“When I was first old enough to read the newspaper, the area that interested me the most was the business section,” says Elizabeth Oakman, General Manager of EMEA Hotels.com Brand (Expedia Group) and a Talent in our leadership program, when asked about her interest in business. With more than 15 years of experience in consulting and management, Elizabeth discusses the challenges she faced when relocating, her career, and her vision for female leadership. Read our interview to find out more!
You have studied Commerce and began your professional career in Australia. What shaped your interest in Commerce as an academic field and future professional path?
If I think back to when I was young, I always had an interest in commerce. When I was first old enough to read the newspaper, the area that interested me the most was the business section. Particularly, I was really interested in what different companies were doing to shape the lives of their consumers across the world.
After working in generalist consulting for several years, you have joined Deloitte’s Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) team in London. What were your main professional challenges after moving? How did you overcome them?
There were two big challenges that really came to life during this time of relocation and transition. The first one was the challenge of moving from Melbourne, Australia to London. From a professional perspective, in Melbourne, I was very networked as I worked very hard over the years and was trusted by my peers, partners, and clients. Upon moving to London, I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone to effectively build up my professional network.
The second challenge I encountered at the same time was moving from generalist consulting into Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A). However, I quickly realized that there were a lot of key transferable skills that I was able to apply in the new environment. There were some changes, especially in terms of the level of confidentiality and timelines associated with M&A, but the skills I already had gave me the confidence to jump in. The four years I spent working in M&A ended up being some of the most exciting work I have done in my career overall.
I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone to effectively build up my professional network.
In 2015, you joined the Hotels.com team and by 2018, got promoted to the General manager position. Could you explain how your unique professional and personal experiences shape your leadership? In turn, what professional and personal qualities do you look for in your team?
From the background perspective, I had the unique opportunity of working across a lot of organizations, often with access to senior management. These experiences gave me insight into a lot of different businesses. At the same time, living in multiple countries shaped me from a leadership perspective.
As a leader, I am known as someone who will get things done, but I do that in an environment where people can come to work and be themselves. I really value diversity of thought and backgrounds, while also supporting professional development and growth. The experiences I had early on really made me articulate what draws me to certain businesses, which I try to recreate in my own environment.
For my team, I obviously look for intelligent people. Another key element is emotional intelligence; I value people with drive and self-motivation to achieve the best result for the team and the business. Diversity of backgrounds, thought, and experiences can lead to better decisions from a management and leadership perspective.
Diversity of backgrounds, thought, and experiences can lead to better decisions from a management and leadership perspective.
You work closely with leaders of other Expedia brands, as well as supply businesses, to ensure your product’s relevancy to EMEA consumers. According to you, what is the role of female leadership in your industry? What future developments would you like to observe?
The role of a female leader is to pave the path for those coming up the ranks now, to be a mentor, an inspiration, and to help future generations to learn from the mistakes made prior.
Female leadership is also about being a strong voice to drive for equality, in terms of 50/50 male to female leadership. It shouldn’t only be on Boards, but also the executive teams, filtering right down through the organization. I want to see it not only in my industry, but across the board and I am determined not to stop until I see that, as we will all be better off in an equal environment.
The role of a female leader is to pave the path for those coming up the ranks now, to be a mentor, to be an inspiration, and to help future generations to learn from the mistakes made prior.
In your professional career, did you have a female role model whose leadership and personal qualities stand out to you?
Early on in my career, it was a struggle because there weren’t many senior women with a profile that stood out to me. The good news is that years later, I have been tremendously lucky to work with some amazing female senior leaders. I have quite a lot of role models, one of them being Ariane Gorin, a and alumni of WIL’s talent pool programme who works for my organization. The characteristics I look for in a role model include the ability to deliver business results while remaining authentic. A leader is someone who has the courage to be himself or herself and remain human.
In conclusion, we always end our interviews with a question from the Proust Questionnaire: When and where are you the happiest?
My sister Lucy, who I haven’t seen in two years, is visiting me in London this week. I am currently the happiest sitting on the couch at home, having coffee and catching up with her.