The executive vice president worldwide sales & travel operations for Disney Destinations and the president of the Walt Disney Travel Company took a walk down memory lane with e-Travel Blackboard in L.A. earlier this year.
e-Travel Blackboard: How did you get into the travel industry?
Randy: I had no pre-plan to get into the travel business, I was going to school at UCLA back when the minimum wage was $1.65 in the United States and I went into the placement centre because I needed a job to pay for books.
I saw an ad in the placement centre and what caught my attention was the USD$3.25 an hour.
It was with TWA, so I went to work for TWA as a part-time seasonal contingent reservation agent.
I went down there on a Saturday, showed up in a hanger and there were a gazillion people there and I had to take a test. Apparently I passed the test and then went into an extensive training program, but I liked it.
They then offered me a regular part-time job which meant I went from USD$3.25 an hour to USD$4, which was pretty good! I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a raise, percentage wise, as high as that, I mean when you think about it, 75 cents, that’s like a 20-25 per cent raise!
Later on, they offered me a fulltime management job which was very unusual because most of the people who got promoted into management had worked there forever and had worked there fulltime.
I will tell you that a lot of people I was working with were not motivated by the job, I guess I was young enough that I liked it. I looked at selling as kind of a challenge.
I was really always ranked in the top five sales people working twenty hours a week, and everyone else in the top ten was at least forty hours. I just didn’t think it was that hard.
I decided I didn’t have to go to law school because this was good money. I went from USD$4 per hour to about $1000 per month and became a quality controller.
The thing that was most interesting to me about that job was that, instead of working in one area, I got to work in many.
It was incredible because I didn’t realise it was going to be adversarial to the airport managers and the in-flight managers and everyone else because the data that we were simulating got reported up. We were under a vice president and his staff would get the data and they would hammer the airport managers.
So it almost became like a game for them, they’d have somebody tracking us with a radio. It was insane! Instead of playing the game straight and figure out how to improve the service, they were always trying to game it.
If they knew that I was monitoring baggage delivery on the flight, they’d have five guys work that flight and nobody working the other flights.
It was my first exposure to a management job and I was 22. So, that was a fabulous job. But it was so fabulous that they eliminated it!
It was one of the first things they did. The airline was always going through trials and tribulations.
In my world, those would have been the last ones I would have gotten rid of.
I actually went back on the phones as a reservations agent and it was a real learning experience for me because, when I got promoted to begin with, there were a lot of people who were annoyed and upset that I got promoted.
It was a really interesting because I don’t really have a big ego, but people were mean to me.
When I came back they said things like, "we knew you’d be back", "you’ll never amount to anything".
I just kept my head up and never really responded. You know, it hurt me, but I just figured, hey, that’s life.
I had the opportunity, when that job was eliminated, to stay in a management job and to move to St Louis or Philadelphia and not to a demotion but I was young and I didn’t want to leave my mother and my friends.
I was only in that office for 2-3 months before they put me into a temporary leadership job as a sales training instructor because I was good at sales. The first management job that opened, I got put into and it was interesting because instead of being out in the general sales floor, they put me in the highest revenue producing travel agent desk.
My boss went out on a medical leave when I was 23 and they decided to put me in as the manager of all the supervisors. He was out on a pretty extended leave and I figured he put me in this job not to be like his chief of staff, but to run this the way I would run it.
So I made lots of changes and, that didn’t go over real well, but I looked at it and I thought about what I would do if I had the job fulltime.
I made massive changes to things and people were griping about it and when he came back, I told him to run with it a little longer and it worked out.
So, you know, I went back to my supervisor’s role and then, in the winter of 1977 when I was 25, I decided that I’d learned basically what I could have learned from there.
I made a lateral move and moved from the reservation centre in Los Angeles to Kansas City, Missouri and I did it for USD$80 a month. I was insane!
I had such a nice lifestyle in L.A. and my mother was disappointed because I left on her birthday.
I’d never really lived away from her, she was heartbroken but she was great, she got why I had to do it.
I had a job as the supervisor of central reservations control and it was the first time the airline had gotten into selling cars, hotels…things like that.
It was called the NARS (Non-Airline-Reservation-System).
I might add, by the way, before I left Los Angeles, I made so many mistakes as a young supervisor. I had this mindset that everybody on my staff had the same work ethic that I did and that they should be working hard and producing good results.
I learned early through lots of trial and error that I focused a lot of my energy on the poor performers and I got lots of grievances. I didn’t focus anything on the high performers.
So I realised early that you’ve got to do both.
What I learned from that is everybody has a different trigger, everybody has a different motivator behind why they’re at work and, you know, you’ve got to treat each person differently.
Although you’ve got to have consistency and equality with policies you’ve got to find out what’s important to each person.
I wanted to remake myself from the hard-driving guy who was really hammering the poor performers.
I had this epiphany through training on coaching, motivating and interpersonal skills. I knew what I needed to do. I’d been in that office for five to six years and they wouldn’t let me remake myself, so that’s why I moved to Kansas City.
I figured I’d get a new start with new people and I could use the philosophical tendencies that I wanted to use, but with people who didn’t know me.
When I moved to Kansas City, the funny thing was that the team there had already networked with the team in California and when I got there they’d heard all these bad things about me. They didn’t believe they were talking about the same guy!
They had a different work ethic. Everybody worked hard and they were grateful for a job.
In 1979 the guy who was running sales for TWA in Kansas City recruited me.
In those days, Kansas City was a key market for TWA because it was their administrative headquarters, where their overhaul base was. I didn’t want to work in sales because when I was running the travel agency sales desk, they didn’t necessarily have the company’s best interests at heart.
So I was 26 before I took this job and they made me an Account Manager, which was higher rates and they gave me all the top accounts. So it was another situation where people weren’t really happy with my promotion.
I was in that job from 1979 until 1982, and I loved it. It was the first job I had where my boss wasn’t hanging over my head and it was also very interesting because we had no chairs.
I was a sales person, in an office and I had no chair because my boss didn’t want us in the office!
I was in this job for maybe a year or two before I asked to go into the more rural areas.
My boss thought I was nuts because the more rural areas were not the more prestigious ones but I really needed to see how they did business in a different market.
So I ended up in Springfield, Missouri and it was great for me.
In 1982 I had an opportunity to become a regional manager in either Syracuse, New York or Hartford, Connecticut.
I made the decision based on the fact that Hartford had no state income tax and, New York did. I’d never been to either place, but I figured that I’d have more money in my pocket if I went to Connecticut.
I was in that job from, June 1982 until April of 1983, when the guy who used to be the city vice president for TWA, had left TWA and gone into the cruise business.
At that time in 1983, the cruise industry had been migrating from transportation to a real cruise industry.
e-Travel Blackboard: “The Love Boat” and all that…
Randy: Right! What was so amazing to me at the time was that the key cruise executives all came out of the airline industry!
The Chairman of the board of Holland and America was an ex-TWA director, the president of Sitmar, which was a cruise line at the time, was also an ex-TWA Executive and the senior vice president of sales and marketing at Royal Viking Line, which was where I ended up, was an ex-TWA Executive.
All these guys were in really senior jobs in the cruise industry but I really didn’t want to leave because I’d finally gotten to the point in the airline industry where instead of having to throw my hat in the ring, people were finally starting to notice me, but I was persuaded to leave the airline industry in 1983 and go to work for Royal Viking Line.
It was the smartest thing I ever did business-wise, I loved it!
Here I am, thirty years old and I’m working for a cruise line that was very high end. I jokingly used to say it was a cruise line for the ‘newly wed and nearly dead’ because the average age was in the mid-70’s!
e-Travel Blackboard: That’s the perception we’re trying to veer away from now Randy!
Randy: In a couple of years we brought down the average age of passengers by over ten years. I didn’t know anybody who had money, but I started to talk to my dentist, my doctor, people that I’d known forever and I’d moved back to California for this job and I talked to my mother’s friends, the people she played bridge with, the people she bowled with and I asked what kind of music they listened to, what radio stations they listened to, what they were reading.
e-Travel Blackboard: Original market research!
Randy: Yeah, mother-in-law research! I didn’t really know what would influence them and that was the first time that I realised that I’ve got to put myself in the mind of the consumer, not my own mind.
The things I was accustomed to reading, listening to, whatever, was not what my target audience was into.
So I recommended to Royal Viking Line to take down the cruises to ten and eleven days and to start things like the two-step. We would take four day cruises in Mexico or seven day cruises to the Caribbean, Royal Viking Line never did cruises this short, and then what we’d do is give people their credit back towards a longer cruise within 12 months, non-transferable.
It was incredibly successful and I really enjoyed the job.
While I was there, the president of Universal Studios had called me to try to sell me a sponsorship, so I met him and during the meeting I asked him why he would come to us when tickets are like USD$10.95 and we’re very expensive.
I told him that his marketing people are nuts, they should have gone to Carnival and I had a really nice conversation with him.
A couple of years later he called me again and I answered the phone and I said, “Okay what are you trying to sell me now?” He said, “I’m not trying to sell you anything, I want you to come and work for me”.
Stay tuned for part two of our interview next week on e-Travel Blackboard.
Source = e-Travel Blackboard: Natalie Aroyan