Head of Global Mobility at Booking.com
Mark Derksen is the Head of Global Mobility at Booking.com, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, and the number one destination to book any type of accommodation. Mark and Booking both believe that technology and travel are powers for good in the world. . Derksen is an experienced Talent Mobility professional with a demonstrated record of working across various industries and countries. Mark entered the global mobility profession through expatriate tax with PwC, later switching to in-house roles, firstly at Deloitte and then at Unilever and Arup. He is skilled in Talent Management, Global Mobility, HR Consulting, International Tax, and Organizational Development.
In this in-depth interview, Mark discusses his mobility program at Booking; reflects on the attention Booking pays to employee experience; explores how Booking invests in developing an inclusive workplace; and explains why he always asks for the reason why a company hired him when he is starting a new role.
Brian Friedman: Hello and welcome to season three of The View From The Top, a podcast brought to you by Benivo. My name is Brian Friedman. I'm the Strategy Director of Benivo, the world's leading welcome-as-a-service mobility tech company. I'm delighted to say that today's guest on The View From The Top is Mark Derksen, the head of Global Mobility at Booking.com. Founded just over 20 years ago, Booking.com is now one of the world's leading online travel sites. On any given day, Booking.com has some 30 million listings in some 150,000 locations and over 1 1/2 million reservations are made to the site every single day. Booking.com is a true industry disrupter in every sense of the word. As for Mark, well Mark Derksen is himself a true globalist. A native of the Netherlands, he has worked in London, South Africa, and Amsterdam. Like many global mobility professionals, Mark got into mobility via expatriate tax where he worked at PwC but later he switched to in-house roles, firstly at Deloitte and then at Unilever, Arup, and currently where he is at Booking.com. So Mark, welcome to The View From The Top and many, many congratulations on your impressive career achievements to date.
Mark Derksen: Thank you very much, Brian, and it's an absolute pleasure to be here in a list of very impressive people that you've interviewed before.
Brian Friedman: Well, thank you, Mark, but I've given a bit of an introduction, but can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your current role? Tell us about Booking.com and your mobility program and what you do there, just give us a flavor for your role.
Mark Derksen: Yes, absolutely. So I started with Booking in November last year, so I'm in now about eight months. It's a role which I was really looking for. I was looking for a company that is very open to change, to do something with mobility that is a bit new to what I have seen so far. And so far, I'm enjoying myself really much. Booking is a company with a very entrepreneurial spirit so you're free to do what you want if it makes sense to do it for Booking. So at this moment, we are going through the policies, see what we can change there, what is the experience with our people within Booking on assignments, and I can tell you, it's not all perfect so there is work to do. But it's a company where your voice is heard and I work with a very exciting team. I've got a team of 13 people, seven different nationalities, and so I'm really looking forward to the next months and years at Booking.
Brian Friedman: And tell me, give us a flavor for size and scope. Roughly speaking, how many moves would you handle a year and what sorts of moves are they? Traditional, lump sum, short term, et cetera, permanent transfers, et cetera, et cetera.
Mark Derksen: Yeah, sure. Yeah, that's also very different at Booking compared to, for example, Unilever or Arup where I worked. The global mobility, so the temporary assignments, is not that high and we move probably about 100 to 150 people a year. But the repatriation to the Netherlands because our head office are in Amsterdam, and we are growing very fast, so over the last years, we hired and moved about a thousand people a year to Amsterdam. We are grown out of our offices. We, in the meantime, own 14 offices in Amsterdam where we're all divided. So the big part of it is really relocation to the Netherlands and providing great assigning experience in that and also for the partners. So I also have an in-house mobility partner program where we advise and help the partners of our employees, also to socialize in Amsterdam.
Brian Friedman: And where are they coming from, these people who are coming into the Netherlands?
Mark Derksen: Really everywhere. We can see it change now. So when Booking really began to grow in the beginning of 2000, a lot of single, young IT people who were hired, a lot of them from the Asian part. But now we are also growing so also the top of the firm is a bit bigger so a lot of VPs and directors from America are also there and now moved to the Netherlands.
Brian Friedman: Okay. Now tell me a bit about your role. Let's go back to the beginning. What made you go into PwC in the first place, into expatriate tax? Tell us a bit more about your route through the profession.
Mark Derksen: Yes, well that was actually very funny because at that time, I was attending university and there was a workshop done by PwC, and they were telling about global mobility, and it really went from if you move to the Americas, you need a different TV because it will not work and we also help you moving your pets and I thought that it sounds really interesting. I would love to work in that area. So I applied for an internship at the time with PwC and started there. Before I knew it, I was just crushing at income tax returns and I didn't see any TVs coming to America or their pets, but still I really liked what they were doing, how they're advising people going on assignments but mainly our clients with PwC was the head of mobility or the HR director on the other side of the table. So I did that for seven years, I was at PwC, and then I thought I want to be now on this other side of the table and get more into the HR part and not only in tax. And then I had the opportunity after one year of being an HR advisor with IBFD, the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation. The people that with IBFD were all experts. They were from all over the world as the tax experts working on the thesis and providing input for Big Four companies on the Internet so I got a taste of it, to assist people and help people with moving from one country to another and then I had the opportunity to start as an in-house mobility role with Deloitte and that really started my career as a mobility professional on dealing with our own employees moving out of the Netherlands and moving Deloitte's colleagues all over the world into the Netherlands.
Brian Friedman: Got it, and on the way, you must have met people that really inspired you and gave you lessons that you've taken on on your life. Who would you say that it was that inspired you and more importantly, what lessons did you learn?
Mark Derksen: Yeah, it was within Deloitte. It was very interesting. There was a talent partner, Peter Schansman, and he was working the HR department and he knew about the global mobility team but he didn't see the actual value of the mobility team at the time so decided not to work with mobility professionals but leave the task with HR, and after a couple of years, he noticed that actually now it's a different skill set so you need to have a global mobility team in place. That was also the time that I started with him and, although I thought that was an interesting opinion that he had about mobility, I started to work with him quite closely and he really became my supporter to the boards. So, when I was trying to change or do something with the mobility, and we introduced a very great talent program at the time, he was my voice into the boardroom and that actually made things go very quickly. So what I really learned with that is that always find your supporter who is that who can help you get this fictive seat on the table and move things as you want, and one of the other things I think that he helped me with was when I left Deloitte and I moved to Unilever, he said, "When you arrive there, "ask them why they've chosen you", and for some reason, that always sticks with me and I always do it when I move to another company. I do ask that question because I want to know what made the difference. Why did you choose me? And so far, the answer has always been, you know how to tell the story. You need to have a story on why mobility is important, otherwise it's just one of those help desks that people are going to and that you get a request of moving person A from B to C.
Brian Friedman: Okay. You talked a bit about talent in that, and that's a subject that I want to delve into because for some people, mobility is a bit of a functional function. Its job is simply to get people move from A to B with minimum disruption, but for others, and increasingly what we're seeing, it's about talent management. It's about making sure you've got the right people, in the right place at the right time doing the right job. And it's about development as well. How does it working in your world at Booking.com? How is your interaction with talent and what can you tell us a bit, about the talent side of managing mobility?
Mark Derksen: Yeah, that's a very interesting question, right? So there's a lot of work to do here, in that respect. So I, for my wishlist to do for the coming months, is really gathering more data on who is seen within Booking as talent and who decides what the skill set should be to be seen as talent, and when is that talent also being able to move abroad? I see it in all kind of layers in the firm as well. So we do see with very senior moves that the policies that we have in place, they are still, for example, based on the situation ten years ago, and then we were not even half the company as we are today. So those policies need to be revised and also need to consider what is talent and how do we treat talent because there is this way of thinking in the world of global mobility, that it is fair to treat everyone the same but that's a bit weird because, in the end, no one is the same. So we try to segment the way we look at talent. We try to look, what are the gaps that we have in our policy right now to help its talent and actually to set up a talent pipeline, that we know who is interested, that we know what the skill set is of this future assignee but also very basic things, what is the nationality, and when there is a certain need for, so when there is a business need to move someone, can we also take into account the nationality of this person to move them actually tomorrow, instead of in six weeks with immigration timelines? So a lot of work to do, a lot of data that we don't have yet, so the very basics, who is telling, what is talent, how do we recognize it, and also to set up policies around it.
Brian Friedman: And how do you think that will pan out? How do you think you will be looking at recognizing talent and building that pipeline?
Mark Derksen: Well, what we really do now, and I think that is, well for me, that's always a great method of deciding when a policy change is needed, is to work with actual cases. So we now have, for example, a question of a person who is moving from the Middle East to Amsterdam, and you can imagine that his tax situation will not improve by going to Amsterdam, so what can we do there? How can we set this case up? And when we work out this case, so it's quite a manual and tailor-made toss that we're doing, we're using that, the outcome of that, to set us up for success for the next steps. We've also seen it very different with the very senior move, with the VP who was moving from Amsterdam to England, and our policies were not yet set in place to assist him in the right manner, so we did it in a very tailor-made way, and now we have a policy for senior people moving from the Netherlands, for example.
Brian Friedman: And what about junior talent, you do much work moving the junior talent?
Mark Derksen: Yeah, we haven't seen so much in that respect. It's more questions on it, so I wouldn't see it and for me, it's not a priority for this year. But I think when we have put things into place in a bigger picture, we need to be ready for that as well because what we have seen is that we, of course, we move so much people to Amsterdam and we have this in-house mobility team with an in-house partner program that works very, very smoothly, so they have a great experience there. And then, for example, when we open a different office and what we have seen in the last years as well, that we open new offices, and we send them to those offices and we have to use more vendors than we need with getting them in because we do everything in-house, the experience is not as we wanted it to be. So that's really something that we need to learn first from our own experience in-house. How do we deal with this? And why is it such a success and a smooth machine? And why do we constantly see all kind of hurdles and issues when we move people the other way around?
Brian Friedman: You used the word experience there Mark, and I'm hearing that word all the time more and more. I mean it starts off with people talking about customer experience and then it moves on to employee experience and now, obviously, we're hearing a lot more about assignee experience. What does an employee experience mean to you and what do you do about maximizing or optimizing the employee experience?
Mark Derksen: Well within Booking, I think we do a great deal about it. We have, of course, also an in-house IDB team.
Brian Friedman: Sorry, you said IDB? That stands for?
Mark Derksen: Sorry, sorry. Inclusivity, Diversity, and Belonging.
Brian Friedman: Right.
Mark Derksen: They're very active. We do a lot of things here to make people feel inclusive, to have the right environment around you, so that can mean, of course, that you can come to the office in your jeans or in your dress, that all that doesn't matter. But it's also, it's more than only work. It's what is around there. So it can be organizing a drink, but it's also feeling at home outside of work. So also the in-house partner program we have to make sure that the partners that come along with our new employees are also being offered different kind of socializing platforms and events outside of Booking, where they can meet with other partners but also with other people from the Netherlands. And I think that's very important when you move such a big amount of people to the Netherlands, that they are feel feeling welcomed, that their experience is great. And for me, that's also an inspirer that I do not personally know, but Richard Branson is, for me, one of those person who is not afraid to see that it's alright to have fun next to your job and do fun things and that's something we really offer. We support people doing interesting things. We, for example, at the end of the last year, we all received a credit card with an amount on it, and it was very emphasized, show us what you do with the money, and we have an intranet Facebook and everyone spends their money and shows what they do with it and you see people in air balloons and you see people on holidays and rafting because also the traveling spirit is also very present within Booking.com
Brian Friedman: Yeah, I get that but if it's not at Booking.com, where would it be? What about for, I mean you've talked about employee generally, but what about for the the assignees coming in for the first time? Let's say they are coming to the Netherlands from wherever, from Asia or Middle East or somewhere. They're coming in for the first time made it on their own, made it with a partner. What are you doing to make that assignment experience, that transfer experience, really good from the day that they first are told that they are being moved, day that they show up, and actually physically turn up to work?
Mark Derksen: Yeah, well we have a great onboarding program, so that's a three-day program that shows what everyone does within Booking, that was, for me, an eye-opener because I couldn't understand why we have a travel platform and it needs 17,000 people to run it, and when I was in that program, it was awesome to see and hear from everyone what their tasks are, what are we doing, where are we going to, so that's a big part of it. But also I arrived here in November and we had typical Dutch thing, chocolate letter and kruidnoten so these are typical Dutch cookies on your desk. Your laptop is ready. Before you come in, you can already choose what kind of laptop you will, what kind of brand, what kind of size. There is all kind of events in the office immediately, not especially for you but especially for all the newcomers, so there will be drinks organized. Those kind of things, for me, was a very warm welcome. I actually even got a little movie sent to my telephone with everyone singing welcome Mark Derksen to our HR leadership team.
Brian Friedman: Well.
Mark Derksen: Before.
Brian Friedman: Okay, that's cool. So Mark, Booking.com is a technology company, so I'm guessing that technology plays a large part in everything at Booking.com. How do you think technology is going to impact mobility in your organization over the next, say, 10 years? I'm thinking here about all sorts of technology. I mean obviously technology platforms but also data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, et cetera. Do you see that radically changing your role, your programs, our industry?
Mark Derksen: Yeah, absolutely. I think in HR and in mobility, 90% of what we do is repetitive so why don't we use robotics for that to pick this up and spend our time better? I absolutely think that'll make a big change. But also on like this, for example, say the virtual reality. I think we haven't seen anything yet from what's that capable of and also when I think of Booking, and this is me thinking so, I'm not a technology expert, but how cool would it be if you can already see your hotel rooms by virtual reality before you arrive there. What can we do in mobility, in that respect? Can show the office where you will be sent to. You can see the the environment where you will be living, and that all in 3D from your own couch or from behind your own desk. So, yes, absolutely. Big change is there and also, it's something that I'm still waiting for but I'm sure that it will comes there. There is this more self-guiding approach to mobility where you will be able to walk around with your telephone at an app on it and find your own house and see how your budget influenced by it. That cannot take too long before that will happen.
Brian Friedman: So Mark, we're talking about technology, what do you think the impact is gonna be on our profession? How do you think the profession's gonna change through technology?
Mark Derksen: I think technology will be a big help in getting started with your assignments. What I just said about what it could mean for Booking, any way you use virtual reality, that could be the same thing for our industry. There will be much more self-assistance, I think, done via technology so it's not by the team that needs to answer all kind of questions and provide all kind of assistance and bring you in connection with people. Much more of that will be automated. But I also think that mobility is changing in a way that we are providing more flexibility with policies, and technology, of course, is helping with that because we are able to retrieve more data and we know what's necessary and we don't are this old-fashioned employer anymore that try to thinks on behalf of what you needed yourself, so by providing a technology platform, you can choose the items from the menu that you need actually for your move. So that can be schooling that can be housing. It can also be things that are very private and for effective mental health, choosing your own health insurances and those kind of things.
Brian Friedman: Okay. Just moving on, we've talked about what the future might hold, but just looking at the immediate future, what are your top three priorities over the next year or 18 months? What is it that are things that really are at the top of your entry? Maybe not necessarily the most urgent things but the most important things.
Mark Derksen: First of all, that will be actually, gather more data on what Booking is. So we spoke earlier about talents. We need to know more about what's going on there and how can we be of better service in that respect. And then you can also turn it around that you are not a reactive acting global mobility team but a valued business partner. I think it was Steve Jobs who once said we hire smart people to tell us what to do and not the other way around. And in mobility, we are often, you're so busy within helping in the moment that you don't step away from that process and go to the start of it and actually consult and advise the firm and say, actually, you want to move this person from here to there, but have you thought of the following and start from there, instead of the other way around? So the three things that would be, for me, you need, gather the data that we need to look into the changes that we need to make. Then it's in the number two, change the policies in that way that we are of the best service and with that, we show that we are, with number three, a valued business partner and go from there.
Brian Friedman: So are you looking to be redesigning your policies or based on that sort, yeah?
Mark Derksen: Yes, absolutely. The policies that we have in place are not fit for purpose anymore. It was fit for purpose when Booking was much smaller. We are now bigger. We need to move faster. We hire different kind of people, so our policies really need to change to serve that goal.
Brian Friedman: You've talked about moving faster and that probably brings us on to another one of the buzz words of the moment. I've talked a bit about experience and talent which are two of the big buzz words. The third buzz word that I think we're hearing a lot about at the moment is agility, the ability to move fast, to be nimble. What does it mean to you? What does agility mean to you, and how do you think that can be encouraged in practice, either at Booking.com or just in general in the industry?
Mark Derksen: Agility, to me, means to me that I able to work from wherever I can and provide the needs and provide the service that is needed and that can be a various galore of services. So, in that respect, we should be ready and have all kind of scenarios ready to immediately act and immobility, that's quite a challenge, because in my experience, and I've moved a lot of people now, but no move is the same, so you cannot make an assumption that something is the same and therefore, act in the same way. In order to be agile, I think you always need to be ready that things works out different than you expect it and have a whole lot of scenarios ready for them to jump in.
Brian Friedman: You've moved a few times yourself. I mean, I said in the introduction that you've worked in in London, in South Africa, and, obviously, back in the Netherlands, so you've been through, you've suffered the expat experience yourself personally and I used the word, suffered, advisedly. What are the learnings? When you move, what did you learn from it that you take into your everyday role? Things that either went wrong or went right. The experiences the you and your family had. Tell us a bit about that and what you've taken from that into your job.
Mark Derksen: Well, I think you need to be ready that nothing will happen as you pictured it and that's very hard for me because I've, almost have, OCD and I try to picture it exactly as it should be. When moving to South Africa, I was actually ready for a lot of unexpected things but things were actually very smoothly there. It was also, of course, great moving in to Durban where the sun shines like 350 days a year, and we had a great office within Unilever in Durban, so it was very quickly getting you. Although there are other kind of cultural things in Durban absolutely, with respect to safety, that you need to be aware of, but I was also offered a very good cultural training so, and the training was also offered to me and my family so it included my wife and my daughter. I think it's very important as a business that you provide that because that avoids making a lot of mistakes. Then moving to London, so then we went to another extreme in weather, and you can say, and everything was probably much more faster, more crowded, more busy, more challenging, from a career perspective as well. And I think when you're not flexible, you will talk over that a lot and I think also as a global mobility professional, you can also sometimes see or understand when you speak to assignees that you wonder, is this the right choice for this position, in the way they ask questions and what I can expect in the countries. So I, therefore, also try to provide a lot of assistance for that and you should be able to come on a pre visit trip to see what actually expected from you there and what you can expect there.
Brian Friedman: And what about working with service providers as you moved?
Mark Derksen: Yes.
Brian Friedman: What lessons did you learn there, the good and the bad of working with service providers from the assignees perspective?
Mark Derksen: You need to be patient. When you go into an immigration process, it's not fun. You have to provide all kind of documents, and it all needs to be certified and you have no idea where to go to and sometimes you do get to get good guidance and sometimes not. Be patient. Everyone is coming through that process. It's not nice but it's necessary. With effect to moving your goods, I think that's actually very helpful to get rid of stuff that you don't want anymore in your house. It's nice if you want to move more often that you also make sure that you stay mobile, so don't try to take everything with you, which I did actually. Yeah, see it as a temporary adventure. That's the easiest way to step into it.
Brian Friedman: And you do work, obviously, with a lot of service providers or vendors in your role. Mark Derksen: Yeah.
Brian Friedman: From your perspective, what makes a good service provider? What makes a good vendor? What are you looking for?
Mark Derksen: Someone who really puts our assignee in the middle, so that's the most important thing. That is the person that will be moved. That is the person that should be listened to. So also I don't want any assumptions or great models that worked before, it will not work in this move. So I want this, sort of, how far it is possible, tailor-made approach, to have where the assignee is put in the middle and also that the vendor provides feedback to us on what's going on, what is requested, so that we can help from our site on that as well
Brian Friedman: We're pretty much coming to the end, actually. But I've got one last question that I wanted to ask, which I know I've asked some of the others, which is this, if you had your time again, what would you have done differently? I mean, would you have gone into a different industry? If you wanted the same industry, would you have gone into tax first? Would you go into HR first? Would you have specialized in one area? A different location? What would you have done differently in your career?
Mark Derksen: To completely fair, I think I would go to a hotel management school and open a restaurant afterwards.
Brian Friedman: That's your hobby, is it?
Mark Derksen: It is, yeah, absolutely. As much as I love this job, and it also, it gave me the opportunity to work and live in different countries, it's always a passion that stays with me. So I say there's a bit of a joke. But if I wasn't sure if I would stay in this business, there's nothing that much that I would do differently. I really enjoyed all the things that I have experienced, including some big mistakes that I have made as well, and I think I just would make the same mistake again, just to be sure it would go in the same direction because I really like what I do.
Brian Friedman: Mark, it's been great fun, and it's been a pleasure having you on The View From The Top so thank you very much for being such a sport and taking part.
Mark Derksen: Thank you very much for having invited me, Brian. I thought it was very fun to share my thoughts with you.
Brian Friedman: And thank you to all our listeners for listening in to today's podcast. We'll be back again next week with the next edition of The View From The Top. This is Brian Friedman. This has been The View From The Top. Thank you all very much