A Brief Auto-Bio


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TRAVEL

My first travel experiences were at an early age, going on summer vacations with my parents.  I still remember the sense of wonder the first time we went for a vacation in NZ's South Island.  To do this, we took an overnight ferry crossing from Wellington to Christchurch, and what an amazing experience that was.  Then, driving off the ferry in Christchurch, it seemed to my young eyes that we were in a different country - after a semi-magical journey by sea, we were now in some half unreal foreign realm.

I was hooked.  Travel just opened up so many new experiences, and broadened my horizons so far.

I got to experience what I thought to be the ultimate in jobs - working at sea - for a while.  I was being paid (and very generously) for doing what I enjoyed the most - traveling!

Back onshore once more, my job with Burroughs not only brought me more travel, but three more wonderful things - a very generous expense account, a liberal travel policy, and international travel!  I enjoyed my first ever Business Class experience thanks to Burroughs - on a Qantas 707 between Wellington and Sydney.  Little did I then realise how many hundreds more Qantas flights I'd enjoy in the future - they truly are my favorite airline.

I started to realise that I was traveling a lot more than other people when, one drizzly weekend afternoon at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, while chatting with a retired American gentleman, I discovered I had visited more of the US than he had.  This was particularly notable because it occurred in 1984, before I'd moved to live in the United States!

At Burroughs I shared my love of travel with the rest of the company, designing a travel incentive program that motivated the Sales team to smash through all their targets and win lavish travel prizes as a result.  I also shared in the travel prizes, of course - an experience that resulted in my first flight on Concorde!

When I moved to live in the US, I commenced a hectic schedule of traveling, and most of the years between 1985-1990 saw me racking up the better part of 200,000 miles.  I quickly became a highest level United Airlines Premier Executive Member, and I still remember the wonderful year when they were giving triple mileage for all flights that year, plus the double mileage I was getting as a 1P member.  I built up massive amounts of frequent flier miles!

As many of you reading this will realise, all this travel wasn't a totally pleasurable relaxation!  I found that most times, my travels would start and finish in the dark in the early hours of the morning or late at night.  I've lost count of the number of strange new cities I've struggled to drive through after getting off a plane late at night with nothing other than a skeletal map from the rental car company to guide me to my hotel.  If you've seen the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, just about every mishap in that movie has happened to me!  My luggage has traveled to even more exotic places than I have.  And while I'd often be enjoying a first class upgrade, somehow the flights squeezed into a middle seat at the very back are the memories that last the longest!

Occasional travel challenges notwithstanding, I found I was enjoying my interactions with the company travel agent more than with the company itself, and so at the end of the 80s, left and started my own travel company.

I'm still not sure how best to summarise my first ten years in the travel industry.  It was a kaleidoscopic mix of experiences, with plenty of challenges and plenty of rewards.  My travel interests became more bold, and I started to venture out away from the 'safely English speaking countries'.  To my great surprise, I ended up falling in love with Russia and have subsequently pursued various business ventures in that exciting country.

And what of the future?  Who knows.  But one thing is certain.  I'll be continuing to use up passports in much less than the ten years they are supposed to last!

I was born in Auckland (two thirds of the way up the North Island if you're looking for it on the map link opposite), New Zealand, on 28 October, 1955 - it seems an increasingly long time ago, I'm afraid.  (The significance of this date is that this is exactly the same day as Bill Gates was born.  Alas, the birth date seems to be the only thing we have in common!)

My father worked for a semi-government body, Radio New Zealand, and as he gradually moved up the corporate ladder, we moved from city to city a bit more than was perhaps either normal or desirable.  After living in Auckland, we moved to Gisborne (on the East Coast of the North Island) and then to Havelock North (just out of Hastings, a bit south of Gisborne).  After completing my secondary schooling (specialising in sciences) I moved to Wellington (at the bottom of the North Island) in 1973 to attend Victoria University, where I aimlessly spent two years, passing my various courses, nominally towards a B.S. degree, but with no clear career path in view.

I then 'dropped out' to join the tempting world of commerce - what had started out as a part time position working as a Consultant with H & R Block saw me quickly become their youngest City and then District Manager of anywhere in the world.  This was very interesting and enjoyable.

After my time with H&R Block, I then accepted an opportunity to work for one of New Zealand's Trade Union organisations - the Federated Cooks & Stewards Union.  It was a time of great change in the maritime industry, and the unions were realizing that they needed a more sophisticated approach to winning concessions from employers than simply saying "we want more because we want more" - and so I became the only non-elected Union Official as their "Research Officer" - I was the "facts and figures guy" who was to come up with an economic justification for their claims and economic analysis of the various employer proposals.  This also gave me a chance to spend some time working at sea - great fun and another memorable experience.

With the death of their then General Secretary, the once controversial Toby Hill, the Deputy Gen Sec became Gen Sec and I was invited to become Deputy Gen Sec.  This opportunity forced me to review what I wanted to really accomplish, and I decided that I would prefer a normal commercial career rather than to continue in labor relations.  Accordingly I accepted a job with "good long term prospects" - it was as a Marketing Officer for the New Zealand Dairy Board, responsible for selling a range of dairy products to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.  This was indeed probably a job with good long term prospects, but the 'long term' seemed to be, alas, extremely long term, and after the high speed progress to positions of great responsibility in my previous two work situations, I quickly became frustrated with the bureaucracy and slow moving pace of this semi-government institution and left.  In hindsight, I should be more appreciative of my time with the NZDB, as it was my first experience in a marketing environment, and my first exposure to all sorts of quantitative approaches to product development and marketing.

I spent several years rather aimlessly trying to 'get rich quick' - and consistently failing in such endeavors, I must add.  Finally, I made a 'new year resolution' at the end of 1979 and so in early 1980 I took a job with what was then known as Burroughs Corp, now Unisys - the second largest computer company in both the world and NZ, and a very highly respected company in the NZ business community.  I was hired as a sales trainee and moved up to Napier (on the East Coast of the North Island), not far from my childhood home in Havelock North, to be based in their branch there.  Not only was this close to my former home in Havelock North but my sales territory extended up to Gisborne as well, and so I enjoyed being able to return to some of my former haunts, and also being able to plug into the 'old boy network' - many of my former school friends were now rising up the management ladders of local companies, and/or their parents were senior managers/owners (who likely also remembered my father) and this helped me in my selling activities.

I had two wildly successful years with Burroughs, and they inculcated in me a work discipline that, up until then, I had frankly lacked.  I worked very hard and was rewarded very lavishly, and after two years of selling 300% and more of my annual sales quotas, I started to feel the lack of not having finished my undergraduate degree.  In New Zealand, many people ostentatiously put their qualifications on their business cards, and so many of my colleagues had "BA" or "BS" after their name, whereas I, alas, had nothing.  :(  I resolved to do something about this, and in 1982 I managed to secure direct admission to NZ's most prestigious Business School, at Otago University in Dunedin (most of the way down the East Coast of the South Island), where I spent the next eighteen months getting an MBA.

This was another extraordinary learning experience.  In addition to studying hard and learning lots (and winning the Sheffield Prize for 'best business student') I also enjoyed some extra-curricular activity in the form of doing business consulting for various New Zealand companies in partnership with a Marketing Professor who had moved to Dunedin from the New York area.  These assignments took me as far afield as Australia and even to the United States (which I visited for the first time in 1982 and instantly fell in love with).  Together with one of the other students, Chris Todd, I also put on a series of public seminars ("The Small Business Management School") for local businesses, and in conjunction with another American who was also then teaching in Dunedin, Hank Wolf, ran a Computer Security seminar under the rubric of "Computer Investigation Associates" (note the initials....) - this was essentially before anyone had ever heard of virii or gave much thought to computer security.  I became a frequent commentator on business and computer issues, appearing on national network television as well as on radio and in the press.

I returned to Burroughs at the completion of my degree and accepted a wonderful job in their NZ Head Office in Wellington - I was appointed Manager of their "Business Systems Group" and was charged with developing the launch marketing and product management of their first ever range of personal computers, just then being introduced to the market.  This was a very high visibility position and very enjoyable, with the Burroughs PC winning a 20% share of the NZ marketplace in my first year in the job.

I wanted more, however.  I wanted to move to the United States - a lifelong goal and dream of mine ever since I was a young boy, and affirmed after my first visit there in 1982.

In mid 1984 I had two opportunities to do exactly this.  A NZ company I had formerly done some consulting work for invited me to move to the US to head up their new US operation, and this goaded Burroughs to quickly invite me to go to their world headquarters in Detroit to research available jobs for me there, too.

People often think it was an obvious choice when I say "so I ended up with a choice between moving to Seattle or moving to Detroit", and while I did indeed move to Seattle to be with this NZ company (Trigon) I often wonder what would have happened if I had stayed with Burroughs instead.  Life is so full of 'forks in the road', isn't it, and we'll never know what might have happened if things were different - perhaps it is fair to say that we all should try to ensure that, whatever our choices are, we can select between them and not suffer subsequent regrets!

I accordingly moved to the Seattle area in the first days of 1985, and have been here ever since.  My time with Trigon, however, was not as happy as I would have hoped, and many different factors all contributed to a determination that I would be better off elsewhere.  When I finally had secured permanent residency status and could fairly look elsewhere within the US for alternate employment, I did just that, but found little else to interest me, and in those cases where I did find something that interested me, the employer was, alas, not similarly interested.

I have found that in the US employers are a lot less open minded than in NZ when it comes to recruiting people that don't fit exactly within a very narrow stereotype of what they are looking for - in NZ with a much smaller labor pool (the total country has a population of less than 4 million) employers are forced to take people that don't have the exact skills and experience they are looking for, but I think that this helps NZ business be more dynamic - a continual infusion of new ideas and new perspectives - whereas in the US there is more of a danger of inculcating myopia due to less external perspective being regularly added.

Anyway, my response to this was to work for the one employer that appreciated my skills in fullest measure - myself!  :)  I created a travel company that specialized in selling travel to Australia and New Zealand - both as a travel retailer, direct to the general public, and also as a travel wholesaler, selling travel through travel agencies for them to sell on to the general public.  This was another challenging and fun experience, and I quickly developed some innovative new approaches to selling travel which, for the most part, proved to be successful, and my company became one of the top handful or so of travel companies involved in the South Pacific.  A large part of our success was due to our excellent relationship with Qantas - a wonderful airline and very well managed; I can't praise them enough.  Next time you're flying to/from the South Pacific, please do like I do and fly Qantas!  :)

For Christmas 1994 my wife gave me, in response to my fairly unsubtle request, a copy of "Internet in a Box" - a suite of internet programs (ie dialer, winsock, email, web browser, ftp program, etc) that was, at the time, the market leader, being developed and promoted by a company that was clearly 'going places and doing things' (Spry).  Needless to say, you've probably never heard of Spry or of 'Internet in a Box' and everything that my wife purchased back then at the seemingly bargain price of $125 can now, of course, be obtained entirely for free.  After several weeks of intense exposure to this strange new thing - the Internet - I decided to put my travel company on the Internet, and followed up also by creating an award winning website for Qantas themselves (it was much easier to win web awards back then!).

The internet of course has changed an awful lot since December 1994, and increasingly, it became to present as more a challenge than an opportunity for a travel company such as mine and so I sold the company in 2000.  After enjoying a lazy few months (traveling, of course!), I've concentrated on sharing my travel background with other people - people like you!.  :)

I have wide ranging interests.  Like everyone (well, I presume like everyone!) I enjoy traveling, and as much as I have traveled, there is still an inexhaustible variety of new places to visit and a growing list of places I want to return to.  I have a lovely German Shepherd dog, and a beautiful "chase me red" Jaguar XJ-S convertible.  Rather to my surprise, I have yet to get a single speeding ticket driving the Jag, to which I should quickly add, "tfu tfu tfu" - the Russian equivalent to the expression "touch wood".


 

This page last modified on October 15, 2013