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08/11/2022

HT Talks Tech: Tess Mattisson, President & CEO, Zaplox

In this exclusive interview, Mattisson discusses her love for the hospitality industry, her motivation for learning new skills, and her thoughts on hiring.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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Tess Mattisson CEO Zaplox
Tess Mattisson, President & CEO, Zaplox

Just a few short months ago, Tess Mattisson was appointed as Zaplox’ new CEO. For those who don’t know, Zaplox is a company that offers hotels, resorts and casinos a contact-free, digital guest journey with check-in/checkout and mobile keys. Mattisson brings extensive experience to the technology vendor having previously worked for household names such as Scandic Hotels, Choice Hotels International and Nordic Choice Hotels. In fact, Mattisson’s first hospitality job was at 17 years of age and working within the laundry department at a Sheraton Hotel.

“Every day something new, unexpected and unplanned for happened at the hotel,” she explains. “And I loved it. I’ve always been attracted to organized chaos. But the hospitality industry also welcomes and nurtures young talent regardless of experience or skill. And that was very appealing to me too.”

It wasn’t until a little later in life, however, that Mattisson was drawn to the technology side of the industry.

“I never thought I would go into IT or technology,” she said. “The only reason why IT became a thing for me was because I realized that technology brings opportunities from a business perspective.”

TECHNOLOGY’S ATTRACTION

For her entire career, Mattisson has been focused on two things: heads in beds and money in the bank. But to get there, she needed exceptional guest experiences and efficient operations, and she quickly realized that technology would be the enabler of these two things.

“My fascination with technology really began with e-commerce back in the early 2000s when our industry was massively disrupted by OTAs. They were great at e-commerce and the hotel industry wasn’t. Our margins were being consumed by the OTAs. That’s when I realized I needed to step up my hotel’s digital game,” she adds.

At the time, Mattisson was doing PR/Marketing for the Clarion Hotel in Stockholm and didn’t know anything about digital commerce. But she went to her General Manager, explained the situation, and proposed a solution: “While I continue to work full time, pay for me to attend school and in six months I will take on the responsibility of our digital presence for this hotel.”

He agreed and Mattisson did exactly what she said she would do. Approximately one year later, the brand recognized the need for someone to handle its digital commerce strategy at a corporate level. Mattisson ended up getting the job, but she believes it wasn’t her education or experience that got her the role. It was her desire to help the company improve that made the difference.

“The owner of Nordic Choice Hotels used to say: ‘Responsibility is not something you’re given, it’s something you take.’ That really resonated with me, and I continue to live my life by it today. And it really means that you need to take ownership of a problem, deliver a solution, and demonstrate to the management that you’re interested in doing what’s best for the company.”

This is, of course, the opposite of what is often taught: That to be successful in one’s career, one must put themselves first – before their colleagues and before the company.

“For me, it’s never been about putting myself first. It’s always been: What can we (me and my team) accomplish together to benefit the company?” she adds.

Mattisson has faced her fair share of obstacles and pushback over the years. But for her, they become a trigger that incites action rather than preventing progress.

“If someone tells me: ‘You can’t do this. You don’t have what it takes.’ I want to prove them wrong, and it fuels me to work even harder.
When facing a challenge, it's my attitude, more than anything, that will determine the outcome.”

CHANGE THE WAY YOU HIRE

Of course, technology does tend to be an industry that is dominated by men. To help increase female employees in this field of work, Mattisson maintains that hiring managers need to recruit based on experience and potential combined, and not just experience alone.

“Potential has nothing to do with what you’ve done and everything to do with how you’ve done it,” she explains.

For this to work, managers need to notice how employees handle taking on new assignments, challenging problems, and innovating. Because an employee can learn almost any skill set, but can’t be taught how to be hard working and resourceful while maintaining a good attitude.

“We need to be really bold when we recruit and promote and invest in our teams. We need people with drive and passion. What they do is of less importance; what I care about is if they are passionate about it.”

INVEST IN EMPLOYEES   

When it comes to setting goals for herself, Mattisson says her No. 1 goal is to enable the success of her team members.

“My main goal is to have my team outgrow me and my company. Why? Because that’s what’s best for my company. That means I’ve created amazing employees who have done amazing things for my company, instead of allowing them – and the company – to stagnate,” she notes.

And in the grand scheme of things, creating relationships with people will always be more valuable than anything else.

“When I look back on my career so far, it’s the people who I have helped grow into the best versions of themselves that makes me the proudest.”