From Zero to CTO — Tamara Lohan is in the spotlight
- Name: Tamara Lohan MBE
- Current position: CTO and co-founder
- Bio: I am an entrepreneur and technology strategist with a background in marketing. In 2002 I co-founded the boutique hotel travel specialists Mr & Mrs Smith with my husband James, and have been responsible for evolving the company’s digital infrastructure ever since. As CTO, I have overseen the development of our in-house booking engine and proprietary availability-management systems, alongside our iOS app and responsive global websites for Mr & Mrs Smith and its sister brand Smith & Family — our collection of the world’s best child-friendly and family stays.
Today, the company operates from offices in London, New York, LA, Ibiza and Singapore, and has more than 1.5 million members worldwide. James and I were awarded MBEs for services to the British travel industry in 2014.
I frequently speak on the subjects of women in technology and business, and balancing parenting with career progression. I am also a start-up investor and a Non-Executive Director at Not on The High Street.
Tell us about your life before leadership — what kind of roles and projects did you work on?
Before we started Mr & Mrs Smith I worked in marketing; on the data/CRM side for big brands and on the agency side, too.
How did your first leadership position come about, and was it intentional on your part?
When you start your own business you naturally (and gently) become a leader. At the beginning you — and your partner(s) if you have them — are just leading yourself. Then gradually you employ people and you learn on the job. Mr & Mrs Smith was supposed to be a hobby business not a global business with over 100 employees, so it definitely wasn’t intentional!
How did you manage the transition? What came easily / what was difficult?
It certainly didn’t happen overnight but driving the business forward came easily. James and I are both self starters with a lot of energy so that part was fairly straightforward. As the business grew and we took on more employees, we had to learn new skills and when we went global for the first time that was certainly a baptism of fire; something we weren’t prepared for, in retrospect.
What was your biggest failure in that first leadership role?
Leading a global team was much more challenging than we anticipated. Keeping the brand, culture and ethos alive when the team were on the other side of the world was — and still is — difficult. I wish we had been better informed and less opportunistic — pulling out of our Australian office was a hard lesson to learn.
What made you keep doing it?
We are naturally positive people who try their hardest. Giving up doesn’t come easily to us.
Tell us a fun fact that nobody knows about you
Had I not loved travel so much I would have joined the RAF and become a jet pilot.
What are the three key skills you think every lead needs?
Empathy, energy, vision, resilience, and the ability to delegate. Hard to keep to three, as all are much-needed!
What have you learned about acquiring and retaining talent?
That it’s both the toughest and most important thing you will do. My top tip would be simply to hire the best people you can find even if you have to go over your budget — great people are worth their weight in gold.
How do you motivate your team and manage their stress levels?
I try to listen to them and understand where they are coming from; what their frustrations are and what their ambitions are. I see my role helping them fulfil their ambitions as much as I can within my power.
How do you manage your own stress levels and productivity?
Most recently I have been using small life hacks to avoid being a slave to my phone. I’ve placed all social media icons on the second page and turned off notifications. I charge my phone downstairs instead of next to my bed and when I’m with the kids at the weekend, I only use my phone to organise family stuff, leaving it at home if I don’t need it.
How do you stay in sync with other parts of the business?
We do away days with the management team, which are great. Once a month, I try and sit with the travel team (the people on the phone with our customers) so I can be a part of their ecosystem, listen to their frustrations and see where technology could help etc…
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Things are moving so quickly that I find it difficult to plan that far ahead. Everything could change between now and then. Of course we have a business plan, but I don’t think for one minute that it will remain unchanged in that time.
What product do you wish you’d invented?
Scissors! Every household has at least one pair…