Melanie Waters-Ryan is the quintessential Flight Centre recruit. She started with the company in 1987 as an agent on the floor and worked her way through various positions to become the current chief operating officer and managing director of the travel group's Australian operations. From sales to consultancy, human resources to training, Melanie has just about had a taste of it all.
"I had finished an arts degree in psychology at Queensland University, worked in the UK, and travelled for about a year, came back around my twenty-first birthday and did the classic What will I do now?" Melanie recalls. "I looked in the paper and saw an ad for a Flight Centre consultant which, at the time, I thought I would just do for a little while. I got the job and here I am today, 27 years later. Over that time, I have done just about everything. I have had about seven careers in the one company."
Melanie has seen the business grow and change considerably over that time. When she initially joined, there were just 20 stores with a small number of staff. Today, the Flight Centre Travel Group is present in 11 countries around the world with approximately 18,500 employees. It has 30 brands in the categories of leisure, corporate, and wholesale including Travel Money Oz, 99 Bikes, My Adventure Store, Escape Travel, Student Flights, and Cruiseabout. Its corporate travel management network extends even further with FCm Travel Solutions present in more than 75 countries, through strategic licensing agreements with independent local operators.
Flight Centre is currently in a period of reinvention no longer simply a travel agent, it is branding itself as a world-class retailer. Its newly outlined Noble Selling Purpose (NSP) is at the heart of this transformation. Based on a concept explored by American business leader Lisa McLeod in her book Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud, Melanie says the idea is to capture what Flight Centre has been doing for the past 30 years and then use that to create a sense of purpose within the team.
"Our slogan is: 'We care about delivering amazing travel experiences,'" she says. "What we have realised is that we sell travel primarily through people. We're not an online travel agency (OTA). I'm not saying we don't have websites, because we do, but the why behind the NSP was to give our people a mission."
There are three key words in that statement: care, deliver, and amazing. The reason we chose those very carefully is that we felt the thing which differentiates us from others in the market is our people. They care about what they're doing, whereas computers don't care. Yes, computers are efficient and they make things easy, but they don't necessarily care.