFOs to be technologically adept. During his time at Booking.com, advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence were leveraged to automate manual processes, significantly enhancing operational efficiency. He believes AI’s future impact will be profound and unpredictable, making it crucial for CFOs to stay informed about emerging technologies.

A modern CFO’s role involves understanding these technologies enough to set priorities, lead strategic conversations, and future-proof finance systems and processes. This continuous learning process is vital for success in a rapidly changing business landscape.

Lesson #3: Avoiding Tunnel Vision

Bisserier highlights the dangers of tunnel vision, especially for finance teams deeply entrenched in specific processes. In a high-growth environment, the business context is continually shifting, making it essential to regularly reassess and adapt. He advises fostering a mindset of curiosity, collaboration, and adaptability to avoid the pitfalls of tunnel vision.

At Booking.com, this mindset was cultivated through regular cross-functional dialogues and a culture that celebrated smart pivots. This approach helped catch potential problems early, preventing them from slowing down the company’s momentum.

Lesson #4: Scenario Planning and Adaptability

Scenario planning and preparation are crucial skills for CFOs, particularly in an era of rapid business acceleration. Bisserier emphasises the importance of envisioning multiple potential futures and preparing for them by prioritising likely scenarios and building agile operations that can quickly adapt to changes.

This approach involves a constant process of envisioning, preparing, and adapting, which becomes increasingly challenging as the pace of business accelerates.

Lesson #5: Key Ingredients for Successful Scaling

For Bisserier the essential elements of successful scaling can be placed into four areas: customers, cash, business model, and people. Sustaining rapid growth requires consistently expanding the customer base, securing sufficient funds, implementing scalable business models and processes, and having a team capable of evolving their skills and leadership.

Eliminating friction in these areas and fostering a culture of change and optimization were fundamental strategies at Booking.com.

Lesson #6: The Vital Role of Payments Partners

For businesses expanding into new markets, having a reliable payment partner is crucial, especially for handling multi-currency transactions. Bisserier recalls the time-consuming process of establishing local banking relationships in Booking.com’s early days. A global payments solution like Airwallex could have significantly accelerated their expansion, freeing up resources for higher-value priorities.

Lesson #7: Rethinking Work-Life Balance

Bisserier offers a candid perspective on work-life balance, describing it as a misnomer for executives. He compares the demands of a leadership role to training for the Olympics, where personal time diminishes, and the focus shifts to balancing work and family commitments. Transparency, stress management, and a supportive environment are essential for maintaining this balance.

Lesson #8: The Athlete Mentality in the CFO Role

Comparing the CFO role to that of a professional athlete, Bisserier highlights the discipline, focus, and long-term vision required to excel. Adopting habits and mindsets akin to elite athletes helped him manage the intense demands of the job. This approach is crucial for building a world-class finance organization that supports and drives business growth.

Olivier Bisserier’s insights offer valuable lessons for aspiring and current CFOs, emphasizing the importance of vision, adaptability, and continuous learning in navigating the complexities of high-growth businesses. Click here to see the full interview.

One last thing, do you know an extraordinary business leader who deserves recognition? Airwallex, in collaboration with Visa, is looking for leaders who’ve shown an exceptional Olympic Spirit demonstrating determination, excellence, and a step-changer mindset.  Nominate them (or yourself) for a chance to win a VIP trip to the Olympic Games Paris 2024! You have until the 21st of June at 12:00. Click here for more information

Antonio L. Escárzaga
Antonio L. Escárzaga
Antonio López Escárzaga is the Head of Content at EU-Startups, with a background in Digital Marketing, Antonio drives his passion for effective communication and entrepreneurship. He firmly believes in communication’s transformative power and strives to harness it to foster growth and innovation.

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