Apple picking days: Flight Centre’s Graham Turner on his path to leadership

Apple picking days: Flight Centre’s Graham Turner on his path to leadership

Company: Flight Centre

Title: Chief executive officer

Studies: Bachelor of Veterinary Science

Motivation: “I was always a bit of an empire builder.”

Top tip for leadership:“You should have a dozen people who can take over the business, not one, but you shouldn’t do anything about it until you’re actually run over by a bus.”

Running a multibillion dollar company is no easy task, but Flight Centre’s Graham Turner says the hardest he’s ever worked was on an apple orchard.

Growing up between Stanthorpe and Texas in south Queensland, Turner worked on his father’s orchard from the age of seven to 15.

“It was the hardest I’ve ever worked, but that’s the background you get in quite a small business, that’s what you grow up knowing and understanding,” he told LeadingCompany.

“By eight years old I realised business was all about income and costs and that you need the income to exceed the costs.”

Before entering the travel industry, Turner became a qualified vet and worked in Western Australia for a few years before going to Europe and travelling.

While living and working as a vet in London, Turner bought a double-decker bus in 1973, kicking off his career in the travel industry. This unplanned, spontaneous decision quickly turned into the global touring company Top Deck.

“I was obviously interested in travelling, but it just seemed like a good idea at the time and originally the idea was to get a group of friends together, share the costs and go travelling from London to Cape Town,” he says.

“Friends are fairly unreliable, so instead we decided to run a tour to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and by the end of the ‘70s, we had 68 buses on the road.”

Turner says making Top Deck work was one of his greatest career challenges.

“Running Top Deck during the 1970s was a tough gig. We were running double decker buses all around Asia, Africa and Europe and I was only in my 20s. That did influence me and nothing since then has been as challenging.”

While still running Top Deck, Turner started Flight Centre in 1981 in Australia. When launching the company he couldn’t predict his success, but acknowledges he’s always been an “empire builder”.

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