Peter Wataman – 5 minutes with Skroo…

WatamanMy series of Q&As with Flight Centre’s Senior Leaders continues…

How long have you been with Flight Centre?
Nine years

What is your current role?
Chief Information Officer

Could you tell me about your Flight Centre journey? How did you come to work for the company and how did you progress through the ranks?
I was appointed as Flight Centre’s IT Leader in 2004. At that time, technology was very much buried as a back-end business. It was a difficult role because the perception of technology within the company was that it was a necessary evil. Existing systems didn’t work the way they needed to, and it was clear there was no inspiration. We needed to transform IT into a key enabler for the business, and change the negative perceptions.

What was your professional background prior to starting with Flight Centre?
I had worked mostly in software development, for a number of organisations including Telstra. I also took on roles with companies designing software products for various industries including transport and financial services.

What would you say is the big picture purpose of your role?
Over the last couple of years, our team has made the transition from IT operator to business enabler. This shift has meant our core focus and goals have changed dramatically. Initially it was all about creating product and generating profit, whereas now we focus on achieving satisfaction with our business partners, providing effective business outcomes. A technology profit focus has been replaced with more of a value for money focus.

You only have to look at the world and how we all function within it to see that there isn’t anything in business that technology isn’t a part of. Whether it’s picking up a phone, sending an email, just about everything requires a technology platform to enable it. As Flight Centre moves to the blended travel model, technology platforms are particularly important.

How do you approach your job? What are your objectives to be successful at what you do?
A key philosophy is ownership. I try to foster these values in the IT group. I like people to own something and then it’s up to them to make it work. It doesn’t always work, but that’s not the point. It’s about never sitting still and always challenging for a better way.

The Flight Centre technology model has evolved a lot over the last decade. When I started in 2004, we had a team of 180 people. Today, we have 150. Despite our sustained levels of growth, we are working smarter and doing things a lot better.

In 2004, building our own software was very important to us. We thought this was the best way to provide service and generate profit. Now we focus more on business outcomes. We don’t invent new technologies, we just apply existing programs in a way that works well for our business.

What would you consider to be the highlights of your career at Flight Centre?
Four years ago we undertook a survey with Flight Centre employees, asking how happy they were with the level of service provided by the IT team. The results showed us that only 26% of staff were satisfied. It was disappointing, but also critical to improving our systems and service. Last month we conducted the same survey and received a satisfaction rating of 99%. It’s been very personally satisfying for me to be part of the journey changing the company’s perception of IT.

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
Hopefully still at Flight Centre. The next five years is going to be a very challenging and exciting time. We have a good five year plan, and I would like to be a part of the success I can see happening as a result of that plan.

What about in 10 years?
I’d like to be less involved in the day to day operations, but hopefully taking on more of a mentoring role with IT people moving up the ranks.

What do you believe are Flight Centre’s major prospects for the next five years?
We have a strong base to build on already, but when we start to deliver some smart capability around blended travel we will see some great opportunities for Flight Centre to grow even bigger. Not just in our leisure business, but also in corporate travel.

The real strength of Flight Centre is its culture of constantly striving to do better and overcome challenges. The business is real, it’s hungry and if there’s something to do, staff are encouraged to go and do it. If you can’t achieve your goals in a company like Flight Centre, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

 

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About Skroo Turner

Graham 'Skroo' Turner was raised near Stanthorpe, and trained as a veterinary surgeon. In 1973, he and two mates bought a couple of double-decker buses in England and began a holiday travel company, Top Deck Travel.

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