Nena Chaletzos is founder and CEO of Luxtripper, an online 4 and 5 star holiday search engine with its own global patent pending 'Where to Go When' search technology. Nena created the concept for the business driven by her own frustration that the holiday search process was unnecessarily complicated and her innate passion to problem solve.
Nena is a first time CEO, which she herself says there is no school for, but her future- thinking yet practical nature has stood her in good stead to launch this innovative business. She spent 16 years working in HR to director level across different sectors including technology, retail, banking and luxury, making her style incredibly flexible as well as seeing her develop key skills such as cost management, leadership, strategy, negotiation, tactical execution and public speaking.
Luxtripper was shortlisted in the British Travel Awards 2015 for Best Luxury Holiday Company and Best Holiday Company for Customer Service. The company was also shortlisted in the 'Best Tour Operator' in the Travolution Awards 2015.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My strategic thinking and future outlook started at a very young age. As one of 6 siblings, I was always plotting how to capture my parents' attention amongst the rest. Looking back, this was probably why I ended up being such a rebel as a young person. This continued into my adult life, my passion for transforming things from average into great has always driven and excited me. I honed the ability to be creative and think outside of the box and eventually I realised that I seemed to always be high on effectiveness in leading people.
Following this working my way up to senior management in a multinational company, my ability to lead people took part in making sure that current, past and future projects handled were completed successfully by people who we aligned to the vision and goals. Launching my own tech startup has exposed me to new challenges and heights. I ensure we celebrate our failures just as much as our successes as those are the things that drive continuous improvement and growth.
How has your previous employment experience aided your time as CEO of Luxtripper?
I have spent over 18 years of my life working in a number of roles. Having worked in corporations developing the mission, goals, tactics and frameworks, honed key skills that helped me strategise the structure for Luxtripper. The time spent working in various roles also helped me gain a number of skills that I use on a daily basis. These skills include leadership, strategy, change management, team management, negotiation, risk management and public speaking. I always knew that I was a startup person; however I decided to pursue the corporate line as valuable training ground. I learnt what not to do and what can corrode a business, and ensured that from the outset we mitigated those risks.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your time as CEO of Luxtripper?
Seeing how excited people get by your product and vision and that you are making a small difference to their world is a great. People can see the potential of our vision - to be the best tailor made company in the world, and we want to have the best user experiences that make it simple quick and easy to plan and book your trip. The challenges are to reign in creativity when practicality is required - because I love to be creative. It's so important to ensure you have people with all skills to ensure the project is completed to the desired business outcomes on time, as well as juggling the day-to-day operations.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Starting up a company is 24/7. It can be stressful at times and sometimes you will have some very dark days along the way. But you if you go into with your eyes open and plan for the potential future risks, it should be smoother sailing. Be your true authentic self, it's ok to show your vulnerability and ask for support in handling a tough situation ahead. Surround yourself with the best mentors and people that can fill in your gaps, no one can be perfect in everything irrespective of gender. In my case my vision drove me to work hard. My mum once told me 'in life you have to have the guts and take risks if you want to make a change'. I pair this with an approach similar to playing chess, you know where you want to be and you need to be 5 steps ahead to win the game.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I have learned that when you take time to nurture a talent in an individual to then become their strength, you create top talent. By working this way, I have a highly engaged and performing team. Whilst someone has a specific job role and accountability, I look to apply people's strengths to different scenarios whether dealing with a bottleneck, working on a project or launching a new product. This encourages personal growth, high performance and greater job satisfaction. We have 3 values - 'love what you do' 'create the best experiences' and 'be one step ahead'. I have learnt that creating the right culture and dedicating time to culture this is probably one of the overlooked yet most powerful way to have a direct impact to your KPI's.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I go to the gym before I start work -this energises me as well as doing something for myself to counter balance the long hours sitting in front of the PC. I also try to do one nice thing in the week with my husband Richard as well as Zen time before bed with my 2 Mainecoon cats; Wallace and Whitney.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
For me, we are equal genders and I have never heard anyone asking a man, what their issue in the workplace is. It's not about your gender, it's about your ability and capability. Equal pay and opportunities are the things that come up time and time again. We can see a huge disparity in these two areas when we compare both genders on pay and the career progression they have had in their past roles.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
This has helped tremendously growing up. In my personal life my mentors are my role models; my parents. These two people helped me gain the attitude in working towards my goals and dreams; and now, my husband has been added to that list of role models. He definitely has been the person I have leaned on throughout the years. Because of his foresight and pragmatic approach, he has helped me achieve something that I thought would only be a dream. I also have some fantastic advisors for Luxtripper who have guided and challenged me to think different and helped with our journey to where we are today.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Sheryl Sandberg is someone I admire because of one of her books called 'Lean in.' I remember reading this book and one of her statements really stood out to me. She wrote 'In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.' This statement for me was powerful as it helped me think of myself as a leader who had worked her way up to gain the needed skills to become a great leader. Another female leader I admire is Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo. The reason why I admire her so much is based simply around the Sheryl Sandberg quote. Marissa shows me that the day has started to appear when leaders will be based on how they lead and not on what gender is leading.
What do you want Luxtripper to accomplish in the next year?
We have some very exciting product launches and will have a closed testing user group working in secret before the full launch. I want to match millions of people to their tailormade holiday instantly, and in the process accomplish a lot of happy customers who are ready to become advocates and promoters of the brand. I really do believe that organic growth is the true growth and would like to have good word of mouth branding for the company.