A FORCE FOR GOOD hub | Q&A with the Inspiring Susan Haberle
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Q&A with the Inspiring Susan Haberle

We sit down with Susan Haberle, Head of Sales, Australasia for the APT Travel Group, to find out about her inspiring life and career, her proudest moments, the hurdles, the opportunities, and the wins. With the belief that there is no “I” in team and the definition of being highly successful is watching others around you step up and succeed, there is no wonder why Susan is seen as a great leader and a mentor to her shinning team.

Tell us a little about yourself, who you are? and what you do?

My name is Susan Haberle and my role is Head of Sales, Australasia for the APT Travel Group. I oversee our onroad sales, inside sales and groups sales teams in both the Australia and NZ market. I also manage our key national retail partnerships and work closely with them to drive sales for the APT, Travelmarvel and Botanica brands.

Tell us about your childhood, where did you grow up, what was your childhood dreams? And where did you go to study?

I am a Melbourne girl through and through. I really loved school – both the academic and social sides! With strong interests in drama, politics, history, and dance, I was naturally drawn to anything remotely associated with the arts. I was also very proud to be School Captain, with my favourite aspect being public speaking. No surprise that after secondary school, I completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree at La Trobe University.

Throughout my childhood and in my studying years my dream was to one day travel the world – like many of us in our industry. I hadn’t done a lot of travelling in my childhood – but I just knew travelling and exploring the world would be in my future – how right I was!

Tell us about the timeline of your career and the different careers paths you have undergone and where that has lead you?

Post my degree I was working as a Child Support worker in a Women’s Refuge which was a very humbling experience for a 22-year-old, but also very empowering. From this role I saved up enough money for a flight to London and was ready to fulfil my travel dream.

I still remember one lunch break going into my local Harvey World Travel store, buying an SQ ticket to London. I resigned from my position and boarded that plane 3 weeks later – solo! I cried all the way to Singapore thinking “What have I done?” – but from Singapore onwards I never looked back.

What was to be 3 month holiday turned into 12 months – backpacking all over the UK, Europe, India, and the Middle East. I absolutely loved this time in my life and felt a passion I had never experienced before. Travel was in my blood. I loved embracing new countries, new cultures and meeting new people.

Naturally, after 12 months on a shoestring my money ran out and that’s when I got my first job in travel –a sales role for Contiki Holidays based in London. I still remember being told I got the job – it was back in the dark ages before mobile phones – so I was in a red phone booth with 50GBP left in my pocket. I knew if I didn’t get this dream role I would need to return back to Australia. This phone call proved to be a ‘sliding doors’ moment in my career for sure, as I was offered the role and commenced the next day.

After a summer season in this London based sales role, I was successful in being placed on the European Tour Manager training trip. This 8-week gruelling training trip ensures trainees are run through the paces, learning all about Europe, going on fact-finding missions and being pushed to the limit – so that the next time they are in Europe with 50 passengers following their every move they can deliver a trip of a lifetime!

Five years in this role saw me manage over 70 tours in East/West Europe, Russia, Scandinavia and Egypt. My office window changed daily and I loved life on the road.

It was this passion for all things travel that led me back to Australia to forge my career in sales with Sunlover Holidays and the APT Travel Group.

Summary of my Career
1995 – Contiki Sales Consultant – London
1996 – Contiki Tour Manager – Europe
1998, 1999, 2000 – Contiki Training Manager – Europe
2001 – Tourism Lecturer – TAFE – Melbourne
2002 – 2003 –  BDM – Sunlover Holidays (owned by Tourism QLD back then)
2003 – 2008– Sunlover Holidays – National Sales Manager
2008 – 2019 – APT Travel Group in the roles of National Sales Manager, Commercial Manager Retail and Head of Sales Australasia

What drove you to your career?

A definite thirst for travel (and running out of money to travel). Even though I didn’t know it at the time it was an industry that was perfect for me – an industry that is people oriented, being a part of life-enriching experiences and challenges every single day.

What mistakes did you make and did you fear anything?

My belief is mistakes are as important to your development as success – it’s how you learn. My motto has always been to give something new a go – if it doesn’t work you know not to do it again – if it works a treat keep doing it! This attitude assists with a fear many have of failure –learnings from failure far outweighs being too fearful to try at all.

What has been your biggest win so far?

Looking back at my roles I think my biggest win has been the team members I have recruited over the years –in particular in my roles at Sunlover and ATG. Recognising like-minded applicants with a can-do attitude, passion and drive is always the winning recipe for recruitment in sales. Many of my team members over the years are now personal friends of mine. I have been fortunate to see them succeed in their careers and grow enormously. This makes me so proud.

What opportunities came easy and what ones did you have to push for?

I am a big believer in standing by your own personal ‘brand’ and allowing your brand to drive your actions in everything you do. I find opportunities then come your way more easily.

The biggest opportunity I was given as a result of representing my ‘brand’ at any industry event – was at a Harvey World Travel conference – on the dancefloor where I was advised I should apply for the National Sales role at APT (must have been my dance moves!). I pursued this opportunity when it knocked and within a month had commenced at APT.

What is the biggest hurdle you have overcome in your career or life so far? And what did you learn?

My biggest hurdle in my life was 12 years ago, I lost my father at far too young an age, to the insipid disease that is Motor Neurone Disease. The 26 months we cared for him from diagnosis (2 months before his retirement)  was the worst and best time of my life as it really gave me perspective on how fragile life is and how in the blink of an eye life as we know it can change. What inspired me was my father’s positive attitude throughout his whole MND journey. He made the most of the time he had, embraced quality time with loved ones and became an ambassador for MND to drive awareness of the disease and how important funding was for research.

Dad taught me to choose my attitude each day and be mindful what a gift health, family and friends are. No hurdle in my career has ever been as big a lesson as this experience was for me.

I was also very fortunate during this time to have the full support of my employer – Sunlover Holidays who allowed me a flexible working arrangement during this time. I will forever appreciate this and urge employers to offer the same to team members going through family health issues.

How do you know when you love your career and what you do?

I know I am ‘game set match’ in love with what I do when I get goosebumps watching our latest promotional footage, or attend an expo with a guest who has just returned from travelling with us and they share how life-changing it was for them. No other industry I know of has the magic gift of enriching lives like the travel industry does.

What is your proudest career moment so far?

Being a part of an award-winning team makes me feel so proud. Watching new team members hot their straps a few months into their role and start to soar gives me some real ‘mum moments’. I was advised years ago by a mentor that the more responsibility you give team members the more they will continually step up and exceed your expectations. I have lived by this mantra over the years and am rarely disappointed.

I was also so humbled to receive the Employee of the Year award within the APT Travel Group back in 2012. Working within such a dynamic business this accolade was totally unexpected.

How has this changed your life?

I do back myself and my team when challenges occur. I am a true believer that there is no “I” in team and the definition of being highly successful is watching others around you step up and succeed. I truly believe that tackling any issue together as a team – ensures a positive result or at the very least learning opportunities.