When the chips are down, you want to feel supported but also empowered; that you have a sense of agency over what’s happening to you and around you.
For Kim Taylor, Flight Centre Travel Group Customer Director, her MD Andrew Stark has been the shining light to deliver it.
A great leader that has gone above and beyond for their business, Andrew’s clear, transparent and honest communication has helped steer this large retail and corporate travel business through stormy waters.
But beyond this, says Kim, he has been the inspiration to “throw the rule book out the window” and challenge to elevate her thinking and that of her colleagues to get to grips with how their customers are thinking and feeling about travel in a time of COVID – the fear and need for flexibility.
Who is Andrew?
Andrew’s journey in travel was inevitable, with a mom who worked in travel and a series of travel industry super-lifters in his own life giving him opportunities to grow, and many of whom he still works with today at the Flight Centre Travel Group, like Sue Garrett and Dayle White.
That love affair with Flight Centre Travel Group has spanned many years and many roles, culminating in the past six years as the MD for South Africa and Dubai after a stint in New Zealand with the group. He returned just in time for the FIFA World Cup in 2010 when the Ubuntu spirit was palpable and green shoots were everywhere.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast
For Andrew, that collaborative spirit and focus on culture is the recipe for success. As someone who fully believes that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, Andrew understands that you can have the best coach in the world, with the best attacking strategy, but if the culture doesn’t exist, you’re never going to get it across the line. “If you don’t believe in each other, don’t trust each other don’t buy into one another and don’t believe the best people are in the role, the strategy may look good on paper but it’s not going to work.”
People come first in Andrew’s world. And keeping things simple and agile in a time like this is essential. I am inspired by my kids who are great at keeping things simple. It’s a mantra that Flight Centre Travel Group CEO Graham Turner espouses: “If you create strategies, business plans and actions that you cannot articulate to the newest person in the organisation, they’re too complicated.” Business is simple. People are complicated.
But so are problems and Andrew spends his day working with his teams to solve problems and help grow the business and grow it has over the past few years despite the challenges. “These are unprecedented times, however, and right now it’s all about preservation, but I’m always looking for opportunities to grow.”
Looking for the green shoots
One year on since the first case of COVID was diagnosed in South Africa, Andrew says we’re in a much better position today. “This time last year, we were hosting our Travel Expo. A couple of weeks later, our offices were locked down and our income went to zero. We have had 12 months of COVID and crisis management experience, and we have a vaccine,” says Andrew, choosing to see the green shoots instead of the doom and gloom. “You always have to look for those green shoots,” he says.
And one of these is domestic travel. “Control what you can control. And one thing that is within our control is that domestic travel is here. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we’re only looking at proper international travel in 2022 and if it does come back in 2021, that’s the cream on the top.”
Andrew advocates focusing on how you can move the dial and seeing how collectively you can contribute to working towards that. “I call up my competitors and suppliers and check in on them. We all collectively need to stay in touch. We need each other right now. It’s not about dog-eat-dog. Rather, it’s about the survival of our industry and we all need to survive. When we emerge from this, we will do it proudly and collectively. We’ll pat each other on the back and say, ‘we got through this’ and we got through it stronger.”
Who’s Andrew’s superlifter?
Andrew counts himself lucky to have had many in his travel career, but closer to home his wife, Kirsty, and his three young children keep him uplifted.
“Kirsty is a good sounding board and has been a great support over this period. I’ve had bad days like anyone and when you’re leading a large organisation, your team looks to you for continuous motivation and upliftment. My kids are fantastic as well and put things into perspective.”
Andrew’s final word of advice on lifting others? “Keep chipping away. Every small contribution makes a difference and if your values are there – honesty, integrity and self-belief – you’ll generally want what’s good for people around you.
Watch our conversation with Andrew Stark here.