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Penny Spencer

Penny-Spencer-100Penny Spencer founded Spencer Travel to offer personalised service in corporate travel management. Now the company turns over $30 million a year and Spencer talked to SmartCompany about how she increased productivity using computer screens, how she managed the travel for the iconic Qantas advertisement and how she retains staff with a reward of one carat diamonds.

Company: Spencer Travel

Age: 49

Based: Surry Hills, NSW

Position: Founder and owner of Spencer Travel

It's all about putting yourself in the shoes of the traveller.

Corporate travellers travel so much. It's nice for us to think for them, rather than them asking, “Can you book me a limo when I get there?” We just do that.

We did the Qantas commercial, with all the kids singing around the world. It was three months that I really had no life, to be honest. But I learned so much and now every time I see that commercial I go, “Oh my God.”

I've been in the industry since I was about 18 years old, and I worked my way up the ladder. I started by volunteering to any travel agent that wanted me for free, just to get into the industry.

I think it'd be very difficult to start a business in an industry that you don't know or you haven't worked in.

Back then I did it all. I did the sales, the client relationship, consulting, the hiring, the firing, the accounts. But as you grow, there's so many more complications. You've got 40 odd staff, and you've got direct reports, and the clients are a lot more demanding.

Being more profitable is about really being smart. Smart in the way that we do things. So as we've grown, we've worked very hard on productivity.

We've given every consultant three screens, and that's put us at about a 25% productivity gain on each consultant, because they have on one screen their emails, the next screen their reservations area, and on their other screen it might be a website they're working on.

The other thing that we do a lot of is that we listen. We don't talk too much when we go into these meetings with new clients, we ask them what we need, and really try to get to know them before we actually launch in to what we can do.

Having a business is almost like having a child. You think as a baby it's so difficult, “God, I can't sleep, blah blah” and then you get to the teenagers and you think, “Oh God, I wish I had a baby again, it was so easy.” And I think it's similar in business.

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Cara Waters

SmartCompany editor

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Cara Waters is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.