Duane Futch On Understanding Executive Leadership In A Travel Management Environment

From The FieldDuane Futch during a 40-year career has been an aviation and travel management executive. He’s currently CEO of Global Travel and Aviation Solutions, a consultancy he founded, and an industry speaker. Through all those experiences he’s discovered that many travel management professionals lack well-rounded views of the hows and whys of corporate governance and executive leadership. Here he delves into the issue with practical advice on how travel managers can enrich their skill sets and position themselves for success.


Competition for the best jobs in travel management is fierce. Today’s corporations are looking for the “right” travel manager in terms of education, business knowledge, leadership talent and skill sets beyond travel management. As you move up the travel management food chain, employers want individuals who continue to learn. They want expanded leadership skills in corporate management, procurement, finance and audit.

As I look at the travel ecosystem, the common theme is change. Travelers and suppliers are changing. So is travel itself — and the world. Therefore, corporate travel managers must undergo dramatic changes in their skill sets to survive.

During my career, I have visited with hundreds of travel managers. I discovered that most were deficient in understanding the inner workings of their companies, board functions and C-level duties and responsibilities. Many also lacked a fundamental understanding of governance, risk management and compliance. An overwhelming number had an incredible ability to manage travel, but didn’t know how their company worked from the top down. This is something to which they may never had been exposed during their education or training.

Duane Futch, GTAS
GTAS founder and CEO
Duane Futch

How do you fit into the corporate world as the leader of a department that has between the second- and sixth-largest controllable expense? The simple answer is a foundational understanding of corporate management theory. You must interact effectively and efficiently with executives on their level. Every time you deal with them, remember one thing: it’s an interview and your ability to interact is critical.

I have studied how executives work in various types of organizations and the impact it can have on employees and the travel department. With a few nuances, the management principles are basically the same.

As a travel manager and business leader, what are your primary management responsibilities? They are probably not what you think. I know this because during the past three years, I asked the question during speaking engagements, interaction with travel managers and instruction for university students. Some have come close, but no one to date answered correctly.

The answer is simple. Every action and decision you make in managing your travel business must correlate directly to protecting the company reputation and contributing to shareholder/stakeholder value.

Protect The Corporate Reputation, Contribute To Shareholder/Stakeholder Value

This is the No. 1 job responsibility of all employees, as viewed by executives. You must remind yourself of this in every aspect of managing your travel business and your interaction with your executive leadership. You never want to put yourself, an employee or the company into a situation that affects the corporate reputation. A great example of ruining organizational reputation was the expensive, misguided U.S. General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas. High-level GSA executives endured a congressional investigation, lost their jobs and caused national outrage.

You must ask yourself if each decision you make will reduce expenses and/or improve processes – thus contributing to shareholder value. It’s the simple question of what value is being created for the money spent.

Manage Governance, Risk Management, Compliance

These three interrelated corporate disciplines are key to every corporate objective. They are fundamental to managing a successful corporate travel department and associated ecosystem. By understanding this correlation, you gain insight into how travel management helps protect corporate reputation and enhance shareholder value.

How do governance, risk management and compliance play into the corporate management environment?

Governance: Corporate strategy, compensation, board resolutions, sustainability and corporate responsibility, standards and policies
Risk Management: Duty of care, supplier data security, financial, intellectual rights
Compliance: Laws, rules, regulations, directives, orders

As a travel manager, your value to the company comes in many different forms. It includes your knowledge base, business acumen and problem-solving abilities. Enhancing your knowledge in multiple management disciplines — inside and outside your department — allows you to enrich leadership skills and grow in your current position. It also positions you for the future.

Take an honest assessment of your current educational, management, operational and financial skill sets. Also explore your readiness to assume a higher level of responsibility. Do this in conjunction with your supervisor, HR department, subject matter experts and direct reports. This will define your development needs and advancement potential.

Then create a definitive career development plan, incorporating any existing plan. At a minimum, it should address:

• Specific educational and advancement courses offered by your employer
• Industry-appropriate training from trade associations and others
• An executive mentor
• Assignment to specific projects within your company
• Your reading material: management books, financial and management newspapers and your company’s and key suppliers’ annual reports and proxy statements (you will be astounded by what you find in these documents)

Set logical timeframes for accomplishment for each area identified and get to work. As you move through your development plan, continually update it. This should be a continuous educational development program, not a one-time shot.

What follows are three takeaways I’ve learned over the years and that helped me land positions during my career.

1. Take advantage of any and all management-related education you can get.
2. Take control of your professional management destiny. The more you learn, the more value you drive in obtaining your career aspirations.
3. If you don’t do either of the first two, it may turn into a “here today, gone tomorrow,” scenario, which, by the way, is the topic of my next article.

Additional info: According to a 2014 study of 32,000 students by the Council for Aid to Education, 40 percent of college graduates lacked the reasoning skills to manage white-collar work. The study assessed critical thinking, analytical reasoning, literacy and written and communication skills. Additionally, nine out of 10 companies surveyed by the American Association of Colleges and Universities were more interested in the ability to continue to learn and solve critical problems than what was learned in college.

Author: Duane Futch

GTAS founder and CEO Duane Futch is a highly accomplished influencer in the corporate travel and aviation industries. Duane consults to an array of North American and international corporations and governments. Among his previous positions, Duane was vice president of global government programs at Sabre Travel Network and director of the Aviation, Travel, and Leisure Travel division at Walmart Stores. Duane obtained both his Bachelor’s Degree in Air Commerce (Economics) and Associate Degree in Flight Technology from the Florida Institute of Technology. He also holds an FAA Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, and he is a Certified Flight Instructor and a former FAA Designated Air Carrier Check Airman. Connect with Duane on LinkedIn.

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Caroline Strachan
Advisor

Protect reputation and contribute to shareholder value, a smart start to any travel programme. (shareholders could be translated to any stakeholder, owner, charity stakeholders etc)