Flight Centre UK review - Will Leonelli

 Flight Centre UK has been on The Sunday Times Best 100 Companies list for 10 years. What has the organisation done to maintain its position and what do they have planned to stay on the list? Will Leonelli, peopleworks leader at Flight Centre UK, reveals to Katie Richard. 

Tell us about your role in Flight Centre UK. 

As peopleworks leader, I look after 26 people spread over eight different departments: recruitment, training, HR & payroll, our leadership academy and employee engagement covering our core benefits programme, which includes healthwise, moneywise and travelwise. I’m part of the executive team for Flight Centre UK and report directly to the MD.

Flight Centre UK has been on The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies list for 10 years. How have you maintained your position?

By living true to our company philosophies. Our core values are outlined to all new starters joining the company on day one and are lived and breathed on a daily basis. They have shaped the culture of the organisation in a way that everyone can recognise, relate to and be part of what feels like one big, happy family. Through our open door/open book policy we’re always seeking feedback from our staff through company surveys, monthly one-to-ones with leaders, meetings, conferences and events to ensure continual improvement.

What makes Flight Centre a great place to work?

You get the best of both worlds. It’s a multibillion dollar business with immense opportunities for progression across a multitude of different brands, while experiencing a company culture that is challenging, fun and fuelled by the raw passion for travel. Who doesn’t enjoy travelling or aspire to visit new destinations?

Flight Centre allows you to have a career in something that you’re passionate about, allows you to further enhance that passion through discounted travel rates and provides numerous additional unique benefits throughout. Essentially we stay true to our philosophy, which is ‘our people’, caring for our colleagues’ health and wellbeing, their personal and professional development and their financial security.

You have an ambitious plan to become a £1.5 billion company by 2018. How will HR support the growth of the business?

Where there is growth, there is opportunity. We need to ensure we’re recruiting enough of the right people to enable growth. We’re unable to reach the business growth targets we’re aiming for without growing our front end staff to the required levels. In the last 12 months we’ve developed our own stand-alone careers website which really promotes our employer branding and employee value proposition to attract people to the company. It’s also important that we demonstrate we’re a company where you can enjoy a long, progressive and successful career and therefore we need to be able to offer a robust training programme that sets up all new starters for success. Leadership development is vital to our growth and our small team model. We’re always going to need an infinite pool of leaders coming through to support the growth, and our leadership academy has been put in place to drive that.

Employee retention and engagement is also key. Offering a unique and varied benefits programme will help to focus on our number one philosophy (‘our people’) to boost attraction and retention, which will support the growth.

Flight Centre plans on growing their people by 12%, which means hiring 150 more people. How will you attract the right candidates and what do you look for when hiring new Flight Centre UK employees?

This growth is similar to what we have achieved over the last couple of years. Having been consistently in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work For and Great Places to Work listings, as well as having launched our new careers website a year ago, we continue to attract more people to Flight Centre. This long-term employer branding approach has really helped us to drive our applications up year-on-year and at the same time spend less on more traditional forms of recruitment marketing.

Our recruitment criteria remains the same in that we are looking for passionate, driven individuals who can demonstrate sales potential and enjoy a work hard, play hard culture. 70% of our recruits are graduates.

Why is career progression for staff so important to you? Do you have any initiatives that support your staff in development?

Career progression is one of the most important elements to a job seeker of this generation. Because of our growth intentions, we really want people to stay with the company in the long-term.  We require many leaders to come through due to our small team model combined with the growth we are striving for. We can easily demonstrate that career progression can be rapid through hard work and achievement.

We support staff development through our model of ownership, treating all teams as separate businesses and by giving team leaders ultimate responsibility for their successes. Leaders have monthly one-on-ones with their people to encourage ongoing development.

Centrally, we offer a comprehensive leadership pathway to progression, catering for those showing leadership aspirations in the first 12 months of employment right through to senior leader positions. We also offer a fast-track programme for individuals who demonstrate senior leader aspirations early on in their career with Flight Centre. Our leadership academy is also in place to hold leaders accountable for developing their people in order to future-proof our business as we grow.

With plans for rapid growth, do you have any plans that will help you stay on The Sunday Times list in the coming years?

It will always be our goal to remain in the Sunday Times Top 100 listings as we see this as imperative for us to achieve successful growth. We plan to continue to live by our philosophies and encourage constructive feedback from our people to allow us to put in place future initiatives to help us in our quest to remain in these rankings. We also plan to improve our corporate social responsibility programmes and revamp and improve our core benefits over the coming months.

What advice can you give other HR professionals who want their organisations to be a best company to work for?

Your people have to come first and there needs to be company strategies that are geared around doing just that. This will encourage your employees to stay with the company but to recommend the company to future employees and potential customers. It’s imperative that business leaders are transparent to their people and get their buy-in with initiatives to ensure that they’re supported and more effectively deployed. Obtaining, listening to and acting on staff feedback on a regular basis through various mediums is also crucial to ensure that everyone is working towards constantly creating a better workplace.

Flight Centre UK is part of a global group which was founded in Australia by Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner in the early 1980s. The business has grown remarkably, and currently employs over 15,000 people globally across more than 30 different brands in 11 countries, making Flight Centre one of the world’s leading travel companies. 

Written by Katie Richard, online content editor, Changeboard

Katie Richard, online content editor, Changeboard

Online content editor for Changeboard; Canadian in London; lover of books, magazines & design.

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