Penny Spencer reflects on 20 years – Here’s what she’s learned

Penny Spencer reflects on 20 years – Here’s what she’s learned

Spencer Travel has just turned 20.

It’s a milestone I’m really proud of.

1998 doesn’t actually seem that long ago to me, but a lot has happened in the years since my fledgling business first took flight. The world is a different place to the one it was before aircraft flew into the World Trade Center buildings in New York, and the GFC brought the global economy to its knees.

Sydney hadn’t even hosted the Olympics, for goodness sake. And the internet? Well, that was an almost abstract idea just starting to change the way businesses and customers found each other.

No-one had heard the phrase ‘low-cost carrier’. In Australia, ‘Virgin’ was a record store, not an airline. And Prime Ministers? Well they lasted a lot longer then than they do now.

The technology of the time now seems comical. Spencer Travel launched in a business world powered by the magic of fax machines.

Then along came email. Hilariously, we only had one PC set up with email. We would check that machine once in the morning and once in the afternoon, dialling it up with all those ridiculous noises, buzzes and gongs – the internet was noisy back then.

Many of my team were happy to work in a post-fax world, but not I. Not initially, anyway. I used to love that I could leave the office on a Friday, and have no idea what was going on until Monday when I thumbed through the faxes on my desk. These days, your business can chase you in real time.

Pushing the off-button really takes some discipline.

Commissions, lovely healthy commissions. Oh, what a fine thing they were—9 per cent on international, some even up to 14 per cent at source, and 5 per cent on domestic. I can’t even imagine how our clients would have reacted in 1998 if we’d suggested charging service fees.

Actually, I know exactly what they would have done.

Today, Spencer Travel is a respected name in travel management—the first TMC to be inducted into the National Travel Industry Hall of Fame.

The business has evolved through two decades of extraordinary change, navigating its way through shifts in travel, technology, economics and geopolitics. We opened with three staff, one of whom—Lisa Allan—still works in the Spencer Group of Companies.

The 20 years I’ve spent with Spencer Travel has been like raising a child. In those first few years, it was my baby and I was compelled to nurture and support it intently. But once it reached toddler stage, I let it go on its own for a bit, to find its feet.

When it turned 10, I knew I had to guide it through an awkward adolescence and ensure that its projected growth was manageable.

Teenage years are always tumultuous, and I had to learn to let go but keep the business on a long, reassuring string.

Now at 20, it’s an adult and ready for more adventures in life. And who knows what they might look like? Does any business owner or parent ever think they are going to get through all those years unscathed? No. But the best part of a 20-year journey is the reflection and the sense of pride at having created something significant.

I’ve learned lots about business and people. Here are a few that regularly come to mind when I’m asked:

  • Team rewards and recognition are essential. Happy staff are engaged staff. And that means happy clients.
  • We don’t actually sell ‘travel’. We sell time.
  • Try to step outside of your comfort zone at least once a day. There are exciting things out there.
  • Mediocrity is never OK.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people in business.
  • Start your day by completing the hardest task first.
  • Never think you know it all.
  • Find a mentor—there’s always something new to learn.
  • Take your holidays. And make sure your staff take theirs.
  • A positive workplace culture is key to your success. Create one that people want to be part of.
  • Be open to change and opportunities. Nothing changes if nothing changes.
  • Recruit for values and attitude.
  • 10 years of service is definitely worth a one-carat diamond.

Another one I’m fond of is ‘Plan your exit right from the start’.

Easier said than done, of course. I don’t think I could ever have imagined where Spencer Travel would be 20 years down the track. But here we are, still going ‘above and beyond’ after all these years.

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