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Part Nine: The Jetset Years – Snakes and Ladders – 1992 – 1997

May 4, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email
So I moved into Jetset Fares & Ticketing on the ninth floor at Queens Road and I took with me Mike Farnell and Michelle Ryan.  Mike was to help me set up the sales processes (sales admin was his forte) and Michelle was my Exec Assistant and I simply could not leave her behind.

Now setting up the sales part was easy – that was after all my speciality – and the set up and implementation phase of that part of the strategy – with Mike’s very capable assistance went really well and showed results almost from day one as we shifted from a transactionally focussed business to a relationship focussed business and trained our team to do the same thing.  Some got it quicker than others of course and there were challenges from the (shall we say) ‘old guard’ but things got moving fairly quickly.
It was the second part of the undeclared strategy – that David Clarke “dropped  the big bombshell” on – not long before Christmas 1992.  Apparently he had tried it on with Dennis Adams before I moved over but Dennis – who had a much stronger position in the business, having been an Isi (these days we would call it a Captain’s pick) said no – it can’t be done and David got overruled – a very rare occurrence indeed.
In short David wanted the state by state operations of Jetset Fares and Ticketing consolidated into one national operation – which in my view was possible (tricky and challenging  but possible) if planned carefully. THE problem was that David wanted it done by January 1993 and, despite my strongest advice against, wanted it all done at once – every state (bar WA) done on the one day.
Over the week (yes just one week) that we debated the issue I mounted my best arguments against that plan arguing that doing it state by state – starting in SA, then doing QLD and finally switching over NSW was by far a better strategy – and that taking 6/9 months to complete the task would give us the absolute best result – much better than doing it all in less than three months.  Of course, in his usual fashion David ‘knew better’, refused to listen and insisted we proceed as per his wishes.  So – under resourced, underfunded (as it turns out) and under planned (due to the haste) we started the process.  Now – have I told you before that I am a big picture man – I see the big vision really well and can map out a long term strategy with the best of them – but I need a detail person working with me to ‘clean up’ – to dot the i’s and cross the t’s so to speak.  That was  the role that Suzanne Cavanagh managed with the Franchise Network and that is why the whole process worked so well.  With my Jetset F&T role I did not have that one person and David was simply not interested in providing one.  He had his vision and his picture of how it would work and that was that.
The person who we allocated the task to (an ex army logistics expert, spotted by David and forced on me by him, called Barry Lawrence was – in the end – simply not up to it, (everyone in the whole damn company – bar David could see it).  He got the numbers all wrong and got us started on the wrong track (almost) from day one.  He was so bad at his role and alienated so many people that I sacked him on Christmas eve 1992 – but I did it without reference  to David – which ‘created yet another’ issue, that David remembered.
Now did I also tell you that late in 1992 (as we tried to centralise Jetset F&T) – I was also reinstated as Managing Director Jetset New Zealand (the local experiment having failed at the first try) – but it was with a twist.  I was meant to run the show from Melbourne, spending one week in Melbourne doing two roles and the next in Auckland again doing two roles.  So I was busy –  distracted and not well focussed, and as a result I (at least from David’s point of view) screwed up the whole Jetset Fare Deals (we renamed and rebranded F&T at the same time) centralisation process.
It was a genuine disaster from Day One and got a whole lot worse before we even got it close to under control and operating at around 75% efficiency (after about six months) – but by then the damage had been done and I was moved on – yet again – this time backwards.
In July 1993 – I was dumped back into what was then called Jetset Distribution – reporting (yet again) to Andrew Richards with the responsibility (yet again) of developing the Jetset Family which consisted of those agents who had not progressed – then around 500 of them – to the Franchise Network.
I had two staff and me – one small office and not a lot of support – and had to start the process from scratch.  Luckily – as it turned out a year or so later – I chose not to ‘chuck it all in’ and walk away; but decided to stay and ‘tough it out’ – and leave (when I chose to) on my own terms.
During most of 1993 I commuted between Melbourne and Auckland still handling the New Zealand role – as we worked to find a long term solution to the New Zealand operation – and set about building what was by then known as the Group Agent Network into “The Jetset  Associated Agent Network”.  It was a long tough year but in the end results were achieved in both areas of the business and my star began to rise again.
My Group Agent team – Mike Farnell and Trish McKenzie held things together in Melbourne whilst I flipped backwards and forwards between the two cities and got to know Air New Zealand and the Tasman route really well.  The agent network grew and (more importantly) their performance improved and their value to the company increased.  Our small team was well organised – worked hard – and got strong support from our mates in WA (Mike Croy and Terry Old).
In New Zealand after lots of work – some inspired negotiation – and some support from my old mate Norm Thompson at Air New Zealand – we settled on a new MD and brought back, after a major deal with the Stars Travel Group, Tim Tapper – who immediately set New Zealand on ‘the right track’ and won over the agents to the new Jetset NZ.
By Christmas 1993 I was back to one role – Managing the Jetset Group Agents – back in the Management circle – and well on the way to recovering loads of lost ground.  The next year produced more of the  same and at a major agent launch in Macau (later in the year) we launched a whole new scheme and a new deal that established the Associated Agent network as a real force and created what we called ‘Elite Associated Agents’ that would set us in good stead for a few years later when we launched the NAITA network.
The only cloud on the horizon was a dispute between Jetset and AFTA – where I was (as I have said) a Director at National level – a dispute that was created, managed and led by David Clarke.  It was quite a bitter fight and got very difficult at the end – I can’t even remember what the dispute was actually about – automation I think but in the end it lead to the end of my stint at AFTA .
The whole thing fell apart when David Clarke threatened to sue the AFTA Board (me included) over the issue – which sort of left me in the ultimate of untenable positions – so I resigned as both VP and a Director – much to my chagrin.  I remember the late Ian Marshman (journalist with Travel Weekly) calling me for comment the next day – and he asked what I thought of it all.
Luckily I chose to stay “off the record” and all I said to him was what the f#$k can I do – get sued by my own idiot boss, who has got it all completely f$#%*&g wrong and then lose my job – or just walk away and leave him to sort out the mess.  He (thankfully) kept it all off the record and my ‘indiscretion’ was never revealed.  But my AFTA career was well and truly over!  The dispute by the way – ended peacefully a few weeks later as these things often do and DC even suggested that I could return to AFTA if I wanted to.  I chose to say NO!
David Clarke left Jetset (finally forced out by Isi – after years of being told to by – of all people – Isi’s mother) in late 94 and for a while we had joint leaders taking his role in Dennis Adams and Tim Wagg.  I was apparently in Isi’s good books – because I very quickly (once again) became part of the senior management team – and when Andrew Richards resigned I had great hopes of getting his role as GM Jetset Distribution.  In the end it did not happen that way – Isi (with Dennis and Tims help) chose Jan Cochrane from Tourism Vic to head the business and my role was upgraded to handle all of the various sales functions of the company – reporting to Jan.
Jan Cochrane was good for me – we got on well and I learned quite a lot from the way she did things, and I think I was good for her as I knew and understood the agent networks in way she did not.  We made a good team and we had a great team underneath us and the networks began to thrive and develop.  But as is usual with Jetset there were clouds on the horizon and they were dark and gathering quickly.
The business was being run – at the top – by Isi, a returned and resurgent David Grant and (so it seemed) by Isi’s youngest son Romy (not the sharpest tool in the tool shed by any stretch of the imagination) – and they had grandiose ideas of restoring Jetset to its former glory of Number 1 by reverting to tactics they had used (way back) in 1975.
First of all we went through GM’s (leaders) like a hot knife goes through butter.  First Tim Wagg was forced out and that left Dennis Adams running the show on his own – then Dennis left and the poisoned chalice was handed to Col Williamson – who(eventually) ‘got the chop’ to be replaced by The COO – Ian McPherson – who Isi brought in to the business from outside the industry.  It seems that Isi and Ian rarely agreed on anything and the COO lasted around three months before Isi sent him packing!
Amongst all of this chaos other divisional GM’s who Isi did not agree with were also sent packing so we lost a lot of good people like Rohan Moss and (in the end) Jan Cochrane in late 1996. But again I am getting slightly ahead of myself.
Throughout 1995 – in conjunction with Jan and the Jetset Distribution team we continued to develop both the Franchise and The Associated Agents network – maintained a good balance in the business – and managed to keep Isi and David Grant happy with the performance of the business.   Following our conference “Body Mind and Business” at Hyatt Coolum in late 1995 – presided over by both Jan and Col Williamson and visited for the first time ever by Isi we had a chance to take a breath.  I took some leave post Christmas and went up to Thailand but things were happening in Oz that created further chaos.
Isi had a falling out with Sandra McPhee at Qantas – which led to a threat by Qantas to ‘not recognise’ any/all of our un-franchised agents – which would have left a huge hole in our network as over 50% of that network was in the independent (Associated Agent Category).  That caused panic between Isi and David Grant and Jan was instructed to call me back from leave in order to create a new franchise network out of our independent group!
So in mid January 1996 at an all day meeting in Melbourne we designed and created the NAITA (National Association of Independent Agents) network – although we did not at that stage have a name for it – that came later.  The fact is that a few months earlier in mid 1995 – in conjunction with Terry Old (Jetset WA) – and others – we had already created a business model for a new independent agents network  that we had considered putting forward as a business proposal in the future.
So the creation of the business plan – and the launching of the network (almost) became a matter of dotting i’s and crossing t’s on an existing document that was already in existence.  It took a bit of work convincing David Grant (who had charge of the project) and a few others but at the end of that first day we had our plan and we went to work on our schedule.
In February 1996 we launched the NAITA network – with me in the newly titled role of Group General Manager Sales and Networks leading the charge and Jan C looking after the franchised network.   The NAITA network became a favourite project of Isi and he demanded constant updates and had a huge expectation of massive results in the very short term.
The fact is a semi -branded network of unbranded independent agents was always going to be a tough sell and it took a massive effort, loads of follow up and an Australia wide meeting schedule that was almost continuous to make inroads but we persisted despite the interference.  By the time we took our efforts to a conference in Rotorua – where the keynote speaker was the Ex Prime Minister of NZ David Lange – and delivered the full benefits package we had nearly 200 members of the fledgling group and a number of others sitting on the fence.
Now the Rotorua conference was remarkable for a number of events and incidents – and these shall be commented on in due course, under a separate heading, but the key is that the Rotorua conference in May 1996- sealed the deal with Qantas, established NAITA and set in train the three tiered network that lasted the test of time right through to 2002 – when we (the then Travelworld Group) acquired Jetset from Air New Zealand, but that is a long way ahead and indeed very much a tale for another time and place.
Our Jetset conference in 1996 was in Bali – and it was a raging success with once again Isi attending – as an observer not a participant and a number of key speakers presenting key points of view.  It was Jan Cochrane’s last major Jetset event as she departed the scene not that long after.  Like the Rotorua conference for NAITA agents there were a number of events worth reporting on and they too shall be ‘revealed’ a bit later on.
I took leave in December 1996 – a group of us headed for New York and Christmas in the USA with New Year in the Bahamas – and whilst I did not get called back from leave this time a genuine shit storm blew up while I was away  – a shit storm that led to the roughest 6 weeks of my working life from mid January to early March 1997.  Those 6 weeks culminated in my departure from Jetset and my heading off in new directions.
Involved in the whole process were Isi, David Grant and Romy Leibler – the useless and fragile COO (Chief Operating Officer) David McPherson and the whole Jetset sales team.   It all had to do with Isi and David wanting to restore Jetset to its glory days and their approach achieve that.  In short they wanted to turn their backs on every deal that had ever been made with our Franchise and NAITA agents and make it a free-for-all in the competition for new business.
David McP – in his role as COO – had been brought in to ensure this all happened and (I suspect – in fact I know) to ensure my compliance with and support for the project.  The problem was that he could see everything that was wrong with it and (essentially) was on my side in opposing it all.  That could never last and he was booted out by Isi in mid February 1997 – and I was left one out.
It was about the same time (maybe a month or so earlier) that Rod (“Chirpa) Robson was brought across from Ansett (I think after Jan C left) – ostensibly to back me up in my role- but also as a fairly obvious and blatant succession plan – a Plan B if you like – just in case Isi decided to let me go.  The trouble was that Chirpa and I got on well saw things much the same way, and both disagreed with the top level approach.
For six weeks I had daily fights with Isi’, David and Romy over their tactics, my opposition to those tactics and the failure of the sales team to deliver on those tactics.  Each afternoon around 1500 I was called up – poured a Scotch (Chivas on the rocks) and lectured and hectored as to what we should do next and how important it all was, and each day I (basically) refused to break faith with our agent network.  It was never going to last.  It was after all (still) his company even if the 50% shareholders were trying to change that and Qantas was sniffing around doing some sort of due diligence.  In that sort of environment the owner always wins out.
Finally on a Thursday morning – during the first week of March I asked to see Isi at 1100; he greeted me with “you’re very early – so what do you want to talk about today?”  I remember my answer well – “not much – just this” and I slapped the resignation down on his desk.  He picked it up – read it – looked at me in shock, in fact he went white as he clearly was not expecting it – and immediately said “I am not accepting that” – to which I responded “well you have to – because I am leaving – all we have to agree on is a date.”
Now I will not say what Chirpa said when I walked into his office to tell him what I had just done – he clearly knew because Isi had just rung and called him up – but he called me a name that he and I still joke about today.  To cut a short but anxious waiting period even shorter Isi finally agreed to let me go (after originally insisting that I work out a months notice right under his nose on the 10th floor) a few days later – and I only found out that I was leaving on the day I did by accident when both Lesley Owen and George Sossi told me they could not make my farewell drinks that night!
I rang Isi and said have you forgotten to tell me something – and he said something like – oh yes we are letting you finish up tonight.  So my last night was impromptu drinks on the tenth floor with Isi – a few of my mates and the tenth floor team and my farewell gift (after 15 years) a bottle of JW Back Label Scotch that Isi – after being urged on by his PA Karen – grabbed out of his personal grog cupboard.
I left Jetset – at around 6.30pm on a Wednesday evening and drove out of the car park for the last time for exactly five years – and went straight to a dinner meeting with another key travel figure who wanted “a chat.”  He will – always – remain nameless because in the end I said no to his proposal (and it was a good one) after a week or so’s consideration, so there is no need at all to elaborate.
They were my Jetset days!
Postscript:
Now there are many tales and many characters that were part of those Jetset days and over the next few instalments I shall attempt to elaborate on them without creating “issues” for either them or myself, which may well be a tad tricky.
Written by: Peter Watson 

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