Pushing the Female Perspective

The world’s second largest travel service has a not-so-secret weapon: its CEO says women improve the bottom line.

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Although Jane Sun got the CEO title at Ctrip only in November, she has been instrumental in setting the tone at China’s largest online travel agency since 2005 when she joined as chief financial officer, later serving as COO and co-president. One of the company’s most visible themes has been its commitment to women, who make up half of Ctrip’s 30,000-plus employees. What’s more, the company’s heads of marketing, finance and operations are all – you guessed it – women.

At the recent Sir Gordon Wu Distinguished Speaker Forum, organized by the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business, Sun indicated: “I have a responsibility to empower women.” According to Bloomberg, Ctrip is among the 1.4 percent of Chinese-based listed companies with a female CEO.

Sun said Ctrip goes out of its way to attract and retain women employees with benefits such an in-house nursery and a telecommuting program. And until China officially relaxed its one-child policy last year, the company provided interest-free loans to help employees pay fines when they had a second child. Now, with two children officially condoned, Ctrip offers pregnant women free taxi rides to and from work and a 8,000 yuan gift for the birth of a child.

The family-friendly policies are not selfless. A telecommuting study of 242 Ctrip workers, done in conjunction with Stanford University and Peking University, assigned a group of employees to work at home for nine months. Compared with an office-based control group, they increased output by 13.5 percent and their turnover rates fell by almost half.

Noting that population growth is a necessary ingredient to China’s future, Sun suggested the government should be offering tax breaks and incentives to grow families.

Why Women Matter

Sun said that gender diversity has helped Ctrip grow from its 1999 founding to today’s $25 billion market cap, nearly half-again as large as its US rival Expedia (with a $17 billion market cap). She cited research that finds females willing to sacrifice and strong in areas that involve teamwork. Seeing both sides of an issue is crucial, for example, in making M&A work, and Ctrip has been negotiating some blockbuster deals lately.

Over the past year in particular, Ctrip has followed an active M&A strategy, beginning with the purchase of Traveling Bestone, a chain of 5,000 travel agencies in lower-tier Chinese cities, and Qunar, a rival Chinese travel-booking service.

The company also spread its international wings in 2016, buying two American tour operators that specialize in serving Chinese travelers, followed by a $180 million investment in MakeMyTrip, India’s largest online travel company. With its burgeoning economy and growing travel population, “India reminds us of China 15 years ago,” said Sun, who hopes Ctrip’s clout can help replicate its success in another emerging market.

But the stunner deal last fall was the $1.7 billion purchase of the Scottish-based Skyscanner, a move that could position Ctrip as the world’s largest source of international travel as it transforms the price-comparison service into a booking agent.

The acquisitions, Sun pointed out, link Ctrip to travel on three continents. And she sees considerable room for expansion both within China and globally as well as online and through face-to-face transactions.

She views the benefits of a worldwide network to be broader than simply a way to generate profits. “When visitors experience new countries and embrace the differences among hospitable people, it becomes difficult to imagine using war to solve problems,” she said. Beyond creating a strong, useful company that benefits its employees, both male and female, she said Ctrip has a larger mission: “To create world peace.” That, said Sun, is possible through the magic of travel.

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