Meet the CEO: Carl Sparks of Travelocity
He has seen the future—and likes what he sees.
A number of changes, both societal and technological, bode well for Travelocity. So says the company’s president and CEO, Carl Sparks.
“I think we’re entering an era where people—particularly baby boomers—are beginning to realize that collecting memories is more important than collecting things,” he says. “Travel helps people build memories.”
When Sparks took the helm in April 2011, the company, which is a subsidiary of Southlake-based Sabre Holdings Corp., had experienced several years of declining revenue, including a 5.3 percent dip in 2011. Today, Travelocity’s U.S. market is holding “steady,” Sparks says, and is experiencing healthy international growth.
Sparks defines himself as a “digital guy.” His climb up the career ladder has included stints as chief marketing officer of Expedia Inc., general manager of Hotels.com North America, and president of the online retailer Gilt Groupe.
Title: President and CEO
First job: When I was 13, one of our neighbors gave me a summer job in the shipping department of an auto parts warehouse in Newark, N.J.
Worst job: Same one. It was hard work in a windowless warehouse, and it wasn’t very interesting. Once I was so bored cutting carpet samples for vehicles, I accidentally cut through the cord of the power saw and the whole warehouse went dark.
Management strategies: Hire great talent, set high expectations and clear goals, and then be there to help them get over any barriers.
Biggest pet peeve: Leaders who play with politics and make decisions based on who they know rather than on competencies and merit.
What’s new at Travelocity: We’re doing a lot more mobile and we’re also stepping up our efforts in social media.
Biggest challenge: Getting the pace of innovation to be faster. Companies can now bring new things online in mere weeks. I have to make sure that our team has the talent needed to do that.
Family: My wife, Sherri, and I have three children—Charlotte, Matthew, and Sarah—and three Yellow Labs.
Weekends: I love fishing. It’s relaxing, because you just concentrate on that one small thing: catching something.
Reading material: I’m reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s about a convicted Australian bank robber who escapes from prison and flees to India.
TV: Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. My favorite show of all time is HBO’s The Wire. It’s no longer on the air, but I have all of the DVDs.
Best advice: A former boss, Kevin Ryan at Gilt Groupe, told me the most important thing I can do is concentrate on the talent I hire, because getting to decide who sits in what seat is the only thing that is my responsibility alone.
Learning experience: I did consulting before I went into business school and again when I got out. I soon realized that I dreaded going to work. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you need to do something else. So in 1999, I moved to Austin to work on a startup tech company, Living.com, which was backed by Starbucks, Amazon.com, and Austin Ventures.
Keeping employees happy: There are three things that help build employee morale. First, communication—there is no such thing as over-communicating. Second, authenticity—if you’re truthful with people and authentic about the bad things and the good, they’ll follow you. Third, find ways to make it fun.