Rich Liu Rejoins as CEO of Navan Travel

Rich Liu Rejoins as CEO of Navan Travel

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Kelly Soderlund

9 May 2024
6 minute read
Rich Liu Q&A Image

Navan is delighted to welcome back Rich Liu, a long-time champion of Navan and former chief revenue officer. Rich has rejoined Navan’s executive team as the CEO of Navan Travel following his role at Everlaw as the chief business officer.

A biomedical engineer turned tech executive and investor, Rich has scaled five multi-billion dollar unicorns, including growing Navan 25x under his leadership from 2018–2021. He has built global business organizations spanning sales, account management, customer success, operations, strategy, partnerships, alliances, and business development. He held senior leadership positions at top-tier tech companies, including Facebook (now Meta) and MuleSoft (now Salesforce), and spearheaded two class-leading IPOs.

We sat down with Rich to understand why he decided to return to Navan, and why he believes in the company's future now more than ever.

Q: Welcome back, Rich! What sparked your return to Navan as CEO of Navan Travel?

A: It's great to be back! As a long-time champion of Navan, I'm really excited to have the opportunity to lead Navan Travel.

In a world more global and digitally connected than ever, it's become clear that in-person human connection is the most powerful force on the planet. Regardless of how we’re connected online, nothing replaces the richness of perspective and depth of human connection from being face to face.

On a personal note, the travel industry has always been near and dear to my heart. As a child, some of my favorite memories were visiting my mom at Boeing on “Bring Your Child to Work Day” and weekend plane spotting at LGB [Long Beach Airport]. Now with my own family, we cherish weekend jaunts to SFO [San Francisco International Airport]. I still feel the wonder and rush of exhilaration I did as a child, being steps away from any part of the world.

I deeply believe in Navan’s mission to better enable powerful human connections, and I’m excited to partner with Ariel, Ilan, and the rest of Navan’s leadership team to deliver the most innovative travel and expense experience to businesses and people.

Q: You’ve had significant leadership roles across functions at several disruptive companies. How do you think these experiences have led to your new role as CEO of Travel?

A: As CEO of Travel, my highest priority is helping our customers utilize their T&E investment as a strategic lever for business growth while delivering an exceptional experience. This investment approach may differ depending on many factors, for instance, go-to-market motion, internal collaboration needs, and product lifecycle. My analytical approach and engineering background make me meticulous about delivering proven, outsized value for our customers.

Navan is at the cutting edge in integrating and delivering powerful technology, but for this to matter, we must meet every customer where they’re at with a solution that is intuitive and tailored to their needs. Having worked across several industries and types of go-to-market motions, I’ve honed my superpower of cultivating alignment across disparate business priorities and teams to deliver for our customers.

Lastly, as Navan continues to grow and evolve, we must invest to build stronger teams, leaders, and culture. I’m excited to get up each morning with this in mind!

Q: There are a lot of open questions about the efficacy of remote work. What’s your take on this, especially regarding the travel industry?

A: Nothing can replace human connection — I strongly believe in the power of face-to-face interactions. They’re crucial for building successful teams and partnerships and establishing a productive working environment.

My own research from analyzing Navan customer data suggests a 20–30% productivity boost with in-person teams. Additionally, the highest-performing salespeople travel 2–4x more.

High-performing companies will leverage Navan’s robust data to identify and prioritize travel and expense spend to scale their business intelligently. There’s soon going to be a clear distinction between companies who double-down on strategic investments in T&E to drive revenue growth and those who don’t. Quite simply, companies who can’t figure out how to maximize the value of travel between employees, partners, and customers will be left behind.

Q: Corporate travel is at a bit of a crossroads right now, with many legacy agencies unable to keep pace with technology. At the same time, we see a lot of newer expense companies trying to break into the space. How do you plan to navigate these shifts?

A: Driving innovation is what Navan does best. We leverage all the latest tools — from AI to smart data — to strategically drive the industry forward to make our customers’ lives easier.

The industry shifts around New Distribution Capability (NDC) are an example. Recognizing and staying ahead of this trend has enabled Navan to offer better prices and customized shopping experiences, benefiting both the companies we serve and their employees. Another example is Navan’s generative AI assistant, Ava, which is creating hyper-personalized experiences for Navan users.

Our goal is always to make travel and expense easy, fueled by powerful technology. In a world where the business landscape is changing quickly, what matters most is choosing the right partner. Navan is the unequivocal leader in the travel and expense space. We understand the real-life, intricate needs of a wide array of companies and individuals for travel and expense, and we consistently raise the bar.

Q: Can you elaborate on your vision for Navan's travel business under your leadership?

First and foremost, I believe there is nothing more powerful than human connection. This is a pivotal moment for companies to invest strategically in travel to scale their business. Navan leverages powerful AI technology, provides actionable data insights, and enables access to expert travel professionals, all while providing best-in-class customer service. I’m committed to Navan being a thought partner in unlocking the potential of these investments to fuel business growth for our customers.

Second, one of Navan’s superpowers is rapid innovation utilizing cutting-edge technology. With this comes a tremendous responsibility to prioritize effectively across initiatives, ensure strong alignment among teams, and proactively lead our partners and customers to benefit from the full T&E platform.

Finally, we must continue to infuse a little bit of magic. Travel inspires sheer joy, awakens our anticipation with a childhood intensity, speaks to our sense of freedom, and inspires cherished memories we treasure for decades to come — there’s nothing quite like it. Success from my perspective comes when our product conveys that magic, our team members feel and spread it, and using Navan inspires you to dream of your next trip.

Q: Finally, what excites you the most about rejoining Navan?

A: At the end of the day, I’m most excited to rejoin and strengthen our Navan team. There’s no greater reward than being part of a legendary team. To me, this means collaborating with talented individuals on a mission that really matters, working hand in hand to deliver against big goals in a supportive environment. As Navan continues to redefine the travel and expense space to enable companies to optimize their T&E investments, I’m excited to invest in the dedicated team of people whose talents and tireless efforts day in and day out make this happen.

It’s my goal that decades from now when we reminisce in our rocking chairs, we reflect fondly on the legendary team we were part of at Navan. We’re here to build a multi-generational company — and we’re just getting started.

Rich is one of many talented employees who returned to Navan. Read more stories about boomerang employees or explore open roles at Navan today.

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