There will have been a few North Sydney-bound commuters who returned to work today with a spring in their step.
For if the decision to appoint Rob Gurney as chief executive of Jetset Travelworld 18 months ago was met with surprise, the overriding emotion following news of his departure last Friday was probably one of relief and quiet celebration.
Judging from comments posted on our website since Travel Today broke news of a “cultural health check” at Helloworld, the weekend will have been a happy one for those with a vested interest in the business.
Gurney’s appointment by the board back in August 2012 was always risky. Frankly, he was not a popular leader of the Helloworld business.
Supporters of Gurney will point out, quite correctly to some degree, that senior management positions do not revolve around popularity contests and being liked by staff is irrelevant to success. Peter Lacaze was hugely popular yet the company listed heavily towards the end of his tenure.
But Gurney came with baggage that was hard to shake off, namely that his disposition toward travel agents during a lengthy career at Qantas could hardly be described as warm. He was branded a Rottweiler, a tough negotiator who had a reputation for an aggressive and confrontational style, both with staff and externally. He also had very little experience of the retail environment.
In a business where its principal stakeholders – travel agents – need a bit of TLC, it was always going to be an uneasy partnership.
What is odd about Gurney’s departure is the timing. According to Friday’s announcement, the business transformation “is at an advanced stage” so, with that in mind, “he wishes to pursue a new opportunity with an international focus”.
Make no mistake, this transformation is a job half done. The company is right in the middle of the transformation, not at the end of it, and the board surely know that.
For many who have offered opinion on Gurney’s stewardship, the writing was on the wall as soon as employment experts were drafted in to conduct the aforementioned “cultural health check”.
To recap the facts, senior leadership team members were spoken to, in confidence, after the board received information from a number of sources raising concerns of “management style”.
According to those sources, it was a style that was putting the very success of the transformation in jeopardy.
Chairman Tom Dery, in an email to senior staff, quite rightly said the board took such matters “very seriously”.
Publically, when questioned by Travel Today, the board dressed up the probe – for that is what is was – as “common practice”, which, of course, was nonsense. If this is common practice, then God help Australian business.
Gurney was said to be furious at developments.
All of which will have left an extremely unpalatable situation at Helloworld at a time when it needed everyone pulling in the same direction; a disgruntled CEO, a worried board of directors which initiated a “culture check”, and senior staff who, sources said, felt undermined as a result of the style of management.
What precisely took place in the Helloworld boardroom last week is likely to remain a matter of conjecture and speculation.
What is beyond dispute is that Gurney’s appointment was controversial; his departure is much the same.