Five minutes with Skroo…. Tom Walley, Executive General Manager – Flight Centre Australia

tomRead on to get the low-down from my senior leaders about what makes Flight Centre tick.

How long have you been with Flight Centre?
12 years

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 started my career as an auditor for Price Waterhouse Coopers after completing a Commerce degree in my home state, Western Australia. I stuck with that role for two years, despite it being the most boring job I’ve ever had. The social aspect was great – I spent every dollar that was left after paying my rent at the bar, but I just didn’t want to be an accountant. When I was halfway through my professional qualification I decided to go travelling overseas.

I left with a friend of mine, who later became my wife, with a view to becoming Contiki tour guides. We drank a lot of beer and had a lot of fun. We lived in Scotland for six months, we did a season on the ski fields in Canada, and then we returned to London where I worked at an accounting firm, assisting on the accounts for celebrities including John Cleese and Right Said Fred of I’m too sexy fame.

I returned to Australia in 1999 and spent 18 months obtaining my commercial pilot’s license. Then I worked as an instructor for a couple of years. I applied for a job as a pilot at British Airways and ws on my way to London for assessment when September 11 happened. All of the airlines put a freeze on recruitment. A month later I turned 27, which was the cut-off point for becoming a cadet pilot. Up to the age of 27, the airline will pay for you to undergo your training, but after that age, you have to pay your own way in, which at that time was going to cost me about £100,000, which I didn’t have lying around.

Back in Perth, my wife saw an ad in the West Australian Newspaper for a job with Flight Centre in the UK. I had always admired Flight Centre as I loved their policy of promoting from within. I got the job and started as a consultant at the Victoria store in London in 2002. I really took the job as a stop-gap, because at the time I still wanted to fly.

I became Assistant Team Leader of Victoria and then moved to a store in Soho as Team Leader. In 2005 I became the Area Leader for the West End of London and Essex, then two and a half years later I was Nation Leader for Flight Centre UK. After a stint leading Corporate Traveller in the UK, we moved back to Perth in 2011 and I became EGM of WA/NT/SA. Then last year we moved to Brisbane so I could take on the role of EGM of Flight Centre Australia.

What would you say is the big picture purpose of your role?
When it comes to the Flight Centre Australia brand I am always thinking five years ahead. We are still a travel agent in most people’s eyes, but we need to make the transition to a world class travel retailer. It’s all about not only staying relevant to the needs of our customers but also leading the market – which is very challenging. We need to engage out customers and make sure we are providing what they want.

What would you consider to be the highlights of your career at Flight Centre?
For the last two years I have had the opportunity to host the awards ceremony at the Global Gathering. I can still vividly remember the first eight seconds of walking out on stage in Singapore and how incredible that feeling was. The atmosphere was amazing, the adrenaline was pumping, and it was unbelievable to be on stage in front of thousands of Flight Centre employees who could not have been any more excited to be there. That was an ultimate goal achieved for me.

Another highlight was being named the Most Improved Area when I was and Area Leader for the West End of London and Essex in the UK. We took a very unprofitable area and really turned it around. It was a shame when some dodgy figures came through from South Africa a week later, usurping our crown, but it can’t be taken away from us that we did a great job making those shops profitable.

Also, I can’t forget getting my current job. I love my job and I get to work with great people including the old guard of Flight Centre. It’s an incredible role working with our best brand in our biggest location, so it doesn’t get much better than that.

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I see myself still working for Flight Centre. I may be running Flight Centre Australia, or I may be running our operation in another country, it really depends on where we decide to settle as a family.

What about in 10 years?
Again – I still see myself working for Flight Centre, it just depends in what capacity. I’m lucky enough to work in Team Australia at the moment, so who knows where that may lead. The great thing about Flight Centre is that we promote from within. The next CEO is here somewhere. We may not know who it is yet, but he or she is in this company right now.

What do you believe are Flight Centre’s major prospects for the next five years?
Well, Flight Centre only has a 12% market share in travel. So we’ve got a lot of scope to grow in the travel market. We constantly need to look at how we grow physically – maybe that will mean having more staff members working in bigger stores, like what we have done in our hyperstore here in Brisbane.

And of course, we need to introduce more ways for our customers to access Flight Centre. At the moment, our customers can come into a store, they can enquire online or give us a call. In the not too distant future we will need to incorporate mediums like text, chat, Skype, Facebook and Instagram. It will become more important for customers to be able to reach us instantaneously.

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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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