Dana Jones, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Sabre Airlines Solutions, discusses how she approaches working through change management situations by leveraging talent, technology and creating a vision
It is hard, almost impossible, to imagine a world without software. The pace of change in technology is a perfect setting for defining a vision that embraces innovation and growth. Dana Jones, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Sabre Airlines Solutions has, professionally speaking, made software her life. She loves what she does and is motivated by developing her teams and watching them grow a business successfully. How she approaches this isn’t unique to the software space, but is a tried and tested approach where change is constant.
From Start Ups to Business Giants
Jones earned an engineering degree from the University of Michigan. She started her career as a management consultant with A.T. Kearney. “It helped me to develop an analytic skill set and to be able to put structure around ambiguity and leverage that to solve problems.” Since then, she has built on that foundation with start-ups all the way to billion dollar software technology companies like Vignette and Reynolds and Reynolds. At CoreComm Ltd., “I wore a lot of different hats, but what was most impactful was being responsible for the long term growth strategy and business planning… It was very fluid and dynamic. I became very comfortable looking at the future and charting the course for a business.” Equally important to her upward trajectory was her experience at Reynolds and Reynolds. “I was responsible for running a new business in a unique space.” She transformed it into a viable and profitable business in less than three years and at the same time gained an essential education in creating “buy in and trust.” Her current role is no different. Her task was to chart the course for growth – leveraging a large portfolio to decide what products to invest in, what markets to serve, and where value would be derived for both our customers and shareholders.
People and Code
Jones’ business acumen always starts with the end goal in mind and then working backwards. What are the intended results and how can she leverage talent and technology to achieve these.
The quality of service Jones’ team provides starts with the talent she identifies and develops. “I look for people with fire in their belly, a desire to succeed and learn.” Another key characteristic she looks for is people with leadership skills, whether or not they will be in leadership positions. Jones wants people who “want to lead the charge… (and) …do it in a way that is collaborative and will bring others along.” Last, but certainly not least, she looks for people who have “foundational skills with strategic aptitudes and analytic skills.” Once she has identified the talent, she puts a great deal of value in “spending time with folks, lunches, mentoring – understanding who they are and what they want to achieve. …Coaching is about helping people tap into their strengths and look at things differently, helping them explore new ideas and ways of thinking, …and being a sounding board.” The quality of the end product, whether it is software code, thought leadership or investment strategies, all starts with the people.
Crawl, Walk, Run
Change management is hard, but Jones’ won’t ever be accused of shying away from the challenge. She attacks it head on.
As a new leader brought into a mature organization, “I spent a good deal of time listening, understanding the organization and the business… …and being very thoughtful.” It is natural to want to step in and change the world, but Jones’ experience and problem-solving acumen kept those desires at bay. “… but focusing on the few things that were going to have the biggest impact was really very important to our success.” Likewise, she admits that having a simple and compelling vision and making “that vision real and relatable to each and every person” lead to an energized team that drove results.
Another key to her change management strategy was to share early wins which helped to keep the change management ball rolling. “We began to impact the marketplace. …Our board of directors was extremely complimentary of the quality of our work.” Not only was the board complimentary, but her team’s success was instrumental in laying the foundation for the company’s recent IPO.
For Jones and Sabre, change management is not as intimidating; now it is “all about growth. We are the fastest growing software business in the travel industry. …if you think about any business it goes through stages – from start up to high growth state to essentially a cash cow. We are trying to expand. We are in our growth stage.” At Sabre, the question isn’t about how to become successful; it is about how to “accelerate that growth when you are already one of the market leaders.”
Have A Vision
Jones is a visionary who is continually looking for ways to improve and expand on the products and services they are providing to their clients. “We offer a broad portfolio of solutions, helping airlines market, sell, serve, and operate their airlines.” While they are market leaders, it doesn’t keep them from looking into their magic ball. “Airlines are not necessarily at the forefront of new technology, but we leverage what is happening in other industries, spend a lot of time with our customers, understanding their strategies, understanding the tough problems they need to solve. It isn’t just technology for technology sake; it is about understanding how to create value for our customers’ business. “ While Jones and her team are on point in helping the airlines find new revenue streams, manage costs and maintain their unique brands, they aren’t happy with the status quo. Innovation is in Sabre’s DNA and it is the secret sauce to growth. “We will be launching 15 new products in the next 18 months.”
Jones’ business and leadership acumen, simply put, is about developing and coaching talent who can then provide high quality results all while implementing solid change management strategies. ♦
A Vision is Pivotal
Having a compelling vision is pivotal to Jones’ business transformations and instrumental to her success at Sabre. “The vision I see is the ‘what’, and then how we go about it is the ‘how’ that is where a lot of the change management has come into play at Sabre. We started to look at our investments differently. As we started to build our product strategy in a different way, we began putting in new matrices in place. It is about software best practices that will sustain and accelerate our growth.”