"Success and leadership" (Jersey Evening Post - 29 July 2020)

Keith Beecham Winner of the IoD Jersey Director of the Year Awards 2020, Chair Award.

IoD Jersey and Gold Sponsor, Appleby, recently announced the winners of the Director of the Year Awards 2020. This year, along with the modifications due to the COVID-19 situation, a new Chair Award for services to the Island, was added. The inaugural winner of this award, for his strategic leadership and contribution to Jersey’s success in growing tourism, is Keith Beecham, CEO of Visit Jersey.

Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be with Visit Jersey.

I’ve been in destination marketing for three decades, working at Visit Britain, before coming to Jersey as the first CEO of Visit Jersey in March 2015. We had to recruit the team, create a new brand and start on a whole new marketing programme. We had to decide who should be our customers and how we wanted to talk about Jersey. There was not a lot of information when we started, about why people come on holiday here, and, more importantly, why they don’t come. So the first year was spent gathering data to inform our decisions more accurately. Central to that process was listening to all the stakeholders, including Islanders.

What do you think helped you win this award?

I believe the award is recognising that there is a change going on, a resurgence of our hospitality and tourism sector. We’ve managed to stop the decline and have entered a growth period, so the trend is encouraging for the last five years, the current COVID situation aside. It’s about much more than Visit Jersey though, it’s the efforts of all of the suppliers in travel and tourism. It’s quite a fragmented industry, we have lots of family businesses as well as global brands and what we do is bring everyone together under a common agenda. So, part of the recognition is that we have all come together as an island under the Visit Jersey leadership and we have been able to bring people on a journey over the last five years. It’s a, ‘We are in it together’, scenario which has delivered success. Last year we had 770,000 people come to Jersey, a 6% growth, and they brought £280 million into our Island, a 4% growth.

It’s because of the efforts of so many people, not just hospitality, but the farmers who tend fields so tourists can enjoy the landscape, to the public sector workers keeping our public spaces clean and inviting, heritage, and ultimately the citizens of Jersey who give a fantastic welcome.

What do you feel the best qualities of being a director are?

It’s about building a team who together are making a difference and that’s not just Visit Jersey employees; it’s our marketing agencies, our tour operator partners, hotels, all who obviously want to meet their individual commercial objectives but also to position Jersey as a wonderful place to want to come on holiday. So I guess bringing the stakeholders together is what I personally spend a lot of my time working on.

It’s also trying to nurture talent. We have some fantastic employees at VJ, so my job is to allow them to fulfil their potential, through training or mentoring, but also to allow them to be the very best they can be in the world of work. Doing that we get some great creative output and have a group of people who are very passionate about Jersey.

I can remember working for bosses who I have found to be inspirational and equally bosses I found to be frankly awful and it’s about learning from all of those experiences, learning from other people.

I have been fortunate in having lived and worked in many other countries and what that taught me, from a cultural point of view, is that there isn’t a single right way of doing business, there are multiple ways that things can get done and it’s really important to understand the cultural characteristics of a company and a country. In Japan one of their characteristics is to listen before making decisions. I’ve also spent time working in America where it’s perhaps almost the opposite and it’s important to be seen taking action fast. My personal style is more Japanese, where it’s about listening to others so you can develop an environment where people don’t feel afraid to contribute. And then collectively the decision is going to be a much stronger than handed down from up high. The downside is it can take longer to get to a decision but the upside is that if people have been involved in formulating that decision, the execution is so much easier than if it was forced through. That’s not to say there aren’t times when you simply have to get on with it and it’s harder to spend time building a coalition.

What advice would you give to new Directors and leaders?

1. Clarity of purpose. This needs to be upfront whether you are a junior member of staff or a CEO. Without clarity of purpose we don’t get good decision making and conflicts can arise. If we all know what we are doing that’s a really good starting point.

2. It’s about asking not telling. It’s engaging to build decisions. You need strong listening skills, we’ve all got good ideas and some people find it hard to listen to others because they want to share their good ideas all the time. The best idea is normally an amalgamation of a couple of ideas, so listen to others to build a better outcome.

3. Be prepared to ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. When you are in an organisation we all have egos and want to be demonstrating how good we are at what we are doing, and sometimes there is a reticence to say I don’t understand this, or don’t know what to do. Being prepared to ask for help is a strong management skill and not a weakness.

What does this Award mean to you personally?

The IoD is a globally well-respected association. I’m going to be leaving the Island in September because my five year contract is finished and I will be retiring from the 9 to 5 work environment. So this recognition is highly valued as I step into more of an Non-Executive Director role. The standards that the IoD set are exemplary, so this is a great honour for me and a little bit humbling. I’m just so proud to have such a great bunch of people that I come to work with on a daily basis, who give me the enthusiasm to do my job so ultimately, this is also as much their award as it is mine.

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