Leading the Way

THE days of the travel industry being dominated by a ‘boy’s club’ are long gone. Women are on the rise right across the sector, from travel agents to suppliers and everywhere in between. Nathalie Craig spoke to five industry leaders about their journey to the top from a female perspective.

lesleyLesley Grant CEO of Qantas Loyalty

Breaking out of your comfort zone and being clear about your aspirations are two key pieces of advice CEO of the Qantas Loyalty Business, Lesley Grant gives young women.

“Early on in my career the industry was very male dominated and in my early career I thought if I worked hard, kept my head down and delivered results someone would notice me,” she recalls. “Then I realised the important thing is to let other people know what it is you want to do in your career”.

Grant champions approaching mentors both within your company and externally.

She herself is a mentor and says she is “dedicated to developing the next generation of leaders” – especially female leaders in her company.

“I’ve always made sure I’m active in mentoring and providing sponsorship,” she smiles.

Grant’s enthusiasm for Qantas, and for the aviation industry is infectious, so it’s surprising to learn she started out in workforce as a business manager for a financial services company.

“A relative in the airline industry actually convinced me a career there would be good for me,” she explains.

Her initial foray into aviation was as a senior flight attendant for Air New Zealand.

“My first five years in the industry provided such an amazing foundation for me because I was right out at the front line in a customer delivery role, leading teams and getting a good grounding in the operation of an airline,” she recalls.

She flew for five years and then someone else convinced her to step into management. She was appointed senior vice president, customer service, at Ansett-Air New Zealand Group and hasn’t looked back since. To Grant, the industry is addictive: “It’s dynamic, it’s competitive, it’s ever changing, it’s incredibly demanding, it’s complex and it just presents so many challenges,” she enthuses.

She joined Qantas in 2002 as Group executive, Customer and Marketing, moving into her present role in 2012.

She says she finds her current position as CeO of the Qantas Loyalty Business where she drives the evolution and growth of Qantas Loyalty extremely fulfilling.

“The role I’m in today for me just brings together all the things I’m passionate about and that excite me,” she says.

A highlight within her time at Qantas has been seeing Alan Joyce appointed as CeO in 2008. She believes he is providing the right kind of climate for his staff to excel.

“I love the fact that he champions diversity in all its forms. He’s very focused on gender diversity,” she says.

Supporting women in the workplace is a matter Grant is passionate about. While her stepson is now an adult himself, she knows the competing pressures mums can feel.

“I have always ensured I’ve been able to provide arrangements for them when they’re bringing up young families,” she said.

“It’s always important to strike that work life balance and here at Qantas we’re focused on providing flexibility for everyone”.

First job

Business manager in a financial services company in New Zealand

Years of travel experience

38 years

Any key mentors?

Throughout my career there are any number of people who have been willing to help and support me to achieve my career goals.

Career highlight

My current role

Most memorable travel experience?

Ice driving in Lapland. Learning to rally drive on the ice was one of the most exhilarating experiences.

cinziaCinzia Burnes Executive Director HelloWorld

IT’S not a man’s world any more, says executive Director of Helloworld Cinzia Burnes. “The world has changed a lot,” she enthuses. “We may have a president of the USA that is a woman, the Prime Minister of england is a woman so there is a lot of advancement of women in positions of great power and they should be an example to the younger generations that are trying to make a career and know that it is very possible”.

Burnes believes the key thing women trying to advance themselves in their career should remember is to believe in themselves as individuals and never be scared of speaking their mind.

“People that know me know that’s certainly not an issue I have ever had,” she laughs. Italian born and bred, Burnes has spent her whole life in the travel industry, starting out with an internship in Rome with the Italy Australia Association looking after Italians travelling to Australia to see friends and family.

Her life took an unexpected turn when travelling to Australia to attend the Australian Tourism exchange where she met her husband-to-be, Andrew Burnes.

“A few years later our friendship became more, we got married in rome”.

She then moved to Cairns where he had founded the Australian Outback Travel Company which ran 4WD adventures from Cairns to surrounding destinations.

Now known as the AOT Group, their small business has gone on to become an industry heavyweight, employing more than 2,000 staff and providing travel services for over 750,000 travellers each year.

“We were very lucky in securing some strong, powerful accounts out of europe and the UK that trusted us in handling their business in Australia,” she says. “And these relationships are all still in place 20 plus years later”.

By 1998 the business had outgrown Cairns, seeing them relocate to Melbourne. Since then the business has grown astronomically. “We’ve always looked at opportunities to continue to grow the business both organically and through acquisitions,” she explains.

Burnes says she is proud to have a large percentage of women working within the business.

“We run the business totally based on merit and in our management team there is an equal number of women and men without any difference or discrimination”.

Her advice to women who may experience a smart comment or remark in the workplace about their sex, is not let it get under their skin.

“I think if you’re happy to rise above them your career can progress in the same way a man’s career would”.

For her, the biggest highlight of her career is the interaction with her staff at all level of the business. “My door is always open,” she said. “I’m very hands on and I enjoy knowing the challenges and successes that the various divisions experience”.

Years of travel industry experience?

33 years

Career highlight?

The merger with Helloworld and seeing the successes of my staff and of the various visions of the business.

Any key mentors?

The main mentor in my life and career would be my husband.

Most memorable travel experience?

We just came back from three weeks in Greece, a holiday we had been looking forward to for a long time.

fionaFiona Dalton
Managing Director Uniworld

SUCCESS is not necessarily achieved by following a linear path, says Uniworld’s managing director Fiona Dalton.

“Sometimes you will need to take a step sideways or even back as part of broadening your skill set or capability,” she says.

Dalton advises woman looking to succeed in their careers to “be okay with that” and to build a skill set that is transferable.

“Don’t let yourself get pigeon holed in a single category,” she offers.

The travel industry is a far cry from where Dalton started her career. In fact, her first job was working for a stockbroking company in Sydney and from there she progressed to the stock exchange trading before becoming a foreign exchange for a merchant bank floor.

Just seven years into her career she was an incredible success, becoming the only female bullion trader in Australia, working for Rothschild Australia before heading over to London. While she thrived on the fast pace of the dealing room, she realised she wasn’t passionate about her chosen profession and the spark for a career in travel was ignited.

Her first role was with Spring Street flight Centre in 1993 along with Qantas Holidays and more recently she has moved up into corporate travel roles with Macquarie Group running their Global Travel program and American express looking after customers across the region before coming back to leisure about five years ago as the General Manager of Sales for Qantas Holidays under what is now Helloworld.

While working her way up in the industry, she has also brought up her who two children Alistair, 17, and Lucy, 14.

“I am a single mum so that adds a layer of complexity sometimes, but if you love what you do and you are doing it for your family then you simply find ways to make it work,” she smiles. “They really don’t remember me not working full time and the three of us make a great team together”.

Dalton says she has seen first hand the roadblocks women can encounter when building their career. “Many women I know have missed out on promotions and opportunities by taking the time to have a family,” she said. “Although it is against the law I have certainly witnessed this type of discrimination many times over the years”.

She believes this has been less so in the past decade as organisations become more aware of their responsibilities.

Dalton said she is now living the highlight of her career in her role as managing director of Uniworld which she stepped into earlier this year. Her key focus is communicating the strategic direction for the Uniworld Boutique river Cruise Collection and the global strategy for all The Travel Corporation brands in Australia.

“What inspires me is the incredible guest feedback we receive from those returning home from a luxury Uniworld river Cruise,” she says.“The staff at every level on board our fleet is truly inspiring and their commitment to service delivery excellence is unwavering”.

First job?

Junior office clerk at McIntosh Hamson Hoare Govett stockbroking.

Years of travel industry experience?

23 years

Any key mentors?

Yes, quite a few but I don’t want to make them public! I definitely admired and respected working for John Borghetti at Qantas in the 1990s – he showed me what real leadership looked like.

Career highlight?

Right here, right now.

Most memorable travel experience?

Trekking in 1992 to visit the endangered Mountain Gorillas in the Virunga region on the border of Uganda and the Congo at a time right before the civil war in rwanda. Simply life changing. That’s when I realised I had won the lottery of life.

jacquiJacqui Walshe Managing Director of the Walshe Group

“Women peak in their careers at age 50” is a concept Jacqui Walshe heard that resonated strongly with her.

“I think women can allow time out for children in those early years as long as they get back in or keep their hand in if possible,” the managing director of Walshe Group says. “you can still achieve the career goals you want. you might be a few years older than your male equivalent but it will still happen”.

Walshe knows full well it isn’t always easy for career women.

“I found I was dismissed, particularly in Australia when I first moved here in 2000, because I was a woman and I was a New Zealander so I think I was completely disregarded,” she recalls.

But with perseverance and “doing things her own way” she was able to continue building The Walshe Group, a key player in providing dedicated airline and destination representation services to travel brands.

“It’s the same way you might look at disruptors now, they just ignore the industry and do their own thing,” she offers.

A career in the travel industry came naturally to Walshe with her father and industry stalwart Rodney Walshe founding the Walshe Group in New Zealand in 1976.

After completing her studies in Business at Massey University she started with the company in Auckland in 1987 as a reservations agent, moving into the role of reservations manager before heading up the operation from New Zealand.

In the year 2000 when her hands were full with her five-year-old daughter Brigette and newborn Riona an existing customer expanded and the company urgently needed to send someone to Australia and so she went, young family in tow.

“The timing wasn’t ideal but my husband was very supportive,” she said.

“Most of the successful women you meet will have supportive husbands”. She found establishing herself in Sydney a challenge, but one that she thrived on.

“It’d been in a family business in NZ where everyone knew everyone. Here no one knew who I was and that was a lot more challenging but I found that a lot more enjoyable,” she reflects.

Going from to strength to strength the company expanded into Asia in 2007, setting up offices in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Walshe has seen the tourism industry go from a ‘boys club’ culture to one where women are have a healthy representation.

One observation she makes though is that there are still not enough women on boards.

“I’ve been on different boards since 2003 and I would recommend to the young women in my organisation to get involved on boards because you gain profile, you learn different skills and get to cooperate with other organisations,” she says.

First job?

Internship at Bord failte in Dublin

Years of travel industry experience?

29 years

Any key mentors?

My father initially and then multiple people I talked to along the way – colleagues and peers.

Career highlight?

Move to Australia from New Zealand in 2000 – the industry here was far more challenging but really rewarding.

Most memorable travel experience?

If I had to single out just one, a family holiday to New York City with my teenage daughters.

lauraLaura Ruffles Aust and NZ CEO and Global COO of Corporate Travel Management

Between being mother of four and working as the Australian and New Zealand CeO and global COO of Corporate Travel Management (CTM), Laura ruffles is proof that women can have it all. Both roles are integral to her life and she fervently believes there’s no need to choose between the two.

“Personally I don’t think you have to make a
choice between family life and work life,” she tells travelBulletin. “ I think women can actually have it all. you can work smarter, be flexible and be sure you know what your priorities are within the workplace and within your home life”.

Another secret weapon helping her to juggle both so well is her supportive husband Brian Ziolkourski. When the couple had their last two children he decided to give up his role as a global financial controller to become a stay at home dad to nine year-old Izabella, seven year-old Ariana, four-year-old Xavier and 18-month Bodhi.

“He has been an amazing support in doing that which obviously does help for my travel commitments and my role,” she says warmly. ruffles first dipped her toe into the travel industry at age 16 doing work experience for British Airways where she greeted passengers as they came off the plane. Shortly after she finished school and took a job at a holiday shop just west of London where she grew up.

“That taught me from the get-go how important customer service was and being able to listen and ask people questions”.

The holiday shop then sponsored her to study at The University of Westminster whilst working.

By the time she was 19 she had already taken over a few offices and had a company car. She says this experience gave her integral skills in people management and being able to work and lead teams. She then went on to look after sales and business development for forte Hotels before taking a job with American express (AMEX) where she would stay for the next 10 years travelling the world rolling out travel policies and online booking tools and products.

It was during her time at AMEX that she met her husband-to-be on a business trip to Sweden and the pair eventually wound up living and working in Australia. Business trips proved auspicious for ruffles as it was on another to London that she met Jamie Pherous, the man behind CTM.

Ruffles has been with CTM for the past seven years, climbing the ranks from general manager to her current local CeO and global COO roles.

On her journey to the top ruffles said she has not once encountered any prejudice for being female.

“I’ve been lucky, every company I’ve worked for has really promoted women in the workplace and I’ve never come across any issues with my career or felt like there was a glass ceiling,” she smiles.

Day-to-day Ruffles drives and manages CTM’s sales performance, service delivery, client satisfaction, employee retention and profitability as the business works to provide cuttingedge travel management solutions to the corporate market.

“We like to be first to market with a lot of things and what actually drives that is our customer feedback and seeing what we can do that can help people,” she says.

At the end of the day ruffles still loves nothing more than meeting with her customers. “I love going to a customer pitch. It’s the life blood of our innovation”.

And of course returning home to her family. “I don’t walk out the door and just go to work. I go out to work and I walk out the door as a mother of four and when I come home I come home still as leading a company and making sure that it works for everyone”.

First Job?

Work experience at British Airways, meeting and greeting people from the plane then stamping brochures in a holiday shop.

Years of travel industry?

Over 20 years.

Any key mentors?

In life my parents. They both had amazing work ethics. I was brought up in a family where my dad commuted to work a lot so he would be up early and back late but still had time for bike rides at the weekends and my Mum did a lot of night shifts caring for people.

Career highlight?

Being able to be the first with things and seeing CTM’s growth. Most memorable travel experience? for a birthday my boyfriend at the time surprised me and had booked a weekend city break in Venice only telling me the night before. We went on a gondola ride there and that’s where he proposed to me.