Susan Perry is one of the many audacious global Aussies with an adventurous spirit.
She left Sydney to work and live in various cities overseas. She also made a bold decision to step away from the corporate world in bid to materialise her own business idea by starting Spruika, a cloud-based, refer-a-friend platform for business. After a two-year entrepreneurial journey, Susan made a return to corporate life with fresh perspectives and new skills and subsequently joined Booking.com as Global Head of Marketing for BookingSuite. She is based out of Amsterdam in the headquarters of the global travel fare company.
Having worked in Singapore, Vancouver, London and now Amsterdam Susan shared with Advance her global journey.
Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance.
How did you wind up in Amsterdam?
I was living in London prior to Amsterdam and got the opportunity to move to Amsterdam with Booking.com. I wasn’t looking at moving to Amsterdam – I hadn’t visited the city since I was 20 – but when I got contacted by Booking.com, it seems like a good opportunity to consider Amsterdam as a place to live. As it was just a “jump across the pond” from London, the move didn’t feel too difficult, and I felt it was a great opportunity to explore more of Europe while working for a great brand.
What do you like most and least about the city?
Love: I love the vibe of the city. Everyone rides their bikes everywhere, which means there are less cars on the road. There is something special about riding your bike along the beautiful canals. It’s such a great way to commute – especially as it’s so flat!
Like Least: It’s too far from Australia! Having previously lived in Singapore and Vancouver, which are both one direct flight back to Australia, I’m missing being able to pop back to Australia for a short trip.
What’s a typical work day look like for you? What’s the most exciting part of your role?
Amsterdam is the HQ for Booking.com and we have about 7,000 people located here. Most of our operations are centralized and therefore, unlike other HQ roles I’ve had in the past, most of my daily interactions are with Amsterdam-based departments, teams and individuals. My core focus is on new product development and therefore a typical day varies between working with fellow leadership team members to build strategy, to testing new products in market, to scaling up products across our global audience. We have about 15 offices in Amsterdam city itself, so it means I’m often biking between offices for different meetings. We have a very international workforce, with ~80% being non-Dutch. On my team alone we have 15+ countries represented. This unique international employee mix is a significant enabler for us as it sparks different perspectives and allows us to really think and act global.
What’s something unexpected working for a travel company?
Although we are a travel company, our foundation is built on an experimentation culture. Therefore, daily decisions are always backed up by data, driven on a hypothesis and all releases are wrapped in an experiment, meaning that only those experiments that drive incremental business impact are rolled out to all customers. I wouldn’t say this is “unexpected”, however its ability to define and drive the company culture – at all levels – continues to amaze me.
You found your own business Spruik before returning to corporate world, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt on your way?
I learnt so much running my first start-up and think of it as two of the most valuable years in my career. As a co-founder I had to handle so many new and different tasks – pitching to investors, building partnerships, creating & managing product roadmap and driving sales. A few of the key lessons I learnt are:
1. Be laser focused on delivering customer value rather than focusing on vanity metrics
2. Really listen to what the customer is saying, rather than listening for what you want a customer to say
3. Running a start-up is fun, building a sustainable business is better
4. Listen to your gut on most decisions but primarily hiring
5. Surround yourself with people smarter than you!
Having worked and lived in various cities, what’s your favourite and why?
All of the cities I’ve lived in are so different and I like them for different reasons. I loved the multi-cultural element of living in Singapore. I learnt so much about international business and working with different cultures. However, I really liked living in Vancouver because of its “west coast” lifestyle. Within 30 minutes of leaving work, you could be skiing, hiking or biking in the spectacular mountains that surround Vancouver city. London was such a bustling, huge city. Its accessibility to the rest of Europe (with its 5 airports!) made it an amazing launch pad to explore Europe. And lastly, Amsterdam – now one of my favourite European cities with its beautiful canals, vibrant lifestyle and welcoming locals. It’s hard to choose!
What’s your favourite Dutch food? What’s your go-to place for Australian coffee?
My favourite Dutch food would have to be Olliebollen – which are delicious hot doughnut like balls that are covered in icing sugar. They are only sold during December until the New Year. A great treat when it’s cold outside and you need to warm up.
Best place for coffee is at our regular brunch spot – Bakers and Roasters – a Kiwi breakfast place that not only serves a delicious “down under” breakfast, but also a proper flat white!
What do you miss most about Australia?
It’s going to sound cheesy but family and friends. I’ve been away from Australia 8 years this time round and even though I miss the beach, the sunshine and the coffee, it’s my family and friends that make me miss Australia the most.