22 Jan Debra Fox’s Inspiring Story… The path to success is rarely straight
INSPIRING STORY BY JC INSPIRE
Debra Fox – Chief Commercial Officer – APT Travel Group
Around 19 or 20, I woke up from a life of being reserved and shy. It was like an epiphany that anything was possible, but in the end it came down to me – and me only. I hit the ON button. I bought a one way ticket to Europe, took my love of long distance skiing to another level and started racing in competitions around the world – I build a fiercely self-competitive streak and learnt about the importance of planning, training, failure and resiliance. As I moved into a more serious work head space, I was determined to be a learner and be the best I could be, wherever that took me. Growing up, Debra Fox had big dreams of travelling the world and being an archaeologist. Although she didn’t follow that exact path, her keen interest in history, culture and travel saw her find her place in the travel industry, working her way up to her current position as Chief Commerical Officer APT, Travelmarvel.
YOU CAN FIND INSPIRATION FROM OTHERS BUT DETERMINATION IS SOLELY YOUR RESPONSIBILITY
After Debra persistently called a local travel agency in Melbourne every week for six weeks, the owner had no choice but to give her a job. She started out on reception, but just weeks later she was selling dream holidays.
It wasn’t long until her next move, heading over to Thomas Cook, but Deb had dreams of running her own business so Thomas Cook moved her to Sydney where she managed her first store. Debra wanted to understand what caused consumers to make different buying decisions and realised she really wanted to learn marketing to gain an insight into people’s behaviour. So, she went back to university part time for four years to complete a degree all whilst running her store. Within 18 months, Debra had grown her store to be one of the most profitable in Australia despite being a small team. “Making a difference to customers was key to achieving this,” Debra tells Jito. “I moved into a few different stores and helping them get their businesses back in track.”
MOVING FORWARD IS A CHOICE
A marketing role eventually came up within Thomas Cook giving Debra the opportunity to move across into her area of interest. From there, she left Thomas Cook to briefly join Traveland as Advertising Manager before moving back to Melbourne to have her 2nd child. Her next step on the career ladder was to join APT, although she had to take a step backwards – something she was prepared to do because she loved what the company stood for. As Groups Manager, Debra headed up a team of six people. “It was the best move I could ever have made because I started to learn about every aspect of the business, I asked a lot of questions. ” she says. “A groups business is like a micro business within a business.” But she already had her sights set on becoming National Sales Manager, and after 12 months she got that chance.
OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE IS WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS
After a couple of years, Debra became responsible for the Reservations Team and Customer Service Centre – a role which turned her a little cold at first because of its operational nature which took her away from her sales and marketing roots. “But then I had that ‘aha’ moment – reservations is working at the heart of the customer and business, I fell in love with the idea,” she reveals.
During this time, she implemented a cultural transformation program for her 60 staff and just loved creating a new team dynamic. “When we went through the Global Financial Crisis, having that team who continued to be focused on the difference they could make and remaining focused on the customer was one of the things that helped us hold on during that tough time,” she says.
Now there are five women on the executive team of 11 , with Debra confident that diversity is beneficial for the business.
HARD WORK DELIVERS BIG REWARDS
Finally, Debra got her chance to move back into marketing and was invited to join the executive team making her the only female on the team at the time. That milestone represents her proudest achievement to date. “They saw that I could contribute within the business,” she says. The invitation to the team was recognition of her efforts to push herself to learn things beyond her remit enabling her to become familiar with more of the business.
THERE IS A MOMENT WHEN YOU HAVE A CHOICE WHETHER TO BE SILENT OR MAKE A STAND
There is a stand out moment in Debra’s business relationships, where she found herself in conflict with another team member during a prior role. “He was old school who bullied his way through a lot of things and had very little respect for myself and for women in general,” she recalls. Although she worked hard to power through despite the tension, she found the situation was affecting her role and also those of other people. “I felt I had to be responsible for doing something about it,” she explains.
“I sat him down and explained how I felt and how some of his actions made me feel.” Interestingly enough, he was shocked. “He was defensive at first but went away thought about it and it turned around to the extent that he became a close colleague and one of the biggest advocates for female development within that particular business at the time,” she says. “It is important for females to learn to find their voice and confront issues head on because often there is a solution that can have a massive change and impact for the better by doing so.” She stresses the importance of having courage and standing up for your values when they are challenged.
TAKE SMALL STEPS EVERY DAY AND YOU’LL GET THERE ONE DAY
Debra now heads up Global Marketing,Sales & Operations in her newly appointed role as CCO for the APT Travel Group. So, what has she learnt along the way?
She recalls being taught very early in APT by the owner that you make your own luck and lives by the motto – “If it is meant to be, it is up to me”. “A big part of that is also around building a strong Team – developing individuals who in turn develop and inspire others to grow. Creating a team culture to drive ownership and outcomes. Backing them in their decisions”.
She takes so much pride in her team – what they are doing within the team and how they are inspiring each other. Seeing growth as individuals inspires Debra and provides the greatest satisfaction. Strong team dynamics with a shared vision can achieve incredible things. “I am a strong believer in the saying, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts’, and this has been a key success in our business.” “When you help others develop, they pay it forward and the cycle continues,” she says. Debra encourages anyone reading her story to think outside the box – even if it’s not in your role scope, get interested, get involved and learn as much as you can. Take courage, take responsibility, work hard and don’t be afraid to move sidewards or backwards to learn, grow and increase your contribution. The path to success is rarely straight. “It will open doors of opportunity – as you prove yourself, things will be given to you more readily,” she says. Above all else, do what you are passionate about, never underestimate the power of passion.
HERE IS DEBRA’S WORDS OF ADVICE:
- Let knowledge, gut and values be your guides.
- Women try to please people it is important that they need to be more authentic to themselves.
- Don’t underestimate passion.
- Get involved, get interested.
- Make your own luck.
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