What is it that makes a company so likeable? And how do you create that? Flight Centre Business Travel talk to Karen Hardie about marketing the perfect brand, how to tackle jet lag, and her favourite Vancouver pit stops.
When Karen Hardie graduated from high school with the dream of being a drama teacher, she never dreamed that one day she would, instead of coaching young aspiring TV stars, be living halfway around the world, as Vice President of Global Sales for Rocky Mountaineer in Vancouver.
Yet following a career in public relations that took her from Australia to New York, London and Hong Kong, she moved into travel, first heading up Qantas Vacations’ US sales, before being head hunted for the role at Rocky Mountaineer.
So what’s her recipe for success?
On chasing your career dreams
I moved to New York when I was 21 as a graduate trainee, working in pharmaceutical public relations. I remember someone saying to me ‘You’re what, like 20 and you just moved here? What made you think you could do that?’ It never occurred to me that I couldn’t. I do think that’s an Australian thing to think ‘Yeah sure, let’s move to New York’. When you’re young there’s not a lot that you can’t navigate.’
On being a female leader in business
My dad was always really supportive and encouraged me in business. There was never really a sense for me that gender was an issue. At the start of my career I worked for Sarina Bratton at Orion Cruises, the first female founder of a cruise line. I’ve since had some really strong female role models, but equally I’ve had great male mentors who have encouraged me and pushed me forward.
The more senior you get, it’s still predominantly male. It is changing, but it takes more women to persist through their careers, to have children and to continue to work, in order to be able to close the gender gap a bit more. It always comes back to the question of childcare. Historically it has been the woman who has needed to take at least some time off work, but now as companies become more supportive of both partners sharing the parenting role, it will slowly improve.
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On what makes Rocky Mountaineer so special
In Australia we’re lucky we’ve got this big beautiful country but I think a lot of it is dry and barren and the idea of going somewhere that has wildlife that we don’t have here and trees and mountains and snow, I think there’s an affinity there. There’s also just something in that Commonwealth connection between Australia and Canada. I think people feel welcome, it feels like home.
But it’s more than that. When you’re travelling from Vancouver east-bound, the journey literally builds. You’re coming out of Vancouver, you’re going through the Fraser Valley, you get to Kamloops, which is kind of high desert, that’s day one, so it’s kind of diverse because you’re literally going from City to country. And then on the second day every hour you get higher and closer into the mountains and it just becomes magnetic. You feel yourself being pulled towards the windows, it’s very captivating.
The onboard team is really good too. From the driver at the front of the train all the way back, everyone is connected, so as soon as someone sees wildlife, they’re calling it out, so you have time to get to the window to see. You never miss anything.
On travelling for work
I’ve been travelling since I was six weeks old because my dad worked for Qantas, and so it’s ingrained into you that you always dress in business-casual for a flight. I still won’t show up for a flight in jeans, it’s so deeply ingrained to always show up looking presentable.
I always try to sleep, and to have the compression socks, eye mask, neck pillow etc if I can. I’m not particularly precious though, I don’t do the supermodel thing with two litres of water on the plane and then get off looking fabulous. You sleep better if you have a glass of wine. Don’t fight it, enjoy it.
On great books to read on the plane
I usually work on the plane, it’s a great place to do emails uninterrupted. But it’s also a great place to read stuff I don’t normally have time for. I carry a Kindle that has probably 50 titles on it at any given time because I snack on books. I love business biographies and stories about great brands and great visionary leaders following their passion. It’s always a reminder of how much grit is required before you achieve success. The Steve Jobs biography (by Walter Isaacson) is a fascinating story about a fascinating person. Every time I’m having a rough day I always remember ‘Even Steve Jobs got fired from his own company. So hang in there!’
On Karen’s Kindle:
- Change your questions, change your life – Marilee Adams
- The Everything Store: Jess Bezos and the Age of Amazon – Brad Stone
- Delivery Happiness – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
- Shoe Dog – Phil Knight, the founder of Nike
On her hometown Vancouver
Best place for a coffee meeting
A local independent coffee cafe Downtown
1059 Alberni St, Vancouver
Best place for a business lunch
Rooftop at Rosewood Hotel Georgia
801 W Georgia St, Vancouver
Best spot for after work drinks
The rooftop at Black and Blue
1032 Alberni St, Vancouver
Cactus Club Coal Harbour
1085 Canada Place, Vancouver
Best way to fill a day off in Vancouver
Cycle the seawall in Stanley Park, take the water taxi from Yaletown to Granville Island for artisan breweries, restaurants and markets. The if it’s summer, finished it off with Shakespeare at Bard on the Beach.