Mention the GFC and what springs to mind? Friends and family losing their jobs, government austerity and household belt-tightening? You wouldn’t be alone there. But for one Flight Centre Executive, he looks back on the GFC and sees it as an invaluable learning experience, one that has had a huge impact on his career.
Andrew Flannery has been a Flight Centre employee for 10 years. He was just two months into the role of acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO) when the GFC hit. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end.
Here’s what he had to say about his experience weathering the GFC storm:
“It was definitely a baptism of fire and I made plenty of mistakes. But I believe I had five years of learning packed into one. I’m a much better CFO for having gone through it.
What made the GFC so challenging was that business dramatically slowed down all over the world at the same time. We were used to experiencing slow periods at certain times of the year in different domestic and international market, but not every market, at exactly the same time. On top of that, we had just purchased Liberty Travel in the US, and had no time to implement necessary structural changes before finding ourselves in a very unstable economic climate.
I suppose one of the biggest learning curves was understanding and valuing cash flow. Flight Centre is a business that focuses largely on profit, but the GFC made us realise profit is meaningless when you can’t access cash to pay the bills.
In that period we also found out which relationships we could trust. We haven’t forgotten the understanding that was afforded to us by various suppliers during that time, and it still has an effect on who we do business with today. The banks that were understanding of the challenges we faced during the GFC are still working with us. Other banks who weren’t as understanding, we no longer deal with.
On a personal note, the situation made me seek out other CFOs and develop a strong professional network I could rely on for advice and support. The tough times have passed and Flight Centre is thriving again, but I stay in touch with my network of CFO contacts, and that’s been a really positive thing to come out of the experience.”