Rob Gurney: agents’ friend or foe?

Rob Gurney: agents’ friend or foe?
By admin

I have no idea if Rob Gurney has read Dale Carnegie’s 1936 self-help instruction book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

If he hasn’t, he may do well to pick up a copy. Soon.

For it would seem that Gurney has a lot of making up to do with the very people he will now represent as chief executive of Jetset Travelworld Group.

To cut to the chase, Gurney is not well liked in the travel agency community. And that’s being polite. Privately, people articulate their thoughts about him in far more robust and agriciultural terms.

That agents view Gurney with trepidation is hardly a revelation. Qantas has not exactly endeared itself to them in recent years and Gurney was front and centre in handling the airline's commercial relationship with the retail trade.

It’s a relationship that nosedived as commission was squeezed with agents feeling undervalued by Gurney. And now he finds himself as their leader. The irony of it.

Gurney’s style has been described as ruthless, a rottweiler who displayed indifference to the concerns of the trade as he took a hardline approach to commercial negotiations.

“He comes with a lot of anti agent baggage,” one senior agent in the Jetset Travelworld fold said. “They feel he screwed them over when he was at Qantas and failed to appreciate the support they gave Qantas over many years. And they won’t forget that in a hurry. Rob Gurney has a lot of people to win over.”

Gurney will dismiss any notion that he adopted an anti-agent stance or that he was unsympathetic to their concerns. He has previously argued in Travel Today that Qantas worked hard to maintain relationships with those who supported the carrier.

“For those who do not do business with us, that’s there call,” he once said. “We get on with our business and they should get on with theirs.”

But it’s that take it or leave it, almost shrug-of-the-shoulders approach, that has so irked retailers, many of whom have chosen to redirect their business to the growing number of Qantas competitors.

That said, airlines in every corner of the globe have slashed commission and negotiated hard in order to keep huge distribution costs under control. Gurney’s hardline approach could hardly be described as unique.

And he’s not without his supporters in the trade, noteably Peter Lacaze, the man he will replace at JTG, who describes Gurney as a friend as well as a business partner.

So how will Gurney approach the role? And does it matter if agents don’t like him? Running a business is not a popularity contest and his no nonsense appoach could well shake things up at JTG, which has endured a particularly shaky 12 months. No one should be in any doubt that he’ll make tough decisions, should they need to be taken.

“Rob is a very smart guy and he doesn’t suffer fools,” one industry source said. “He’ll get things done even if people don’t like it. People should expect a rollercoaster ride.”

But he’ll surely need to press a lot of travel agent flesh and heal still-open wounds if he is to become a success. Agents are the lifeblood of the company and without their support, it could be a tough journey for all concerned. He will need to convince them that in his previous role at Qantas he was only acting in the best interests of the airline and that he does genuinely value the job agents do.

It has also been noted that while Gurney has bucket loads of airline experience, retail and wholesale is a different kettle of fish.

In addition, it will interesting when contract negotiations with airlines are up for renewal. It could be argued that JTG will not be coming from a position of strength if its very own chief executive has a perceived disregard for the retail trade.

But is this tough, ruthless exterior all an image? Is he misunderstood? A lits of his interest includes animal welfare charities. Perhaps he’s just a big softy after all.

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