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Part Five: The Bits In The Middle 1973 – 1979

April 29, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email
Glen Travel Service
I joined Glen Travel – run by Freddie Stevenson (Ex Global Tours) and S D (Dick) Tiffin in 1974 (after spending twelve months driving taxis in Frankston) as a senior travel consultant working in the office at the Glen Shopping Centre.  Glen Travel was a small – independently run and operated retail travel agent – that “struggled” to keep up in the expanding world of travel during the seventies – all bought about by the 747 “Jumbo Jet” and the Pacesetter airfares that the big airplane bought to the market.

It was originally called Sampsons Travel and was part of the Sampsons Agency group with another (head) office in the city.  The partners (Fred and Dick) in Glen Waverley and (Geoff Sampson and Tony Leverington) in the city – did not get on and a few months after I joined there was a major split.  The partners each went their own way with Fred and Dick – plus a new investor John Good (ex P&O – where he worked in the Freight Department) retaining the Glen Waverley office.
We (the Glen Waverley team) immediately took a decision to rebrand (partly forced on us by the terms of the split) and redecorate the office.  So we called in some friends from a display/fit-out company that worked with travel agents and over a weekend converted the very old fashioned Sampsons Travel – to a much more modern and up to date (for 1974 at least) Glen Travel.  The new design put me right in the front line – with my desk the first one to greet an arriving customer – which suited me because I liked ‘selling’ and enjoyed the challenge of meeting new people and creating new clients.
I won’t say that we thrived in the new environment but over the next 3/4 years we did establish ourselves in the local market and went from struggling to moderately successful and actually made money for the shareholders.  We were helped by the fact that Fred was Centre Manager of The Glen ( so he was not on our payroll) and could wangle us advertising and marketing display space with ease.  As a result we had lots of shopping centre promotions – especially in conjunction with our mates at Sitmar Cruises; at one stage early in the 1976 sales season – we were the number one agent in the state – following a huge two week promo, involving fashion parades, a model ship in the mall and loads of kids events – and a huge producer for Sitmar.
We also got involved with local businesses in an effort to build up a corporate base – this was part of my role – and we did OK with this element of the business and it added to the sales mix.  We also had a couple outside consultants working with us and they ‘filled in’ – when one of either John or I were away from our desks.  Later on we opened a back office (across the road) – and John shifted to there to manage the accounts systems, the corporates and all the back office elements – and we hired another ‘junior’ consultant Karen Normington for the second (main office) desk to work with me.
At one stage we actually had John Good, Lorraine Biviano and Geoff Best and all working for us – now Bivano means “better” in Italian so we actually had Good – Better and Best working for us; I am sure it made a difference!  The work was interesting – the contact with clients providing a variety of challenges – the involvement with Fred, John, Dick, and the other (floating) team members Geoff Best, my old mate from P&O Michael Quinn, and others that floated in and out was fun and we all got on well inside the office.
Socially – outside of after work drinks and office functions however – we rarely mixed as Fred, Dick and John were much older and the other team members more itinerant  so out of office interaction was limited to say the least.  My social activities involved local friends and families (Frankston area) who had kids of their own at school.
In early 1977 I was made an offer – by a client who I had got know quite well – to help him develop a new business – on the Gold Coast.  After a few weeks thinking about it I made the decision that my time at Glen Travel was probably over and this – new horizon beckoned.
Sydney Dick (Dick) Tiffin
Just a word about S D Tiffin because he was THE character from this period in my life.  Born in England he was moved – with his parents – to Rhodesia at the age of one, and he stayed in Rhodesia until he was three (so two years) before he moved to Australia where he lived the rest of his life.  Yet he called himself Rhodesian – carried a Rhodesian passport and was intensely proud of his ‘Rhodesian’ heritage.
Dick was one of the most difficult men I have ever met – he could turn a client off the business in 5 minutes flat with his questions and statements – which is why we keep him out of the office – doing the deliveries and collections in the city – for as often as we could.  He usually arrived in Glen Waverley around 1500 – and we managed to keep him out of the way for a couple hours – but he insisted on working Saturdays which was an issue.
Dick had been Office Manager at MacDonald Hamilton & Co (Agents for P&O Orient Line back in those days) in Collins Street Melbourne selling travel in his own very special and occasionally spectacular way.  He was always immaculately dressed, even on weekends, and neatly groomed but he was without doubt one of the most difficult and unpredictable men I have ever had to deal with.  You never knew what would upset him or set him off, so when he was ‘in one of his moods’ you were always on tenterhooks.  But he was a character and he did have an influence on my life so he does rate a special mention here.
The Lost Years
In August 1977 I moved on from Glen Travel and entered a sort of twighlight period in which I struggled to re-establish myself in the industry.
Palm Beach Travel 
First I helped set up the travel business on the Gold Coast – Palm Beach travel, but a falling out with my business partners put paid to that (warning never do business with people you don’t really know, and who have different – if undeclared) ideas to you  – it does not ever work) and sent me packing back to Melbourne.
I helped open Palm Beach Travel with Don and Betty Armstrong and John and Joan Wolbers in September 1977.  We occupied a shop in the new Palm Beach “Kingswood Park’ shopping complex – in Palm Beach Avenue, the complexed was funded by and owned by John Wolbers and built by Don Armstrong.  Don was an ex Melbournian – a spec builder whose usual role was building houses – and he lived locally in Palm Beach.  Whilst he was a Gold Coast resident you would have thought Don and Betty still lived in Melbourne, they only read Melbourne papers and Melbourne and events in Melbourne dominated their lives – except for local football where they followed Coolangatta.
John Wolbers was a dutchman – and he was the client who enticed me to come to Palm Beach – and he turned out a most unpleasant man; a fact that I had been warned about before I moved but chose to ignore – as you do when you have stars in your eyes.  I can honestly say he was so unpleasant that the is the only person I would probably not stop for – if I saw him between my car headlights.
The whole Palm Beach experience was unpleasant – I was first separated from my family for two months and then had them living in a caravan for the next three months which was most uncomfortable.  The business – like all new businesses – took time to set up and time to establish but John Wolbers had no patience for that at all and was looking for instant success.
To cut not a long story even shorter – after 5 months of wrangling I called time on my part in the venture – I walked out of the business relationship – leaving my investment behind and headed back to Melbourne with my family in January of 1978.  Ironically – we arrived back at our house – which had been on the market for six months – to find we had finally had “an offer” – at the right price.  We rejected the offer (much to the agents disgust) and moved back into our home in Frankston – relieved to be away from the squabbles.
There were however a number of “legal” battles fought over the next two years – over cars, investments and some other stupid stuff.  Most of which I won – but in the end it cost me more (in legal fees) to win them than it would have to simply ‘pay-up’ in the first place a fact that’s made me wary of lawyers ever since.
Working for THE Man
On returning to Melbourne I was introduced by a friend (Ron Jones – he was also my accountant at the time) to the incentive travel business and THE Man – John Holmes (No – not THAT John Holmes) another John Holmes who ran a business called Advanced Incentive Motivation Services (AIMS).  After a couple for chats John offered me a position as his travel manager – where I would plan, put together and promote the travel side of his incentive program – working with his travel agent associate Norm Peden at Concourse Travel in Beaumauris, who I knew.  It was a role that I accepted with a great deal of hope and excitement but one that led no-where in the end.
Let me put it this way – of all of the bosses that I have ever had (there have been a few) John Holmes was far and away the worst.  He was THE Man – it was his way or the highway – but he was also a do as I say man not do as I do.  His actions – in running his business, managing his staff and transacting with his clients were the complete opposite of the b/s he used to preach to us in meetings and staff briefings, which he was forever calling.
He was having a very public affair with his then PA (she shall remain nameless) – a fact which influenced his decision making process more than a little bit.  If she (The PA) did not like something or someone then nor did John, on the contrary if she was for something then John loved it.  He and she loved long lunches (well who doesn’t) – late afternoon drinks in the office and A list social events – staff were expected to be part of – and enjoy – the first two (irrespective) but never the third.
He spent money – that is his companies money – like water and was forever behind in both paying his bills and collecting his debts, both of which make/made it hard to run a successful small business in what was a competitive field.  He had some great clients – the Ford Motor Company being one, and I had quite a time organising travel for them in the six/seven months that I worked with AIMS but in truth it was always going to be short term.
The week before the 1978 Grand Final he had a major row with Ron Jones (the accountant and the guy who introduced me to the business) which led to a major argument with me when he (John Holmes) thought I was backing Ron Jones in what he saw was a turf war.  After a week of back and forth b/s and arguing I walked into his office on Grand Final eve – told him to stick his job, stick his business and stick the drink he offered me where the sun don’t shine and walked out.
Now – just so you don’t think it was all a spur of the moment thing I had – just that day – been offered a role at another travel business, that I had been working with whilst at AIMS – so I decided that I might give that a try.
Voyager Travel – Phil Cornu
I moved to Albert Park – 14 Queens Road to be exact – where I spent just over 6 months at Voyager Travel working with the extraordinary, eccentric and extravagant Philomela Cornu; but that was never going to last (none of the promises she had made me – when she lured me across – were ever kept) and after many frustrations and many false starts – in March 1979 I moved on again.
Counting My Fingers – Moray Travel Group
This time I went to work in South Melbourne with the fledgling Moray Travel Group – owned and operated by (a political associate from my Liberal Party days) Barry Moignard and his widely assorted group of shareholders.  There were four agencies in the group – Holiday Packets (Sandringham), Moray House Travel (South Melbourne), Moray Travel (Ex HC Sleigh Travel) in Sydney and an agency in Wodonga that Barry co-owned with one of his fellow directors.
Those directors were a varied lot – without names I shall try to describe them; one was funeral director from one of the largest funeral businesses in Melbourne; another was heavily involved in shopping centre development (his company still is), another was a highly credentialed Melbourne based architect, another ran an incentive house (No – not AIMS), two were partners in a large insurance broking business and heavily involved in Carlton Football Club and one had his own travel business (the Wodonga one).  Then there was Barry – affectionately known as Barry “count your fingers” Moignard – I can’t imagine why.
Each agency had it’s own board – Barry was Chairman of three of them – then there was an overall board for the group and he was Chairman of that as well.
There was also a proposed and developing wholesale business involving light aircraft tours of outback Australia that was being put together with support from the Australian Tourist Commission who CYF had inveigled into the whole process via his political associates, all of which were in the Federal seat of Flinders – whose local member was Phil Lynch.
My role was to run the South Melbourne Office on the one hand – and help with the sales and marketing program of the Wholesale Product which was being put together by someone with a background in aviation – his name was Peter Damman – he was part of the well known Damman tobacco family and he and I became quite good mates during my time with the group.
I first set about putting together a team that could handle both the travel business and the aircraft touring business and in doing so met two ladies who I have stayed in contact with ever since.
First came Julie Moore – from South Africa who was a professional travel consultant and the perfect person to be the senior consultant in the business and take the bulk of the corporate clients – introduced by the directors.  Julie was a top-notch consultant, she stayed in the travel business for her whole career and I actually worked with her again – years later – when she became a Travel Counsellor.  (That is another story).
Second came Sue Barnett who I bought on board as a junior to work with Julie and with me backing us both up and to help Peter Damman in his work.  I hired Sue – who was probably the least experienced of the 30+ people I interviewed for that role for one reason and one reason only – her enthusiasm and excitement at the possibilities that the role presented.  I figured she would be easy to train and mentor and would work out a really good choice.
I figure I got it right in the end – because not only did both Sue and Julie work well as a team – help us develop the business and keep the wheels turning; Sue went on after MorayTravel – via a couple of stops on the way – to run her own very successful travel agency in Balwyn- which she eventually sold (to a wood duck – who also became a Travel Counsellor) at a good profit in 2008.  I still count Sue Barnett (now Hunter) as a close friend today.
We all worked hard at our roles – did some good work developing the business – and tried hard to get the wholesale (aviation) program in place but the strange structure and the competing pressures bought just too many challenges.  In the end – I had a major falling out – over the progress of and a launch function for the aviation program – with one of the Directors (one from the insurance business)  who claimed that I had made his ‘Japanese’ wife ‘lose face’ at the event.  He lodged an official complaint and on Christmas Eve 1979 I was terminated – instantly – CYF did not even have the courage to do it himself – he sent his accountant to do it for him.
I was out of work for three months until I started a career in aviation that was one of the highlights of my working life – to this very day.
Next instalment: A career in Aviation – Air Tasmania
Written by: Peter Watson

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