In his own words: Kayak.com Chairman Terry Jones
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about your company and the duties of your position.
Terry Jones: Kayak.com is the leading travel search site. We are not a travel agency (like Expedia or Travelocity). We search all the travel supplier sites and then give you a choice on where to buy. We took the company public in the fall of 2012 and sold it to Priceline late in the year. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter. I’m non-executive chairman of the board, so I am not involved in day-to-day decisions, but I lead the board discussions on strategy and governance. I’m very busy outside of Kayak.
NNBW: Where did you get the idea for Travelocity?
Jones: I was working at the SABRE division of American Airlines, where our job was to automate travel agents with the SABRE system. For about eight years we had a very simple reservations product on Compuserve and AOL. Eventually (even though it sent all the reservations to travel agents for ticketing) the agents saw the future threat of online travel and wanted us to shut it down. Instead the boss gave it to me. I was chief information officer and a former travel agent. He thought we’d sort of “hide it” in IT. Instead, I put in on the Internet and it took off like a rocket.
NNBW: What were the main challenges you overcame as the business ramped up?
Jones: Creating a startup inside a large corporation is very hard. I had to move out of the building, shed much of their culture and systems to compete with traditional startups like Expedia and Priceline. Also, the airlines made things very difficult by cutting ticket commissions from 10 percent to 5 percent to zero as they tried to kill us. They failed.
NNBW: Tell us about Kayak.com where did the idea for that venture come from?
Jones: I was working with a venture capitalist looking for ideas in travel. We had a dinner one night with the co-founder of Orbitz and the founder of Expedia, and the three of us began talking about one of the problems we’d all had: Hundreds of thousands of people came to our sites to shop and then went directly to the airlines and hotels to buy. We thought, why not build a site where they can do just that. And Kayak.com was born … a site where you can search everything and then have a choice of where to buy.
NNBW: Tell me about the creative process at what point did you know you were onto solid business ventures?
Jones: That’s always a tough call. At Kayak it was the point when the airlines, car and hotel suppliers decided we were bringing them so much business they had to pay for it and stay in the system. At Travelocity we knew almost at once as the business took off so fast.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Jones: I was a receptionist and visa officer at a travel agency in Chicago. I was the only person in the office who spoke English as a native language.
NNBW: Have any hard-earned advice for entrepreneurs?
Jones: I’ve written a book on the topic, “ON Innovation,” which is just out on Amazon. After the idea it is all about the team. It is about hiring the best people you can get and surrounding yourself with people who complement your skills, people who can help you make an invention into an innovation.
NNBW: As a resident of Incline Village, do you sometimes find the work environment difficult since you are far removed from Kayak.com’s corporate headquarters in Connecticut?
Jones: Not really. First, I’m chairman of the board, so I’m not involved in the day-to-day. Second, as I’m on five boards and give 45 speeches a year, I’m on the road about 140 days each year I get there a lot! Finally, in the Internet age, you are always connected.
NNBW: What drives you to keep working rather than retire?
Jones: Work keeps my mind busy. These days I’m serving on public, private and non-profit boards, consulting, speaking, serving as an expert witness and writing books. All of this keeps my mind active. My dad retired at 55 and in the end was retired longer than he worked. I don’t think I could do that.
NNBW: What’s next what new ventures will you tackle in coming years?
Jones: I’m enjoying writing, and I just completed my second book. My brother, who also lives at Lake Tahoe, and I are working on a training film. He’s a former National Geographic photographer. I will probably join another board after the Kayak deal closes and I’m free to do so.
NNBW: How do you spend your free time away from work?
Jones: I love to travel, and by combining work and play Ginny and I went to South Africa, India, France and Mexico last year. I read both fiction and non-fiction every day. I do like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. I had to quit downhill skiing when I was 16 when I injured my back. But now after back surgery I’m taking it up again.
NNBW: If you could live your life over again, what one thing would you change?
Jones: I’ve been battling being overweight since I was a teenager. I guess I wish somehow I could have avoided starting out that way.
NNBW: What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
Jones: I actually wanted to own and run the boys canoeing camp in Canada where I’d spent 13 summers. I came very close to acquiring it but in the end the deal fell apart and I ended up in travel.
NNBW: What can you do that someone else can’t?
Jones: I’m sure others do this well, but my strength is bringing technology and business together to create value.
NNBW: What’s the last concert or sporting event you attended?
Jones: Went to see the Cubs play in Chicago with my daughter (I grew up in Chicago) and of course I always spend time at Sand Harbor seeing the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and our Monday events (I just retired as chairman of the festival after a three year term).
NNBW: Where’s your perfect vacation spot?
Jones: I really like the south of France. But usually we are off investigating somewhere new I’m on my way to Dubai in March.
NNBW: You could live anywhere why did you choose Lake Tahoe?
Jones: My brother has had a home here for many years, and when I left Travelocity and Dallas there was only one place I wanted to be. Traveling as much as I do, it can be a pain to drive over the mountain and always have to connect to get anywhere, but as soon as I see the lake on my way home I remember why I moved here.
Name: Terry Jones, chairman, Kayak.com
Number of years in this job? 7
Number of years in this profession? 43
Education: BS in history from Denison University; Honorary Doctor of Letters from Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village
Last book read? “The Uncrowned King the Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst” by Kenneth Whyte
Favorite flick? “Lawrence of Arabia”
What’s on your iPod? Lots of jazz and several audio books that I listen to while driving down the hill to Reno
Spouse, kids or pets? My wife Ginny we married one-and-a-half years ago after we met on Match.com. She’s lived in Incline Village for 18 years. I have a son, Ben, 30, who lives in Los Angeles and is a video game designer at Electronic Arts. I also have a daughter, Vanessa, 28, who also lives in L.A. and surprisingly is an old world (physical) travel agent (but very high end!) I have two stepsons in San Diego both who work in high tech.
Know someone whose perspective you want to share with NNBW readers? Send contact information to: email@example.com or call 775-850-2146.
The innovative software from Reno-based Lulius Innovation focuses on automating workflows, giving organizations such as Cal Guard a real-time view of everything from aircraft readiness to flight crew status to budget management.