& Incentives: Congratulations on this huge accomplishment! Let’s start with what made you decide to do the SMMC.
Lasse Haugaard: The U.S. is more than five years ahead of Europe when it comes to meetings management, and it was hard to find peers who were at the same level. In fact, I think Novo Nordisk is one of the only companies in Denmark dedicating resources to SMM.
There is still little understanding of the benefits of actually putting resources into a meeting to achieve outcomes. Meetings are thought of more in terms of the facilities you use than as a strategic tool that can create value to an organization.
CMI: Tell us a little about your background.
Haugaard: I come from a business school background. I started in another part of the procurement department.
After a year, my current boss, Jens Liltorp,travel manager of Novo Nordisk, asked if I would be interested in taking up the challenge, taking a look at the meetings and events category. Up until then—two and a half years ago—no one had taken a structured approach to that category. … Well, now I understand why!
When I started, it was a big black hole with very fragmented information, so the first year was about getting a picture of who’s spending the money and where, and then lining up preferred suppliers on the agency level. The next step for me will be the technology piece.
Another important step will be to look at establishing professional meeting planners—creating a certification for the meeting planners within the company.
CMI: Is your program mandated?
Haugaard: We do not have a very mandated program. We have preferred-hotelin place for Denmark, but when you leave Denmark, it becomes very fragmented, and the chain-level contracts break down. It is part of the culture in a way. Like in school here, children are expected to actually question their teachers.
CMI: How much has your program saved to date?
Haugaard: Between 10 percent and 15 percent—with a goal of 15 percent to 20 percent.
CMI: We have written about your company’s U.S. SMMP and the efforts of Tom Tolvé. Do you work with the U.S. meetings group?
Haugaard: We’re not integrated with the U.S. SMM program—and that is my biggest challenge right now. All the American [SMMC] grads had the opposite situation and were trying to get their European groups to integrate with the U.S. groups.
CMI: In the SMMC program, is it strictly a learning environment or did you get the chance to benchmark with attendees?
Haugaard: I was a rookie compared to my highly experienced fellow graduates. I felt a little embarrassed when I had to tell of my overwhelming two years of [meeting] experience. I had a lot to learn from them. The SMMC included both buyers and suppliers, which was a good idea. It was interesting to see challenges from their side.
CMI: What was the most important thing you learned?
Haugaard: That it’s perfectly OK not to be on top of everything or to know everything. I’m the only one sitting with this in my company—and it’s a really big task. Also, I believe that savings is one of the low-hanging fruits, but the value that your program creates is what I’m primarily interested in. I would rather spend $1 million U.S. on a meeting where you meet the objectives than save money on a meeting where there are no takeaways. However, management still tends to focus on the savings.
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