INSPIRING STORY BY JC INSPIRE
Gai Tyrrell – Regional Director Aus & NZ – Hawaiian Airlines
A veritable powerhouse of the Australian travel industry, Regional Director Australia & New Zealand at Hawaiian Airlines,
Gai Tyrrell is proof that no matter where you start, you can carve a strong career, if you’re willing to back yourself and if you treasure the value of relationships.
In her role with Hawaiian Airlines, Gai often mentions the unique concept of ‘Ohana’. In Hawaiian culture, Ohana represents the idea that families, communities — blood-related, adopted, or intentional being bound together and that all members are responsible for the wellbeing of one another. Nobody is left behind. It’s a theme that has run through her 25+ year career, long before she heard the word only a few years ago in Hawaii. She is also one of the few females who has been invited without quotas to sit on the board of World Nomads Insurance Group – a sign of the esteem in which she is held.
Growing up, Gai didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do. The fourth of five children, she describes herself as a “fairly upfront, confident kid”. “Much to my parents’ horror and unlike my other siblings, I begged my parents to let me go travelling for a year before going to university,” she tells Jito. She had already met the man that she knew she would marry eventually at the age of 23, but even that didn’t stop her from following her dream. And the end result? A passion for travel that led to her stellar career. “I got on a plane to come home after 11 months away and I will never forget the flight attendant saying to me at the door ‘G’day – welcome home’, even though I was in London,” she recalls. “That was a defining moment. I thought, this is what I am going to do – I am going home to get a job… with Qantas.”
Upon returning to Australia, Gai’s parents were still insistent that she needed to go to university, as she had no experience to help gain employment with an airline. But Gai wasn’t giving in easily. She asked for six weeks to get a job with the Flying Kangaroo – and that she did! “I found out who the manager was in Qantas reservations and I persecuted him with the written word, following up with phone conversations until he finally granted me an interview,” she says.
“I told him I had 150 reasons why he should employ me and where would he like me to begin?
By the time I got to number 40, he said ‘It’s ok, you can stop – we have intake in two weeks and you can start then.” That was the beginning – Gai quickly progressed from reservations to retail in Qantas’ flagship store. “I loved it when people would come in and talk to you about their plans,” she tells Jito. From there, she progressed into sales and moved to Sydney as the airline’s National Account Manager for Flight Centre as the agency group expanded globally. “I felt like part of the Flight Centre family, the FCL Ohana,” she recalls. She then moved back to Melbourne and became State Sales Manager for Qantas. Gai’s big break with her first employer came when she moved back to Sydney as National Industry Sales Manager Australia for Qantas, at the age of 31.
Roadmap for SUCCESS
So how did Gai get there? “Have courage, and back yourself,” she said. “I recall applying for roles and comments that I would get from naysayers that I was kidding myself, because I hadn’t been in the company or a position long enough,” she reveals. “To anyone aiming to advance their career, try for the opportunities, back your ability to work hard and learn and do not listen to the discouragement of others. That kind of confidence became the key to her success.
If you can’t find a GOOD role model, BE ONE
Gai’s sense of confidence was shaped by a number of strong female role models who influenced her in her younger years. She cites her two grandmothers – both very different but equally strong. “One was a very soft, quietly spoken, a kind loving lady who raised four children on her own after her husband died young,” Gai tells Jito. “The other played a key role in her grandfather’s business. She was tough, larger than life and wasn’t afraid to have an opinion” Gai laughs. Just like her daughter, my own mother. “I think her love of jewellery and fur passed directly to me.” From both of these women she learned the balance of being caring and strong, building on a sense of discipline, instilled during her childhood years.
Following 13 years with her first employer, Gai accepted a job with TQ3 Travel Solutions (TQ3), a small public-listed travel company back in Melbourne. “I did that because I wanted to test my abilities outside of the context of a national carrier brand. Ultimately the success she, and a small group of colleagues, made of running the business, attracted Flight Centre head Graham “Skroo” Turner to decide to buy the business. “TQ3 became part of Flight Centre and ultimately the launching pad for the FCM brand,” she explained.
Gai continued with FCM for two further years, commuting to and from Sydney, before being approached to become Chief Operating Officer of the Jetset Travelworld Group (JTG) – today known as Helloworld. She relished the chance to try her hand in the retail franchising world. “Learning to take business owners on a journey with you takes a serious amount of building mutual trust and I loved that,” she says. Her next senior role was heading up travel tech giant Sabre Pacific as CEO for the region. Even though Gai admits she knew little about the detail of technology initially, over a six year period she grew the business in the Australasian Region, raising brand awareness and expanding distribution. Following the acquisition of Sabre, it was time for her to spread her wings again.
Disconnect to RECONNECT
After departing Sabre, Gai took a year off. She recalls it was a rare and wonderful opportunity to unplug, spend time with her son Charlie, family and particularly her mum who was very unwell. “Time off, unplugged, allows you to reflect,” she said. After a year that sped quickly by, Gai returned to her passion industry – aviation joining Hawaiian Airlines as Hawaii’s unique national carrier moved to expand in our region and to change its business model in Australasia. Hawaiian Airlines was making the transition from a business model based on having a general sales agent in the local market to establishing it’s own team on the ground. Gai was appointed to build the new Hawaiian team in Australia and New Zealand and has found the task of restructuring the business incredibly rewarding.
“I’m pleased to say the company’s performance is strong. Profitability is through the roof and Hawaiian Airlines is a lovely Ohana (family) to be part of,” she says. “Ohana is much more than a company culture, it’s a mutual willingness to include and appreciate that everybody has a unique part to play and we will get there as we co-operate to succeed. “Once again, strong external relationships built throughout her career are also playing a role in helping achieve her business goals – this time for Hawaiian. “It’s about understanding mutual needs and aiming for mutual success. It’s about getting back to people, delivering on your promises – those things don’t get forgotten,” she insists. “I have been honouring and honoured by travel industry relationships built on trust over more than 25 years,” she added.
GAI’S WORDS OF ADVICE
“If I could offer a few words of advice it would be these…”
- Be on time.
- Balance heart and head – stay in check with yourself.
- Absolute self-awareness is crucial and don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Don’t over complicate things.
- If you are not having fun, get out!
Unsurprisingly, Gai’s one “hot tip” for those looking to get ahead, is to…
“BUILD and INVEST in RELATIONSHIPS as they WILL SERVE YOU during your ENTIRE CAREER.”
“Talking to people is so important,” she says. “With social media and text messaging, the art of conversation is being lost – there’s nothing better than talking to a person on the phone. You can’t feel what the sentiment is on a text or email.” That’s why she believes the Flight Centre model works so well, by ensuring customers had to talk to a consultant who could help them to realise their dream holiday experience. “In Australia, those who have been in this wonderful industry for a long period of time know that there is an Ohana of its own right here in the business of travel. One where we back ourselves, we treat our competitors and customers with respect, we are grateful for our opportunities, success is best shared and relationships are key. These are the lessons one should never forget.”
Find your Ohana
Article written by JC Inspire early 2017, Since then Gai has recently been appointed Managing Director of Globus, Family of Brands.
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