Gillian Tans of ‘Internationalism is in our DNA’

Gillian Tans

Gillian Tans the chief operating officer of the Dutch travel website tells Director about conducting 1,000 experiments a day, cycling around Amsterdam and how sitting on office floors fosters better employee interaction

Being Dutch has helped’s international expansion. Holland is so small; you could sign up every hotel in the country within a few hours. We’ve had to focus on the world outside. Now we have over 170 offices in 60 countries.

I often sit on the floor in the office. It shows you have nothing to hide and people think you’re approachable. Plus [by sitting on the floor], you hear a lot
of things, right?

We do over 1,000 experiments a day. We have an entrepreneurial culture, so every day we test new ideas. But many are small experiments – shall we put this box left or right, or this line on the website?

I work with lots of young people. They’re allowed to fail and make mistakes – that’s how you get better faster.

I learnt my entrepreneurial skills in America. I spent three years working for [chocolate firm] Hershey’s in the 1990s, setting up a restaurant there. I really like US businesses. Not only do they give you a week of legal training when you first join, but if they identify you as talent, they give you responsibility faster.

Every year we bring all of our 10,000 employees to Amsterdam for a two-day meeting. When I first started at the company 13 years ago, it was just one table at a restaurant. Today, we hold the event in the RAI [Europe’s largest conference centre].

There’s a party at every annual meeting too, which people dress up for. This year’s theme is ‘The Explorer’.

At our Amsterdam offices, we have people from 85 different nationalities. This internationalism is in our DNA.

A pan-global workforce has also meant we’ve had to change the canteen menu. We started off as very Dutch, with just bread and cheese. But one guy brought in his rice cookies and I felt so embarrassed, we started offering them too.

Every weekend, I have a ‘No Activity Sunday’ with my family. We do whatever we feel like, whether it’s cycling, walking on the beach or ice skating.

The thing I’m most likely to complain about in a hotel is the lack of WiFi.

An armed robbery once happened when I was checking into a Madrid hotel. I was at the desk and the receptionist ran away. I also ran – through the kitchens, eventually hiding behind a container in the dishwasher room. It was pretty scary.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is my business hero. I’ve admired him for years.

The app I really love is Uber. Before it existed, I had to figure out ‘How does transport work in this country?’ before I landed anywhere. Now, when I arrive, I don’t have to think about that anymore.

Like many Amsterdammers, I cycle to work every day. It’s the best form of transport in the city.

I try to use as much social media as possible, so I can learn. I like Snapchat. It’s a very easy way to communicate.

The one mantra I always use is, ‘Don’t let success get into your head and don’t let failure get into your heart.’ It works.

About author

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Alongside his work for Director, Christian has written features for the Evening Standard, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Independent, Q, Cosmopolitan, Stylist, ShortList and Glamour in an eclectic career which has seen him interview everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas through to Richard Branson with newspaper assignments including reporting on the Japanese tsunami and living with an Italian cult.

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