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Part Eight: The Jetset Years – Making my Mark – 1982 – 1992

May 3, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email
I remember, like it was yesterday, the first day I fronted up to the MLC building on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins, it was a Monday 01 November 1982 (Cup Eve) and I was starting work at Jetset.  I took the lift to the 24th floor, reported to Bev Din and my life and working career took a whole new turn.

It had come about because I answered an advertisement by an employment agency looking for a Business Development person; I had just completed a contract selling and longterm leasing aircraft and had successfully put myself out of work.  I did the interview, found out it was Jetset and almost withdrew but went ahead and after two interviews, one with Bev Dinn who I knew and one with the renowned David Grant who I did not know, I got the job.  My mates all gave me 12 months; “that’s it Watto” they said “12 months in that environment will see you out”.  I gave myself three years, and I was determined to last three years; in the end I did almost 15 and I do not regret one bit of it.
Day one passed quickly; I was led around the building, and introduced to new people everywhere, some of them (a few) are still in my life today, but on day one all of them were important as far as I was concerned.  The names roll of the tongue; in Midtown Travel (Fares and Ticketing) David Newell. Nigel Marchant, Jo O’Brien (Now running Tramada), Joan Cameron, Bill Dorrington and countless others.  Then on to Jetset Wholesale and Tim Wagg, John Lemish, Heather Tweddle and Tony Freeman (now running Prime Pacific and still a friend) and finally to sales where I met Gary Marshall, Rick Graham, Trish Hunt, Lea McDermott and Maureen Pearson, now Maureen Laughlin and one of our closest friends.  I also met Ken McQualter (Company Secretary), the legendary David Clarke (briefly, it took him another 6/8 weeks to actually talk to me), Suzanne Cavanagh (who is still a close friend, we share a birthday) and of course the man himself, Isi Liebler.
I also met with the team in Agency Development where I would live/work at least in my early days, Bev Dinn of course, David Radford (a Brit with a quirky sense of humour, who was Marketing Manager) it became pretty obvious very quickly that he and Bev did not really get on at all, and Jodie Clementson the “secretary”.  I must also have found time to enter and pay for the Melbourne Cup sweep (Cup day was next day) because I won it.  That’s a popular way to start a career I don’t think.
Tuesday was a public holiday and when I returned on Wednesday I got a message from Ken McQualter; it was to say that your car is ready please go and see Patrick Hogan and sign all the papers.  Car?  Car, I had no idea I was getting a car, this was a bit of a bonus.  I took delivery of an almost brand new Holden Commodore, grey with black interior and proudly drove it home that night.
A few days later I met with Andrew Richards who was GM Jetset NSW based in Sydney, but also the overall boss of Agency Development, he was the intermediary, so to speak, between Bev and David Grant (a bit weird) and Paul Brunner (ex BA) who had started in Sydney the same day I started in Melbourne.  Paul is a friend still, having lived in the UK for many years and been Margie’s DMC (at Barton Hill Travel) when she ran Literature Comes To Life Tours, he is now back in Adelaide.  This was a strategy and planning meeting and we were both told what was expected of us, grow the network in numbers (currently 250+) and make them more supportive of the Family Agent programme and the five planks of that programme.  This was to be my focus for some time.  Mind you when, a bit over four years later with a team of 15 working with me, just before we changed gears and started down the franchising track, we hit 900 members I figured I had done OK, but I get ahead of myself.
The five planks of the Jetset Family Agent programme are still pretty easy to remember, TAA as the preferred domestic carrier, we needed/wanted to deliver across the group a market share of at worst 65%, better if we could; this in a two carrier market mind you where both airlines used to crow over who had a 51% share.  British Airways and Air New Zealand were the preferred international carriers, there were no market share requirements here just volume targets, but they were fiercely pursued as they meant quite a lot of money.  The other two were obvious: Jetset Tours (the holiday packages programme) and Jetset Insurance; where the market share targets were 75% and 90% respectively.  So this was the world in which I lived and in which I started my career at Jetset.
There is no way that I can summarise my career at Jetset in a few paragraphs – so bear with me – if this takes a little while – hopefully the revelations at the end will make it all worthwhile.  As I said – I started as an Agency Development  Rep (Salesman) reporting via Bev Dinn – to Andrew Richards and then onwards and upwards to David Grant.  I worked closely with the Jetset Tours team – led by Gary Marshall and indeed sat in on their Friday sales meeting each week – to compare notes on “The Family”.
My first real experience of the ruthless nature of the Jetset culture came after about 5 months – in early May of 1983 – when the whole sales team and the BD team – minus Andrew R of course – were sent to a sales training course (in South Melbourne) run by a guy called Ragnar Pullman.  The whole Australia wide sales team was there and I made lots of new mates across the country.  I must have done well because immediately following the course I was selected as one of just two (Gary Marshall was the other) sales team members to make a training presentation in Hawaii later that month.
The occasion was the Travel Agent – “Aloha Hawaii” product launch and other than Andrew R – I was the sole Agency Development team member to get a gig.  It was a great trip – I remember it well – and it kick started my close relationship with some key travel agent partners; like Ron Hearn (Wangaratta) and Kevin Dale (Gippsland Travel – Warragul, now National Network Travel – City), as well as Frank Wright – (then Travelwrite Heathmont), Ron Cameron (East End Travel Ballarat) and a whole host of others.
The conference was a great success – we all had an absolute ball and again I must have done well and caught the eye of the “right crowd” – or maybe I was being ‘tested out’ the whole time because immediately after we returned I was promoted to Agency Development Manager – reporting direct to David Grant (not via Andrew) with a team of 5/6 including Bev Dinn my ex boss and Paul Brunner.  I remember how it happened – it was a Friday and Bev had been called up to Sydney – ostensibly for a meeting with Andrew Richards about strategy – so she was away for the day – and I had been ‘told’ not to leave the office as I was ‘wanted’ later in the day.
Around 3.00pm I was called into David Grant’s office and told I was – with immediate effect (Monday morning) – taking over as Agency Development Manager and was expected to create my own team – that ‘had to’ include Bev and grow the network to at least 700+ agents as quickly as possible.  I asked did Bev know -and was told that Andrew had told her at 2.30pm and that she was on a 4.00pm flight to Melbourne and that she would report to me on the Monday morning.
Now I quickly got the feeling that this was not a well kept secret because as I wandered into Midtown Travel (Jetset Fares & Ticketing) as it was called back then I received congratulations from all the senior staff, and when about 20 minutes later I joined the wholesale team meeting the same thing happened.  The only people who did not appear to know were the other Melbourne team members (David and Jodie) and it was left to me to ‘enlighten’ them before they went home that night.  David (who as I have said disliked Bev) was delighted – Jodie was concerned as she was Bev’s PA more than a department PA.
The Monday morning was to say the least interesting – I was quickly put to the test by Bev – and (in my view) I stared her down – told her what I expected and how I wanted to work and then set about restructuring the department along the lines of my Friday discussion with David Grant.
The next three/four years saw me expand my Agency Development team – to over a dozen team members across the country.  They were a great team – full of characters with widely differing personalities but they mixed well.  As well as Bev Dinn and Peter Garbett, we had David Lovell and Mark Lucas (NSW), Doug Loudon (QLD), Frank Gatta and later Paul Cook (SA) and Allan Maher (WA).  People like Mike Farnell chipped in and played a couple of roles as Sales Admin Manager working with both the sales team and my team, plus we had some great support staff.  Over the period that team grew the network to almost 1000 members most (but not all) of whom were great producers for Jetset and together we put ourselves in position to start expanding our brand.
So in early 1986 – March 14th to be exact – in the convention hall at Wrest Point Casino in Hobart – I Iaunched the first ever “Jetset” branded network – The Jetset Travel Centre Network to a group of around 250 travel agents from across Australia.  Over the next twelve months the Agency Development team worked hard to establish the new network – convert unbranded agents to the new brand and established the framework for what would eventually be the Jetset Franchise Network.
In August of 1987 – after the conversion of non-branded agents to branded agents was well under way – I was promoted again to Managing Director of Jetset New Zealand (taking over from Andrew Richards – who transferred to Melbourne to take over my role and Manage the Agency Development team) – where I immediately launched the New Zealand version of the branded network.
I spent two very happy years working in New Zealand – where I was the link with our 50% partners Air New Zealand – and was responsible for developing the NZ team to become self sufficient.  New Zealand was a very different market from Oz and Jetset’s position in that market was also very different.  We were very much number three (maybe four) behind Atlantic & Pacific Group; The Passport Travel Group and (perhaps) the newly developing House of Travel.
We had some great agents as part of the Jetset family, led by Stars Travel with Ross Irving at the helm and the Ex GM of Jetset New Zealand;  D M P (Tim) Tapper as his number two.  Stars had outlets across the country and were a very important part of the Jetset organisation and I had many meetings with Ross and Tim over the years.  Often they were late in the afternoon over a JD (Ross) Wild Turkey (Tim) and JW Black (me), it was at these discussions that some great policy decisions were made.
The Jetset Family of agents liked a good time, loved a good party and a good conference and every year they got together and did what travel agents the world over do at conferences – made merry havoc whilst learning a bit.  My first intro to the New Zealand agents was in 1985 – long before I moved over – when at the invitation of Andrew Richards I attended what turned out to be a very memorable Fiji conference at the Hyatt Regency on the Coral Coast.  That sort of set the scene and that plus another conference the following year – meant that the ice was well and truly broken by the time I took over the reigns in 1987.
We lived in Epsom an inner suburb of Auckland – just off Bracken Avenue in a town house we leased from a lovely couple Tom and Margaret Watson; next door to the house owned by the GM of Air New Zealand for New Zealand Norm Thompson.  Norm and his wife Jenny became great mates and the two lots of Watsons and the Thompsons often went out together for social events.
There were a number of challenges with Jetset NZ during my second year (1988/9) at the helm – including the need to downsize and create new economies of scale – which were (virtually) forced on us by our 50% partner – the national carrier – which was doing the same sort of thing.  That was a really unpleasant time as I had to “let go” some people who had become really great friends, as well as respected business associates.  But it was seen as part of my role in making NZ self sufficient and leaving it to run by itself.
In September 1989 I returned to Oz – again replacing Andrew Richards (who this time headed for London as CEO of Jetset UK) as GM of the Jetset Travel Network (Jetset Distribution) – responsible for converting the Travel Centres into a fully branded and franchised travel agent network.  This was a role that I relished and one that I succeeded in to the extent that it “made my name”!
In setting up the Franchise Network – I had loads of help and assistance from a great many great people all of whom became an integral part of ‘team Jetset’ for the (almost) three years that took us to accomplish the task.  I will not name them all here – I will save most for the “Characters in the Room” part of this chapter – but some of them, Suzanne Cavanagh and Michelle Ryan (both from the Distribution team) Bill Jackson (Jetset Insurance) and others remain friends still today.
The challenge of turning an unbranded marketing group of Travel Centres into a matched branded and franchised network cannot be underestimated but over three very busy years from September 1989 (Singapore Conference) to – September 1992 (Hong Kong Conference – when I handed the reins to Dennis Adams) we achieved it.  When we arrived in Hong Kong for the networks annual conference we had in excess of 250 fully franchised and branded Jetset Travel locations.  We had achieved our target.
During the same busy three year period I was active in AFTA (The Australian Federation of Travel Agents) first at a state and then (a bit later on) at national level.  I finally wound up on the national board as one of two Vice Presidents  – but I am getting slightly ahead of myself.
In September of 1992 – post the Hong Kong conference – I shifted across to Jetset Fares and Ticketing – effectively swapping places with Dennis Adams who took over the running of the Jetset Franchise network at the same time.  David Clarke had decided that (amongst other things) he wanted the F&T team to have more of a sales focus and also (unknown to me at the time)  wanted it to become a national operation.
So there I was after “ten” years at Jetset, at what was at that stage, the absolute peak of my career when I accepted a transfer (accepted – you really did not have an accept/reject choice at Jetset it was David’s way or the highway) to Jetset F&T and took on the toughest task in the company.  The transfer created the biggest hole in my career path in the 15 years that I was at Jetset and (almost) led to my departure.
Next instalment: Setbacks and recoveries – the next five years
Written by: Peter Watson

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