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Part Eleven: The Jetset Years – Characters in the Room

May 5, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email
So let’s talk about some of the different Jetset Teams I mixed with and worked with during my fifteen years – spread between MLC, 550 Bourke Street and Queens Road …………………………..

Ken McQualter – Administration
If there is any one person from the Jetset ‘glory days’ who knows where all the ‘bodies are buried’ it would be Ken McQualter – if anyone should write the definitive Jetset book it should be Ken, but it will not happen, at least I doubt that it will ever happen.
Ken, as we all well know was Company Secretary but he also managed most of Isi’s affairs and as such was pretty much up to speed with everything.   Ken tended to shift – with the wind direction – in other words he sensed which way the wind was blowing and moved in that direction – usually to his own specific advantage.
Ken was the man who delivered the salary review news each year – the hair brained tax avoidance schemes that were designed to improve our (the staff’s) bottom line and the company bottom line at the same time.  He was for ever producing some salary review idea that supposedly achieved the impossible – but from experience rarely did.  Some of them – including one share trading scheme that I did not buy into were downright bottom of the harbour type stuff.
As I said Ken drifted with the wind, and he was a great judge of wind – the trick was he always wanted it at his back.  He let me down big time in New Zealand when it came time for Jetset NZ to move offices.  Our lease was (virtually) up in Queen Street and that was expensive rental – so the choice was to move – and I discussed the process with Ken – naively I guess – assuming he was briefing DC.  Seems he was not – in fact he was off on his own tangent – and the result was a mess.
To cut a not that long story short – I basically followed Ken’s instructions, made an offer to a bunch of lawyers from the floor above in Queen Street re the office and the work stations, which they verbally accepted.  However when it came time to exchange contracts DC did not like the deal and instructed me to renege on it – renege on a verbal agreement – with a large New Zealand law firm – yeah great plan David.  I duly tried and we wound up in court.
Through all the chaos and the crap surrounding it all – Ken basically disowned me – told David I operated alone and as all the discussions that we had were just that, discussions, I was sort of hung out to dry.  I do recall that on the advice of the judge we settled on the steps of the court – we would have got murdered if we had gone ahead – but I was very unpopular for a few weeks – until I found us the deal of all deals at Emily Place and managed to get that across the line – without any help from Ken.  In fact if I recall correctly it was Norman Searl of Air New Zealand who both found the opportunity and created the environment that swung the deal.  Dear old ‘Storming’ Norman.
Ken occupied office space on the exec floor and in fact was not a bad guy – he just knew which way to operate to his own advantage.  Years later in 2002 – when I came back to Jetset as part of the Travelworld team – Ken was one of the guys who helped make the transition an easy and quite painless one for all concerned.  But he was both a character and a major player.
Peter Love and Finance (Accounts)
An enigma is what I would say about Peter Love – today he would be CFO – back then I think he gloried in the title Accountant, eventually as we all became GM’s of our own divisions he was GM Accounts – but he ran the Finance Department – and he ran it tightly.
He had a good team working with him amongst them “Loony Toons” – Paul Van Loon; Colin “the thug (DC nickname I hasten to add – and related to football) Knell; Mark H (Alphabet we will call him); Patrick Flanagan and ‘of course’ the incomparable – almost unmanageable Lorraine Cross.  There was also Rin Tichelaar, Linda Solway and plenty of others but in my role I mixed most with PVL, Colin and Mark H.
Listening to a combination of Peter Love, Paul Van Loon and Colin Knell explain TUR (Ticketed Unflown Revenue) and FRS (Flown Revenue Shortfall) and, in particular, how it impacted on both your budget and your bottom line was an education process second to none in my whole time at Jetset.
Bottom line TUR was revenue that you had written on airline tickets (either as a consolidator or via travel agents on their own self plate programme) that – according to the airline reports and the finance department – had not yet been flown.  Me thinks it was a tax dodge that DC and Peter L had dreamed up, in fact I am sure it was, but it was also used to confuse us poor GM’s at both our quarterly and year end reporting time as to what our true budget position was.  Now in truth some of the TUR was just that – unflown – if you wrote a ticket in May (for example) for forward travel in June and return in July then it fell into two financial years and at year end the second half was unflown- pretty simple and the revenue on that ticket had to be accrued.  It was just how it was done and the way it was treated that got interesting.
Quite often – revenue that should have been flown – appeared not to have been flown – so that the TUR blew out – and led to the dreaded FRS which meant it impacted your bottom line, your profit and (in the end) your financial reward.  Now why this revenue was not reported was clearly an airline issue but on a number of occasions – one in particular when I was running New Zealand – it became “my” issue.  Why do we have an FSR Peter? – I have no idea Paul ask the airline they are reporting the revenue I am not!  But we are asking you Peter because you guys wrote the tickets…..and so on – you get the drift.
Mark H was responsible for tracking expenses – were you up to speed on budget – were you underspent (rarely) – were you overspent (Never) – that was taboo……however, there were a couple of famous occasions were spending escaped and Mark H had to deliver the bad news – which inevitably led to a session, a very uncomfortable session with both DC and Peter L.
Colin and his commercial team worked with me via Agency Development and Jetset Distribution and were responsible for both paying and reporting on the payments to our agent networks.  We worked very closely together and got on well – it was Colin who one day gave me the best ever advice on dealing with an out of control DC.  “Just walk out” he said – “walk out” – he will calm down and call you back when he is ready and you will survive.
So I tried it one day – when DC started screaming abuse about some infraction or other by a group of agents – I picked up my files, said to DC – “I will come back later when you are ready to talk about this quietly and calmly”, turned on my heel and left.  I spent the next two hours waiting in my office for ‘the call’ you know the one; the DCM call, but, exactly as Colin predicted, Pauline rang and said David is ready to see you again now, and the discussions proceeded calmly quietly and with dignity to a satisfactory conclusion – I kept my job, DC was happy and the incident was basically forgotten.  I did not try it too often but when I did it worked.
Lorraine Cross was special – she did/still does I believe “simply the best” Tina Turner  impersonation ever, she was life of the party, ring leader of most of the real trouble that occurred during and after (most often after) staff events functions and parties and was one of the key players in the social club – and she is still just as madly insane today as she was way back then.  She also found time to work quite hard as well.
Loony Toons was also responsible for something else – introducing Lesley Owen to Jetset Australia, after he stole her away from Jetset UK – during an extended posting in the ‘Manchester’ office.  Lesley started working with me in Fares and Ticketing (Victoria) when I was looking for a State Manager and went on to become head of F&T for the country after the debacle of the Nationalisation process that I have discussed elsewhere.  Lesley was one of the more successful imports from the UK and she has moved on to establish quite a travel career as a result – all due of course to the far sightedness of one PVL – who strangely has become a travel agent himself in later life.
The interaction between my working areas – Agency Development, Fares and Ticketing, Jetset NZ and Jetset Distribution was vital, so a good relationship was vital and despite the battles of TUR and FRS and the likes Peter, the finance team and me managed to maintain a good and solid working relationship for the most of my fifteen years.
Frank Wright – Fares and Ticketing
When I first met Frank he was a travel agent – he owned and managed Travelwrite Heathmont and also had another office in St Kilda in partnership with some Canadian guy – that was – if I recall somewhat short lived.  Frank was on Aloha Hawaii as an agent – but he joined Jetset to run ‘Midtown Travel’ – Fares and Ticketing/Consolidation – call it what you will – after David Newell moved on.
Frank ran a very tight ship at Midtown but gee he had some characters that worked with him through the years.  Some very, flamboyant personalities – like Nigel Marchant, who could turn up to work dressed in the weirdest gear from time to time and utter some pretty weird opinions as well.  Frank also worked with Jo O’Brien (who eventually opened her own Jetset Agency – Malvern) before heading off to become CEO of Tramada.  Jo was sharp and efficient and a very effective counter to the madness and mayhem that often surrounded F&T.
F&T was one of the two key planks of the agent programme – that and wholesale – so that my team and I needed to work closely with Frank and his team to ensure both performance and compliance – but one day that all went way too far.
We used to have these VIP visits at 550 Bourke Street – when key (usually) airline people would be taken around the building on a tour of inspection prior to meeting the executive team.  I used to be one of the escorts but on this day it was Gary Marshall who had to show JAL around the building and – of course – F&T featured largely on the itinerary.   The trouble was, halfway through the morning, we realised that said F&T had chosen that day – of all days – to have a dress up day!
Now just to set the scene – Nigel Marchant was dressed in Hot Pink – from head to toe – shorts, short sleeve shirt, pink socks, pink shoes (yellow laces) and a pink ribbon in his hair – and in that days environment he would not have been considered overdressed.  The receptionist we dressed as Cleopatra – complete with partly exposed boobs held within a Madonna like metal bra/corset feature and harem pants.  There were staff dressed in garbage bags, in animal suits and in all sorts of strange attire.
Very quickly we decided that we needed to ‘hide’ the worst bits and try to cover up the rest.  Cleopatra got a cardigan and a shirt – to put on with instructions that under no circumstances was to she to stand-up;  Nigel was sent out to a ‘morning tea meeting’ – staff were hidden in storerooms and – fill in staff from other areas manned the desks.  The tour duly arrived – Ary who we had not had time to appraise of the problems – struggled a bit at first but caught on very quickly – so it was a quick inspection of Jetset’s finest and then an equally quick departure to other areas.
We got away with it – just – and Frank who was out of the office at the time returned to wonder what all the fuss was about.  Just another day at F&T was the response.
Frank – with his assistant Joan Cameron was very big into the social club and was one of the ‘ring leaders’ of the many events that the club used to host.  I recall that they did the Rocky Horror show once – which was quite a hit, my mate Mark Oscar starred as Riff Raff and did not even have to get made up.
There were plenty of other characters – like Bill Dorrington – who used to take his shoes off when he got stressed (almost daily) in his role of calculating fares, Merilyn Kondys – who was part of the management team and a host of State Managers who used to report to Frank.  I recall Greg Morris (Queensland) – Tony Marks (and of course the irrepressible Brian Wood) both of whom at one stage ran NSW, Nigel of course for Victoria and the WA team lead by John Stirling.
Frank in later years – when Dennis Adams went to F&T – moved across to the GSA area and started a programme to increase the number of airlines that Jetset represented in Australia and he did one hell of a job in that area.
Jetset Fares & Ticketing was a huge part of my life at Jetset even before my stint (unsuccessful stint) at running it and the characters that were part of the team all made a huge impact on me over my time there.
Tim Wagg/John Lemish – Jetset Tours
The key part of the Jetset offer to the agency network was the Jetset Tour Programme and for almost the whole time I was there it was run by Tim Wagg with John as his number two.  At the end of my time at Jetset it was Rohan Moss (‘the colt from way out west’) who managed the whole process having been promoted from reservations manager.  However – again I get ahead of myself.
Jetset Tours (Wholesale we shall call it) was unique – it had a unique culture and a unique modus operandi both of which were managed and controlled by Tim – with support from John and under the direction of DC.  It was the most politically incorrect customer service area of the business during my whole time at Jetset – wholesale was never at fault it was always the agent, sales, the customer or all three but never wholesale – because there operations were always perfect.  The fact is the words “customer service” and Jetset Wholesale were mutually exclusive – they played zero part within the operating culture of the time, which made it a tough gig – most of the time – trying to build relationships with agents on the back of a very difficult management attitude.
There were those – like Tony Freeman, Heather Tweddle, Mark Gray and others who saw the shortcomings and tried to compensate but they were too few and far between to really make a difference, and the fact is that the relationship between agent and wholesale was one of mutual distrust – coupled with a need to work well together.
The relationship between the sales side (led first by Gary Marshall) and the admin side Tim/John was, to say the least, interesting and at times quite amusing.  I cite as an example the great Big Mac debate that started on a Friday night with an argument (loud argument) over the intercom (I must tell you about the intercoms) between Gary and John over some apparent minor infraction that occurred between agents/sales and admin that day.
Gary – on the way home decided to make amends and buy John a ‘sorry gift’ to apologise for what had been quite a fruity debate.  So he stopped and bought John a ‘Junior Burger’ on the way home.  He left said Junior Burger in his car (it was mid-summer) for the whole weekend and on the Monday morning deposited it onto Johns desk – with a note – before he arrived at work.  You can imagine the stink from the burger – and the odour of the office when John arrived – BUT – the thing that upset John the most was that it was a Junior Burger not a Big Mac that he thought better suited his status.
Tony Freeman was another character from wholesale – but he was a bit different as he was able to look at things from both sides – not just one.  I often used pick Tony up from Edithvale (where he lived) early in the morning and deliver him to Jetset to start his day.  It was a loose sort of set-up, if Tony was there I took him to work – if he was not then he missed out, but he kept some very strange working hours did Tony and it was not unusual for him to be at his desk – when I arrived – having got in around 0300 from some event and deciding to to straight to work.
Some days he looked a lot like death when I collected him from the Edithvale bus shelter – as he liked to play both ends against the middle did our Tony and he pushed his body quite hard in doing it……
Next time – more wholesale, sales and distribution stories plus some of the event along the way…….oh and more Tony Freeman as well
Written by: Peter Watson

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