travelBulletin

Steve Jones' say

Assuming terms of the merger between Helloworld and AOT are not bettered by a third party – and it’s hard to see anyone else stepping in to the fray – Andrew Burnes will soon become the new CEO of Helloworld, its fourth in a little over three years, writes Steve Jones.

Assuming terms of the merger between Helloworld and AOT are not bettered by a third party – and it’s hard to see anyone else stepping in to the fray – Andrew Burnes will soon become the new CEO of Helloworld, its fourth in a little over three years.

And he has already made it abundantly clear what he thinks of the business, last month slamming its “poor track record of under-performance”.

Welcome, Helloworld staff, to your new straight-talking boss.

With the HLO share price still languishing, it is inconceivable to think Burnes won’t take strong and immediate action to improve its position, with cost cutting at a senior level likely to be among his first tasks.

Burnes knows the travel industry intimately, and, particularly since investing in the business, will be well aware of who adds value and who doesn’t within those well-remunerated leadership positions.

Several will rightly be nervous heading into the new year and can expect to pay the price for that “track record of under-performance”.

That said, I suspect more than a few may be ready to leave such has been the relentless and unsettling amount of change.

I understand there is a feeling of fatigue in a business that has rather limped along for the past three years without much in the way of positive, energetic and confidencebuilding leadership.

Burnes will need to bring all this to the table to restore a sense of purpose and unity.

And what of agents, the life blood of the organisation? They too must be weary of constant change whether it be the merging of brands, new ownership or a new CEO.

Furthermore, there is speculation the HLO relationship with American Express has become strained, something Burnes will need to quickly address. Agents aligned with Amex put much faith in the blue box.

All things considered, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the AOT deal tips some of the affiliates and associates over the edge and sparks the creation of a breakaway group, much like Magellan in 2008, a network that continues to plough fertile ground.

While Helloworld branded agents are unlikely to jump ship – they have invested too heavily to move on at this relatively early stage – affiliates and associates, with their flexible contracts, are less committed.

They have not invested in the brand either financially or emotionally, and could potentially be ripe for change, particularly if the Amex arrangement went south.

The first 90 days will be pivotal for Burnes. How he adapts to handling a listed company, with all the transparency that brings, after years of operating a private family business will be interesting, as will his style of management.

As his previous remarks about Helloworld will testify, he is certain to tell it like it is.

He is also not without character. And he’ll need bucket loads of that to restore value to the business.

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