February 09, 2006

Travelocity CEO Expouses Passion, Honesty and Never Taking Customers for Granted


Michelle Peluso, Travelocity president and CEO, spoke to a crowd of over 250 Metroplex business leaders and Neeley School faculty, staff and MBA students about her leadership style and the ups and downs she has faced in the business world.

Peluso's start-up travel company, Site59, went from being a fast-growing business, to seeing a 70 percent drop in revenues after the attacks of 9/11 (the Site59 offices were two blocks from Ground Zero), to doubling revenues a year later and being purchased by Travelocity. She then worked her way up to become the company's top executive.

"My most important responsibility and most important job is to put other people first; business is always, always about the people," Peluso said at the Neeley School of Business? Charles Tandy Executive Speaker Series on February 7, 2006.

Peluso's management style is to "hire people who are smarter than I am, who are passionate about winning, and dare them to dream big." Her mandate is "to be honest and direct with them, to be responsive to their feedback, to get to know them on a personal level, to be their champion for career growth, and to obsess about getting obstacles out of their way."

In recounting Site59's fall and rise after 9/11, Peluso discussed how putting people first has always paid off for her. The company never let anyone go, they stayed late and cooked dinners for the local firehouse. "We were so committed to not letting this be the end of this great entrepreneurial venture. We believed in each other."

She discussed Travelocity, which will turn 10 years old in March and earned $7.4 billion in 2005, saying that success would not have happened without teamwork, passion, honesty and a desire to take action. "I believe there is no greater correlation for long-term success in any venture, than how passionate the team is about winning."

Too often, she said, leaders say they want risk-takers, but what they are really saying is: Let's hit nothing but grand slams and homeruns. "I believe in creating a culture that tolerates, learns from and even celebrates the occasional failures. At Travesty, we've had our share of both. Four years ago we were down and out, but we turned it around, and we got there by taking risks. I work hard to make sure my employees know that I value lessons learned from missteps and failure as much as from success."

Peluso suggested risk-taking on a personal level, too. "It's so easy to stay in the comfort zone: the job we've always had, the city we've always (lived in)... Being a leader is also about being willing to crawl out of that really comfortable shell and move into a new one."

It may be a job you've been offered that no one else wants because it is too hard, or starting a new company, or moving to a new city to work for someone you've always admired, or even voicing your opinion when you are not someone who usually does so, she suggested.

She wrapped up her philosophy, saying:  "My advice is, don't live on the sidelines."

Michelle Peluso and Dean Dan Short pose with the Travelocity Gnome

The Charles Tandy Executive Speaker Series is a community outreach program designed to develop and disseminate leading-edge thought in order to improve the practice of business.

Robert McCann, executive vice president for Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and vice chairman and president of Global Private Client Group, will speak April 11th. To attend, register at www.ctess.tcu.edu .


Elaine Cole
Public Relations/Event Manager
Neeley School of Business