Perspective – August 2012

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Ian McMahon

Lacaze’s achievements

PETER Lacaze steps down from the leadership of JTG leaving an impressive legacy of achievement.
He has played a pivotal role in JTG’s transition from a collection of relatively small privately held companies to a single, publicly listed integrated wholesale-retail giant.

It could be depicted as a journey from cottage industry to modernity and a bumpy journey at that. But while there will always be nostalgia for “the good old days”, history shows it was a journey that had to be made.

Many colourful characters and entrepreneurs – including former giants of the industry like Bob Steel and Paul Fleming and others who are remembered less fondly – came along for the ride. But Lacaze’s contribution will surely be seen as outstanding.

In his first travel industry role at the post-Isi Leibler Jetset, he presided over the re-structuring of a once brilliantly successful company that had fallen on hard times.

After a stint at Qantas Holidays, he headed a private equity consortium that successfully bid for Australia’s largest consolidator and airline general sales agent, Concorde/World Aviation Systems.

The company was renamed Transonic and floated on the Australian Stock Exchange and everyone, it seemed, was a winner – the former owners who realised the assets they had built up over decades as well as the private equity partners, Lacaze and Transonic staff whose shareholdings provided a financial windfall.

However his major achievements were surely at JTG where he persuaded an initially hostile Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to approve the merger that brought Jetset, Harvey World Travel, Travelscene, Qantas Holidays and QBT under one roof.

He provided leadership that restored the shattered morale of the group’s agents. A key to this was to continue with separate marketing management of the retail chains while rationalising back office operations.

It will be interesting to see if his successor continues this approach or sets up a single management structure. While this might achieve savings and a temporary bottom line boost that will please the venture capitalist shareholders, it is highly debatable that it is in the company’s long term interests.

Profit warnings suggest Lacaze has been less successful stemming losses from QBT and he has not delivered on his undertaking to revamp the company’s online activities – a goal that can hardly have been helped by Qantas’ decision to form Hooroo and take away the white label business that helped sustain the assets it merged into JTG.

There are some ironies in former Qantas executive Rob Gurney stepping into the JTG vacancy created by Lacaze’s departure. Two years ago Lacaze was assuring JTN, Travelscene and HWT agents, unsettled by tumultuous and erratic changes within the group, that he planned to be around for about five years. He was critical of Flight Centre which, he said, did not have a succession plan whereas he was developing one for JTG.

Questioned by travelBulletin he said he expected his successor would come from within but he was careful to add that this would be a board decision.