05 Jan John Veitch’s Inspiring Story, from Farmer’s son to CEO & Father…
INSPIRING STORY by JC Inspire
JOHN VEITCH – CEO – The Travel Corporation
It is not every day you read a story of a farmer’s son becoming an Executive CEO but that’s the story of John Veitch. Sitting having coffee with the man himself in Sydney’s Balmoral, Jito Connected is a little bit in awe – for not only does he run one of the largest travel companies in Australia, encompassing 35 brands, but he oozes an energy that is contagious.
Even if you are on THE RIGHT TRACK, you will get RUN OVER if you JUST SIT THERE
Growing up, John Veitch (known to many as JV) was well and truly on the path to becoming a farmer. After all, arable and dairy cow farming was in the family bloodline. He grew up on farms in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, learning how to drive a tractor and milk a cow at a very young age. No surprise then then that this is what John thought he was destined to do if his bigger and bolder ambitions hadn’t shaken things up. Once he was older, he was inspired by his father’s accountant who he describes as “a very wise man”. “Maybe that is something I would like to do,” he thought at the time. John was drawn to business and decided to study business economics to help him on his way. Whilst studying, John worked at a highway café as a waiter, but this was not his first job. Whilst in high school he became a budding entrepreneur selling mistletoe at the Christmas markets. He would climb the trees on the farm, cut down the mistletoe, wrap it with ribbon and then stand in the freezing cold car park of the markets to sell it for a pound a bunch out of a suitcase. His first foray into wholesale came when he expanded his mistletoe empire, selling it to florists around Oxford all bound up with red Christmas ribbon. John had his first experience of dealing with volume and sold out of the all the mistletoe in just three weeks. “It was a lot of fun for a 16-year-old kid,” he laughs. It was a valuable experience for him, learning how to sell and how to adapt his sales technique to suit different people. “Standing in the freezing cold, you learn tenacity and how to read people,” he says.
The best way to predict the FUTURE is to CREATE IT
If John ever had any spare time, he was always on the look-out for a job in a bar or a café. But once he graduated, he joined Price Waterhouse in London. “It was a tough time in the market for jobs back then, but I got lucky and I had an amazing time,” he tells Jito. “It was a very hard working culture. We worked till late at night, always had drinks in a bar with your work mates and then got up to be in the office for 7am to do it all again.” John stayed with Price Waterhouse for five years including a 10 months’ stint in Sydney in his mid 20’s. After his jaunt Down Under, John returned to his role in London, but after a year doing some interesting mergers and acquisitions transactions, his career took a different path.
If you CHANGE the way YOU look at things, the things you look at CHANGE
After giving his future some serious thought, John realised he wanted to build his CV into that of a future senior leader. So he took a role with consumer packaging company Rexam plc in Corporate Development as an analyst to help as the business underwent a real transformation. “I worked for a chap called Rudolph who was a Rhodes Scholar, he was incredibly smart and taught me the power of thinking not just acting,” John recalls. “Rudolph would put his feet on the desk for an hour a day and just think – about the way forward and what is right the direction for the business. Up until that stage of my career I had been very action-driven.” As a result of Rudolph’s influence, John now takes time to think as a result. “Our early leaders often have a hand in shaping us,” he admits.
NEVER let your fear DECIDE your FATE
After 18 months, John joined Reuters plc during the internet boom. The job came with some international travel which led him to a terrifying near miss. “I was on my way to a meeting scheduled at the World Trade Centre at 11.30am on 9/11 but my flight never landed,” he recalls gravely. “The plane just circled for a long time and then was diverted to Boston.” He was stranded in the Massachusetts capital for 10 days where it gradually became clear he had experienced a “life changing” twist of fate. “It was a very scary time but what surprised me was the connection we all felt. I was stranded with complete strangers, but we opened up to each other” he tells Jito. “The event that changed the world also changed people, making them become more connected.” Although John saw it as a time to reflect on and cherish life, he says it didn’t change his direction. There were no more deals to be done during this time so John joined the strategy team of Cable & Wireless plc, a telecom company, and after a year relocated with them to Jamaica with his wife Caroline to experience working in a very different culture. There, he got to lead a very large team through a major transformation. And even though his new hometown of Kingston, Jamaica was, at that time, a dangerous place, the experience he gained was unparalleled.
CULTURE is the way YOU THINK, ACT & INTERACT
The next step was a big move Down Under where John took on a role with Westfield for six months before applying to a role with Flight Centre as CFO of Corporate Australia Business. “Within 10 minutes I knew it was a great place to work,” he recalls. The role was actually restructured after just four weeks of joining so he found himself as the Global CFO of Corporate Travel which came with lots of travelling and the challenge of acquiring businesses around the world. After 18 months, he then became CFO Australia for both Corporate and Retail as the structure evolved further. He soon moved up to the role of Executive General Manager of the Flight Centre business in NSW which was the largest business unit in Australia with 340 stores. What did he love so much about it? The people and the culture. The people were incredibly passionate and smart and they invested in their people and their leadership capability. “I saw some phenomenal leaders and the impact that can have on the business – how they support and empower people towards a common goal,” he continues. During his 10 years at FC, John learnt a lot about people and stores, as well as a lot about himself and how to develop himself and others. “I encourage people to get feedback as it helps you grow,” he advises. “Seek it out as it is an absolute gift – it has made me a better leader.”
When your legs can’t run anymore RUN WITH YOUR HEART
An active sportsman, John didn’t exercise much for about 10 years as he worked hard and played hard. But he found motivation again because he needed an avenue to release. “I remember being at a conference and we were expected to exercise three times a week and have our heart rates above a certain rate, that is what started me running,” he says. “Then I thought I would try the Melbourne half marathon with the leadership team and I trained for it.” John has just completed the New York Marathon which was he describes as physically the hardest thing he has ever done.
Always GIVE people MORE than they expect TO GET
John describes his time as EGM of Flight Centre’s Corporate Australia business as “very stimulating”, but his “biggest and most important” role was yet to come. That came in 2015 when he joined The Travel Corporation Australia as Chief Executive. “What struck me coming into TTC was the complete obsession with the guest experience – it’s absolutely phenomenal at every level, every member of the team is focused on making the guest experience the best it can possibly be” he says. “I was blown away with how important it is to TTC – if there is something not perfect, it is changed within hours.” He describes the company’s focus on delivering amazing guest experiences as its “secret recipe” driving repeat and referral business. “It is wonderful to work in a business where you can talk with absolute confidence and belief in your product, holiday or service,” he says. “I do believe that selling from the heart is the strongest way to sell and when you truly, truly believe something, it is a very powerful tool.”
YOUR EMPLOYEES are your BIGGEST competitive ADVANTAGE
Now, John’s attention is on ensuring a bright future for the people that work for him and mentoring them on how to get there. “Look after your people as best you can,” he suggests. “There are times in all of our lives when we all need support through the good times and bad times, and then, one day, they will support you back.” He stresses the importance of creating a culture in which people are allowed to grow. “We would love people to spend 30 years in TTC and grow into an MD,” he says. The key to growth within TTC is the extensive learning and development on offer. “We are actively investing in our people and their development in both technical and leadership, building both their knowledge and skills but more importantly their experiences.” The company is now in the first year of its mentoring program which John describes as a key avenue for future success. “It not only grows the people who are mentored but the mentors themselves learn and grow through the experience. We believe it can help facilitate further career progression opportunities within such a large and global business,” he says.
John’s advice for anyone wanting to GROW THEIR CAREER…
- Really develop yourself as a leader and read leadership books – I didn’t start reading leadership books until I was 33 years and I wish I had started earlier – to start read anything by Jim Collins.
- Have your destination in mind and then work out a plan to get there – don’t just meander.
- Be ambitious, seek feedback at all times and listen to people around you – you don’t have to be the one with all the ideas.
- Discipline is an old word but it’s about making sure what is supposed to happen, happens. It’s executing a business plan and strategy well.
- Listen to your inner voice – it is right 98% of the time. Use your gut as your guide – it works through other information that your mind might not.
- As a leader, surround yourself with amazing people to take on the ride with you – people you respect, people who are smart and people who you would like to sit next to at dinner.
- Don’t be scared to say you don’t think it is the right way. Say so in a constructive way and suggest a solution. Always speak up, even if it starts a discussion that ends in a different place.
- As a leader, create an environment that it is safe to fail and that will create entrepreneurial spirit.
- Always seek a business you can truly believe in so that you can bring the passion. If you can’t or don’t believe, find somewhere elsewhere where you do.
- Humility is very important – you’ve got to be real. When you get in a lift talk to people. When I first arrived in Australia, I was told I was too British, which I now understand meant I didn’t share information about my family, my life or my weekends. It was great advice… to be real and listen to advice.
CONNECT & INSPIRE
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