Carole Cooper, Global Peopleworks Leader
How long have you been with Flight Centre?
What was your professional background prior to starting with Flight Centre?
I worked in client facing roles for a bank and also a foreign exchange company back in South Africa. When my husband and I decided to emigrate to Canada I took six months off to do something completely different, which was writing and publishing my own vegetarian cookbook.
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 working for a Canadian retailer that was a really bad employer. They treated people terribly and I was very unhappy working there. One morning my husband left a note for me telling me I should resign, and I did. I needed a break (as you do when you don’t have a job!) and walked into a Flight Centre store to book a trip. I asked the travel consultant if they were hiring and a few weeks later I had the job.
Taking the job at Flight Centre wasn’t a strategic move – I never saw myself as a salesperson. I had the travel bug and I saw the role as a way to help me see the world. So I started as a travel consultant in Vancouver. Eleven months later I was a Team Leader and within three years I was the Area Leader. I had some time off to have my two children, but I returned to Flight Centre in 2004 to become Retail Leader in Canada. In 2010 we moved to Australia and I took on the role of EGM for Queensland, and following a restructure last year I became Peopleworks Leader, which has been the best job of my career so far.
What would you say is the big picture purpose of your role?
It’s really about looking after people at every stage of their experience with us. So that’s guiding and supporting them from the time they commence the application process, until after they leave the organisation. We manage all things people, including recruitment, learning, leadership, human resources and also the Business Ownership Scheme.
How do you approach your job? What are your objectives to be successful at what you do?
You never know where your week will take you when you work for Flight Centre. No week is ever the same and my role is constantly changing. Because training and people development touches every area of the business, I do have to be across what’s happening in every part of the organisation, but I have an amazing team with plenty of experience, and together we deliver real solutions.
I always tell my team we need to offer value to our clients as experts in what we do. When our clients believe we are experts, that’s when we become invaluable to them.
What would you consider to be the highlights of your career at Flight Centre?
The year I started I was the Top 6 Month Novice. Many people in Flight Centre today will argue this honour doesn’t exist, but in Canada at that time, it did. It’s something I was very proud of!
I also received the President’s Award from Greg Dixon in 2009 in recognition of my achievements as Retail Leader in Canada. It came as a big surprise and was completely unexpected.
The major highlight would have to be moving to Australia and all the opportunities that has brought me. From my early days with the company I always wanted to work in Australia. This is the motherland of Flight Centre and I had always been intrigued by that and wanted to be a part of it. This is such an amazing, multi-national corporation and the head office is in Brisbane, which is great.
I also feel a sense of personal achievement at being a female on the senior leadership team of a large corporation like Flight Centre. Where I come from in South Africa, it was inconceivable to me that I could ever hold a position like this. It makes me proud to have reached this point in my career.
Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I’d love to still be in this role, but Flight Centre is such a fast moving company – who knows!
What about in 10 years?
I love the role I’m in now, but with Flight Centre’s plans for growth it would be unrealistic to think I could still be in this same position in ten years. By then I might have itchy feet myself and want to do something else anyway! But I would still like to be working for Flight Centre if they’ll have me, and I’m up for anything.
Do you have any business mentors?
My Dad has been my greatest mentor. He came from a very poor family and had basically no education. On his first day working in the mailroom of an insurance company he actually had to borrow a pair of shoes from his brother. The shoes were full of holes he had to colour in, just to look presentable! Eventually, he worked his way up to become the General Manager. My Dad has been a big influence on my career, always talking about business when I was growing up. I think that’s where I learnt a lot about the corporate world.