INSPIRING STORY BY JC INSPIRE
Laura Ruffles – Chief Executive & Global COO – Corporate Travel Management
If you’ve ever wondered whether women who are mothers can be successful, then Laura Ruffles is living proof. The Australia and New Zealand Chief Executive and Global Chief Operating Officer of Corporate Travel Management (CTM) has four children aged nine, eight, four and two – and all these achievements by the age of 40.
Laura joined CTM in 2010 as General Manager when the company was only 230-strong and is proud of how far it has come – it is now a public listed company with more than 2200 staff globally. So how did she get here?
Anything is POSSIBLE if you have enough NERVE
At the tender age of 10, Laura dreamt of becoming a stockbroker. She would flick through the newspapers, looking at the stocks and trying to figure out why they were going up and down. At school, she became interested in business studies. With a curious nature, she was keen to learn how processes worked, who were the winners and losers, and why.
But when the school invited a stock broker to come and talk at the school, they spoke about the years of study before they finally got a year on the floor. Laura worked out that she would be 24 or 25 years old before she got her shot so she gave up on that idea.
“I wanted to do something quicker,” she tells Jito. Her ambition soon led her to the world of travel. “A friend of my mother was working for British Airways and so I got to go and do work experience at the airport,” she says. “As children, we had gone in the car, packed sandwiches and watched the planes take off so there was always an interest in planes and the airports.”
There, her job was to meet and greet people from the aircraft – not the VIPs (very important people) but the CIPs – corporate important people. “I had to walk them from the jetty to arrivals,” she recalls. “I found the subjects that would come up in those two to three minute walks were amazing.”
At around the same time, Laura signed up for a scheme at a local holiday shop stamping brochures and talking to people about where they wanted to go on holiday, asking why and what their budgets were, working out how to make it happen.
“I think I read every single brochure so I could understand the resorts and hotels, and I was always trying to match things,” she says. “I could engage with people with a real focus on the customer service side that I loved.” Laura focused on making conversation with people in both roles, extracting whatever information she could.
The WOMEN at the TOP of the MOUNTAIN didn’t FALL THERE!
It didn’t take long for Laura to move into a permanent job in corporate travel. By the time she was 19, she was running a couple of offices and managing a team of people in the South East of England.
“I was so proud of the fact that I had a company car!” she laughs. “I got to learn how to manage people. I learnt how to take the customer experience into managing people and how to get the best out of people to perform.”
In her early 20s, she became a Business Development manager for a hotel chain. Being based in a hotel and part of the leadership team, she was exposed to important concepts such as yield and P/L management “Learning those strategies was amazing as well as learning to think on your feet,” Laura says.
After that, she moved into a role with American Express as they looked to roll out global programs. “I worked with their global customers to implement them along with technology and across many different markets with difference cultures, working with many different stakeholders and customers to find mutual ground,” she says.
SAY YES TO ADVENTURE
The next 10 years were spent with AMEX, living and working all over the world which Laura describes as an “amazing” experience. Even more so because when these travels took her to Sweden, she met her husband – an American working for an AMEX customer with a travel program that Laura was consolidating.
After a couple of years, they moved to Amsterdam together and Laura stepped into travel and technology – global solutions.
The had just got married when Laura came to Sydney for the first time in 2005. She fell in love with the city, where she worked a number of different roles, eventuating in heading up Middle Market and SMEs travel business.
Sometimes all you need is 20 Seconds of INSANE COURAGE… BE BRAVE!
In 2007 and 2008, they had two children and Laura kept working throughout. “We didn’t have any family here so staying home with children wasn’t really an option for us,” she says. “We both had globally very successful careers and we were both still on that journey.” Fortunately, the companies they both worked for were very flexible.
But the decision to make Sydney home didn’t come until 2010, when Laura met CTM managing director Jamie Pherous who was then looking to take the company public.
“I had learnt a lot around business planning, strategy and processes having been part of a big global organisation for a period of time,” she explains. “And I realised I loved Sydney and wanted to be here permanently and raise our children here.”
And so her time at AMEX came to an end, and she came on board at CTM as its new general manager, at a “very exciting” time for the company. “We made couple of acquisitions, went through IPO and we brought our first company in New Zealand,” she recalls. “We replicated the model we had in Australia locally in NZ.”
That same model has now been replicated in Asia, America and Europe following further acquisitions. “By having those offices on the ground, we have been able to participate in some of the regional and global bids for corporate travel business,” Laura tells Jito.
After baby number three came along, Laura’s husband became a proud stay-at-home dad to their four children. So how does Laura manage her family life?
Her secret lies in her firm belief that you don’t need to be a mother at home and a boss at work.
“It all bleeds together,” she explains. “I am a mother when I am at work and home and I am a business women when I am home also – that gives me the flexibility to do my role, if I want to go to a swimming carnival one day, I do, likewise if I have to be on a 9pm conference call, I can”.
“But that doesn’t mean that when we sit down for dinner that I don’t make sure I am focused on eating dinner with the family.
“You can’t compartmentalise life and work – it has to be one to enjoy and embrace it. I am happy to talk about my children to my colleagues and likewise talk about my work to my friends and family as they are all part of my everyday life”
Nonetheless, Laura tries not to travel over weekends when she can and her family travels with her to conferences.
Helping Women hit new HEIGHTS
An avid supporter of female leaders, Laura is proud that 75 % of CTM employees are females and 62% of their senior leaders are females. The company has a high performers program in which females are “well represented”. “I offer support and I try to be a role model,” she tells Jito.
“People often say to me, I don’t know how you do it – but it shouldn’t be that dramatic. It should be more simple than that. Support avenues should be there.
“All businesses really should embrace that and I think they are and the more role models of successful women hopefully will continue to inspire confidence where females are worried about taking a break or they are unsure.”
Here are Laura’s key words of advice for women with big aspirations:
- Read as much as you can as you should never stop learning.
- Speak to your customers and be customer facing.
- Never be afraid to ask lots questions.
- Grow your internal and external networks – size can only add value.
- Allow life and work to blend together – it takes the pressure off yourself.
- Put your hand up for as many experiences and promotions as you want to.
- Take control of your own career progression and decide what you want to do then work out how you are going to do it.
Article written by JC – Inspiring Greatness Early 2017.
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