FLIGHT CENTRE TRAVEL GROUP

Flight Centre Travel Group is regarded as South Africa’s leading travel company, offering affordable leisure and corporate domestic and international flights, holiday packages, hotel deals, travel insurance and much more. Andrew Stark, Managing Director, shares his expertise.

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Please give us a brief overview of the company—when was Flight Centre Travel Group South Africa established and how did the company achieve the revered status it enjoys today?

Flight Centre started way back in 1994, with our first red and white store in Westgate shopping centre. Roll on 22 years, and we have 181 wholly-owned businesses across 11 brands nationally—including Flight Centre, Flight Centre Associates, Corporate Traveller, FCM Travel Solutions, Student Flights and Cruiseabout to name but a few—comprising corporate travel management, leisure travel and wholesale travel. We are Australian-owned and listed on the ASX with over 18 000 employees in 14 equity countries globally. Our flat operating structure—removing luxury costs to bring the very best value and pricing to our customers—is behind our success. Our sales approach to travel, coupled with the very best talent, is also unique. Our relationships with our suppliers allow us to offer the very best product and value add in the industry.

What is your company’s vision and mission, and what values does it hold in the highest regard?

We want to become Africa’s greatest travel and technology experience company through caring about delivering amazing customer experiences. We want to open up the world—affordably—for those who want to travel.

Flight Centre, your retail brand, has a Lowest Airfare Guarantee—how does it work, how is the company able to offer this service and, in terms of the industry, does this give you your competitive advantage?

It’s a global tagline which has worked exceptionally well over the years. It’s important to remain competitive in an ever-competitive industry and through the offering, we ensure we always remain competitive and best-priced in the industry. The offering costs around R5 million a year but we believe it brings back much more through customer loyalty and retention. It’s also very handy in keeping our suppliers on their toes with regards to their pricing and offering.

What are the important trends in travel or changes in the industry that are currently being experienced and how has Flight Centre Travel Group accommodated these changes?

We embrace change; it’s one of our company’s givens. We are always looking to improve our systems, product range and distribution to suit the needs of the South African customer. The industry is experiencing a lot of disruption currently, especially from online players who are bastardising prices and product offerings to win customers over. Spending money on a holiday that one has saved for for many months or years with a non-reputable online company is very risky. We pick up a lot of business from people who have been burnt and have spent huge sums of money online. Pictures and blogs can be very deceiving. Booking with a reputable travel company that has local presence, both online and in your local shopping malls, gives South Africans peace of mind and, of course, someone to blame and fix the problem, should things go horribly awry.

Security in travel is paramount. How is Flight Centre Travel Group able to assure travellers and give them peace of mind when they’re about to embark on a journey?

Because of our global network, we are kept informed constantly. Corporate travellers, however, are possibly more aware and security-conscious of duty-of-care travel. We have internal systems that track global risk around the globe minute-by-minute. Should a destination be red-flagged, we inform our customers who are travelling, as well as those who have not yet embarked on their journey. We care deeply about keeping in touch and looking after the safety of our customers before they embark on their journey and while travelling. We never leave a customer stranded. We have a 24/7 emergency and customer care line across all brands.

Please provide us with a background to your own career, prior to being appointed Managing Director of Flight Centre Travel Group

I have been with FCTG for 13 years. I first joined FCTG in 2001. I re-joined in 2004 as General Manager of Product and Marketing and after four years, I was transferred to our New Zealand operation in Auckland. In 2010, I was transferred back to South Africa in the capacity of General Manager for Corporate brands. In 2013, I was appointed General Manager for our Retail brands. In 2015, I was appointed MD—my dream job.

What is involved in your work as Managing Director—what do your duties and responsibilities entail?

My motto is: surround yourself with great people who will get the job done. My job is to inspire, motivate and lead people to do and think the impossible. I also need to nurture, develop and invest in future leaders and star performers. I must mitigate risk at every opportunity and remain six steps ahead of our competitors. I also need to ensure we keep innovating around what our customers don’t and do want from Flight Centre Travel Group. I must ensure that we innovate and embrace change and that we use technology as an enabler, not a disabler. Another responsibility is to ensure the long-term plans of the company are sustainable, as my decisions affect 1 200 people and their families.

What have been the key leadership lessons that have helped you to reach your current position?

Be very clear and consistent in your communication, no ambiguity. Make the tough decisions and stick by them. Build good relations with your peers when climbing the ladder as, at the end of the day, they inevitably promote or demote you. It’s okay to make mistakes. Own up to them quickly. Never make the same mistake twice. Keep developing yourself, you need experience to learn. The words I live by are discipline, tolerance, competence, competitiveness, perseverance and fun.

What are some of the most notable successes you have enjoyed with Flight Centre Travel Group?

We certainly don’t take ourselves seriously. We have fun along the way and we always say you are only as good as your last month end. So I guess mine would be last month’s results.

How would you describe your leadership style? What kind of leadership is necessary in your industry to ensure success?

A healthy balance between both transactional and transformational. At times, the one outweighs the other, depending on the situation. I am a very honest and direct leader who always seeks to understand. I enjoy inclusive leadership coupled with ongoing development. I struggle with incompetency. Our industry is like no other, very competitive and ever-changing. Therefore, I believe we need inclusive leadership that looks to innovate on people’s productivity levels, not systems that replace people for the sake of profits. We are in the people’s game. Travel is an emotive purchase whereby people buy from people.

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