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How I got here: Salma De Graaff, Skyscanner

Salma De Graaff, VP of people at Skyscanner shares her tips for a varied and successful career in HR.

VP of people, Skyscanner, July 2021 – Present

I joined Skyscanner at an interesting time for the travel search business.

Midway through 2021, the travel sector was deep in flux. A key concern for everyone working through this pandemic has been how we keep employees motivated, guard against burnout and preserve a culture of fun, collaboration and innovation.

That’s something I’ve really dug in to, and I’ve learned how much we as a business can do to keep that feeling alive. We’ve held a fully remote company update across two days of online talks, presentations and activities.

With 52 different nationalities across eight offices, it was no mean feat, but priceless in helping ensure we were all fully aligned and raring to go. We’ve kept the fun of the office alive too, with quizzes, awards ceremonies and plenty of town hall meetings.  


Chief people officer and other roles, Travix, May 2017 – July 2021

At Travix, we had a mantra of giving people big jobs from within. It was important to me that it was a place where people could expand their experiences and careers.

I joined as head of people for product, technology and finance in 2017 and was made CPO in 2019. It was the first time I’d been a global discipline head, accountable to a board. It was full-on. The company changed ownership during my time there, and the pandemic hit a year after that.  


Career break June 2016 – May 2017

Before I came to Travix, my family and I travelled and lived across the world. I took almost a year off to spend time with my daughter – at that stage a toddler – and resettle us as a family back to Europe. I was almost tempted away from our home countries of the UK and the Netherlands with a role in Rome but held firm.  

"Be open to opportunities that might take you sideways."


Head of learning and development and other roles, Heineken, May 2009 – May 2016

My 16 years in the brewing industry were split between Bass, Coors, Scottish and Newcastle, and Heineken. This was a real period of professional growth and development. At Heineken I was an HR business partner, and then took on various specialist roles in L&D, reward and later performance management, organisational design, and development.

Having made the leap from a sales role, I suffered from imposter syndrome, so took on a masters and CIPD qualification. That education really grounded my functional expertise and knowledge.

I learned a huge amount about cultural nuances, too and was fortunate to work in Ethiopia, Suriname, and Amsterdam. Working with an array of teams and nationalities, you learn language is key and that messages should be clear and straightforward. 


Top three career tips:

  1. Passion and a can-do attitude are incredibly valuable traits. I wish I’d better understood how appreciated those two qualities are, especially when you’re just starting out.
  2. Careers don’t need to be linear. Be open to opportunities that might take you sideways or that others may consider a backwards step. 

  3. A sense of belonging is crucial. I have mixed heritage, and it has often been within the workplace that I have felt most included and had a real sense of belonging. 


The full piece of the above appears in the March/April 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.