Like many finance leaders, Joan Bottarini manages a team that, since the height of the pandemic, has at times needed an extra level of flexibility. The Hyatt Hotels Corp. CFO spoke about navigating through challenging times, including the company’s largest-ever acquisition to date, at Deloitte’s CFO4Sight webinar in March.
As a 22-year veteran of the company, Bottarini has held multiple senior finance roles drawing on experience across international operations, financial planning and analysis, investor relations, and financial reporting. She discussed the importance of finding growth opportunities even in challenging times, and what more can be done to support women in finance, with Lara Abrash, CEO of Deloitte’s US Audit & Assurance business.
Abrash: Since the hospitality industry and the travel and leisure space were so tied to the pandemic and seen as bellwethers for the broader economy, what trends of late are most interesting to you?
Bottarini: The desire for people to travel and gather is very strong and has been quite resilient. Our guests and members, meeting planners and customers tell us it’s not just about getting back to annual vacations, it’s about reconnecting with people. People are evaluating the ways they spend their time differently, going to visit those they might not have before the pandemic and being more appreciative of the opportunity to do so.
Corporations are also recognizing the importance of creating in-person opportunities for authentic, personal connections and getting their colleagues together. We are seeing this with the increase in group meeting travel, for example.
When you think about talent, what skills and experiences do you value most in your workforce to achieve your goals?
Bottarini: Talent acquisition, development and growth is certainly top of mind for our finance team. Our finance leadership team meets on a weekly basis. We talk about pressing business topics, but we also look at how we’re doing on the talent development front. Twice a year we gather together, and we spend a large part of our offsite agendas talking about talent development.
As someone who has been with Hyatt for 22 years, starting as a director and moving my way up to CFO, I’m an example of how our leaders work with colleagues to help them realize their potential. It requires focus, alignment, creativity, and innovation to identify skillsets that are needed in future leaders, and we work to find the right opportunities and roles for our colleagues. At the enterprise level, we look for four critical behaviors in our leaders to be successful: a focus on wellbeing for themselves and for their team; empathy, which means not assuming anything, asking questions and listening to learn; inclusion, to collect diverse thinking to solve problems; and experimentation, having a desire to innovate and learn from mistakes along the way.
What’s your perspective on evolving to a hybrid workplace in your finance organization?
Bottarini: Our highest purpose as an organization is to care for people so they can be their best, including our colleagues. At the outset of the pandemic, we recognized that we all had to make the transition to work from home. Our workplace approach now around the world centers on empathy and closely listening to our colleagues’ needs and meeting them where they are. In order for our colleagues to be their best, they need to have a hybrid situation that works for them, and their well-being at both home and at the office is an essential part of the equation.
On-site at our properties, we have deployed flexible scheduling for colleagues and managers even prior to the pandemic. We saw there were opportunities to be innovative with staffing and use creative ways to address and improve customer service, making sure we had people available when and where guests needed them most. We listened closely to what we were hearing from colleagues, guests, and all our stakeholders to help guide many of those decisions.
We are applying flexibility by department and helping leaders do what’s best for their teams. Our Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting team, for example, went from working late hours in the office during our busier seasons to recognizing during the pandemic just how effective and focused they could be when they were all working from home during those certain crunch times of the year.
Late last year, Hyatt made its largest acquisition to date with Apple Leisure Group (ALG). What role did finance play?
Bottarini: The finance team was involved from day one. We went from a small group that navigated the due diligence phase to working cross-functionally with teams outside of finance, such as legal. We also collaborated with colleagues in our technology, loyalty, and other commercial services teams to mitigate potential risks so we could realize the benefits we had anticipated once the acquisition closed in November 2021, including making sure all the governance, reporting and consolidation needs were addressed.
“Our highest purpose as an organization is to care for people so they can be their best, including our colleagues. ”
How involved are you with the integration, and what are you focused on?
Bottarini: We had the benefit of bringing over ALG’s colleagues to Hyatt, including the finance group. Constant communication was key to emerging as one team. We were able to come together in person to ensure effective collaboration and connect as a team. We partnered closely with our commercial services, operations, and development colleagues to think through revenue and growth opportunities.
From a finance perspective and looking ahead, we will continue to work cross-functionally and collaboratively in an effort to stay focused on our intentional long-term growth strategy, including working closing with owners and partners that increase our distribution capabilities and scale.
How did you maintain employee morale during such a large acquisition in the midst of this pandemic, societal unrest, and the great resignation?
Bottarini: At Hyatt, we strongly believe that if our colleagues are well, they can better care for our guests, customers, and each other. The holistic wellbeing of our colleagues has been and continues to be a priority at every level. We also provide resources such as Hyatt Well-Check, a mental wellbeing assessment tool created with Cornell Medicine and an online tool focused on wellbeing for colleagues.
Notably, I was with Hyatt when we became a public company in 2009 and during our acquisition of Two Roads a couple of years ago, both transformative times of significant change for the organization. It is important to remind colleagues about the growth that happens when you experience these transformative events. You learn a lot about yourself, your capabilities as an individual, and as a team, and recognize the growth to an even greater degree once these moments are in the rearview mirror. These changes have challenged the way we think, improved our processes, and allow us to seize new opportunities as a company.
A lot has changed for women in finance since early in your career. What do you think still needs to change or evolve in your view?
Bottarini: I’m proud to say that in Hyatt’s finance and corporate finance function, we are 60% represented by women across all levels. Overall, our colleagues at the director level and below are more highly represented by women than at the leadership level, vice president and above, but we’ve made good progress over the past decade.
To increase the representation of women in finance, I believe we need more leaders in our industry to mentor rising talent and guide them on what it takes to excel. For example, before I became CFO, my predecessor was more direct with me than anyone had ever been before in my career. Recognizing my goals, he explained what I needed to do and demonstrate in order to advance, and when I did, he gave me timely, specific feedback. At all levels, having a partner-mentor available to give constructive, direct feedback is an area that we can use more of.
—by Craig Schneider, senior writer, Deloitte LLP
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