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Taking Flight Blog

4 Most Influential Leaders in the Travel Industry

As one of the largest sectors of the global economy, the travel industry is big business, and has spawned some of the world’s most successful business people who have risen to become household names. Meet some of the travel industry’s most influential leaders, learn how they got started and how their work has changed the world.

Richard Branson

Entrepreneur and Founder of The Virgin Group

Screw it, let’s do it! Known for his playful business style, adventurous spirit and outlandish publicity stunts, British entrepreneur Richard Branson had a keen business sense from a young age, starting his first ventures at age 15. A dyslexic, Richard struggled in school and dropped out at age 16 and moved to London where he started his first successful business, a magazine about youth culture, called The Student. Originally set up to complement the magazine, in 1972 he founded a mail-order record company called Virgin, which went on to become the multinational company The Virgin Group, spanning a variety of sectors including travel, music, media and health, making Branson a billionaire. He has been willing to take risks but says that having fun is an important element of his approach to business, and credits the humble to-do list as a crucial part of his productivity.

His ventures and humanitarian work have made Branson a household name celebrity, and in 2000, he was knighted for "services to entrepreneurship".

Richard's number one piece of advice? Never look back in regret. Move on to the next thing.

Alan Joyce

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Qantas

The CEO of one of Australia’s most recognisable brands, Qantas, is a true testament to the value of hard work, having made his way up the ranks throughout his successful career in the travel industry, to be named “the most influential business leader” by The Australian, in 2011.

After earning degrees in maths, physics and management, Alan Joyce started his career in travel as a Research Analyst with Aer Lingus, the national airline of his motherland, Ireland. After 8 years with the company, working in various roles across sales, marketing and fleet planning, he moved to Australia in 1996 taking a job with the airline Ansett, where he worked in network and schedules planning and network strategy functions. In 2000 he joined Qantas, where he worked in similar roles before being handed the job of running Jetstar in 2003.

In 2008 Alan Joyce took the reins as the CEO of the “Flying Kangaroo”, and continues to lead Qantas with his persuasive, yet sincere management style. In 2017, Alan Joyce was named a Companion of the Order of Australia, awarded for his outstanding service to the aviation industry, to the development of the tourism sector, and to the community as a supporter of Indigenous education.

His tips on being a strong leader? Have a clear vision and create the right team to support it, diverse in background, views, education, and skills.

Maureen Wheeler

Co-founder of the Lonely Planet guide book series

If you’ve done any travel in the in the era of before smart phones, chances are one of Maureen Wheeler’s guide books has passed through your hands, evoking enthusiasm for planning the journey.

Following an overland adventure from London through Europe and Asia to Australia, together with her husband Tony, Maureen Wheeler published her first guidebook Across Asia on The Cheap, which laid the foundations for what was to become the multi-million-dollar publishing empire, Lonely Planet. Since its inception in 1973, the Lonely Planet series has published over 500 titles, sold over 80 million copies, and has been translated into more than eight languages.

A successful businesswoman and philanthropist, Maureen has been recognised for humanitarian projects in developing countries, and in 2014 was awarded an Order of Australia (AO), for her distinguished service to business and as a benefactor to Australian arts and aid organisations.

Her strategies for success? Find something you love to do, take risks and have fun!

Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner

Founder and Managing Director of Flight Centre Travel Group

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and for Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner, seeing the potential in a yard of decommissioned old buses led him on a path to become the founder of one of the world’s latest travel agency groups, Flight Centre Travel Group.

Skroo (nicknamed after the Turner brand of screwdrivers) trained as a veterinary surgeon, but soon caught the travel bug and in 1973 pooled funds with a fellow vet to purchase an old double-decker bus to take tourists through London. Top Deck Tours was born and by 1979 the fleet had grown to almost 80 buses, organising tours across Europe and North Africa.

In 1981, Skroo returned to Australia and established Flight Centre, deriving profits from the sale of high volumes of discounted airfare tickets, following the deregulation of the industry. His down-to-earth, egalitarian leadership style, focused on empowering employees and rewarding initiative, has seen the company grow to over 700 Flight Centre branded shopfronts across Australia, plus operations in 23 countries, employing over 19,000 people globally.

In addition to his outstanding contribution to Australian business, Skroo is also passionate about preserving Australian wildlife, establishing the Turner Family Foundation, and investing $18.5 million into a new conservation centre in 2017.

Skroo’s advice for success is simple - Learn quickly from your mistakes. Don't make the same mistake more than three or four times.


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