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Matthew Powell – A Self-Driven Perfectionist

Matthew Powell, Managing Director–Middle East & South Asia, Travelport in a candid conversation with Charmaine Fernz, talks about his professional path, his passion for perfection and living life adventurously….

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The one lines that come to mind to best describe Matthew Powell is ‘passion with perfection’. This ideology would span both his professional and personal paths. Reminiscing his early years in the United Kingdom (UK), Powell recollects that post his schooling, there were two opportunities presented – join the University or get a job. He decided to take on the latter for personal reasons, leaving behind a place at Brighton University. The summers were also a good option to start looking for the right opportunity and to his sheer luck, he procured a job in a travel agency in Wembley. This was his entry into the big travel world and he certainly stuck on beyond the summer’s, opting out of university. In his view, the decision was worth the risk as he made much more money than his friends while also getting a foothold in the travel industry.

During that phase, least did Powell realise that there would be no looking back. The summer job was his stepping stone to better opportunities within the travel industry, which resulted in him applying for a helpdesk role at Worldspan (prior to acquisition). The rest, they say is history and that is pretty much the same with Powell’s career. Interestingly though, Powell did go back to university and completed his Masters in 2006. This was a sticking point in his head of a job incomplete so he went ahead and even further achieved an MBA on a part-time basis.

In 1995, he joined Worldspan, which was the entry into Travelport. Years have passed by and roles changed with Powell completing 23 years with the company. The consistent approach with Travelport has seen him taking on different responsibilities and understand the industry from its core. This according to him, “has been a long but beautiful journey.”

The Consistent Approach

Powell also feels that his journey with Travelport has been a learning experience. With a lot of dedication, he has worked his way up, learning the ropes right from the helpdesk with a starting salary of GBP7000 annually. In his view, “being at the helpdesk was the changing point in my career. The helpdesk is known for its very fierce environment, thereby, empowering a person to deal with all kinds of customers and situations. This has in turn been the learning point of life skills and customer behaviour which really stuck with me for my entire career.“

The opportunity with Travelport has been across different roles in different parts of the organisation. Powell has worked with the OTA world as solutions engineer but his preference was more bent towards product. This preference made him head the technical and product teams for Worldspan across Europe, which was also the time that Travelport acquired Worldspan (around 10-11 years ago). He moved over to Travelport, carrying forward his product expertise in a marketing role, taking care of whole of Europe, Middle East and Africa. It was during this period that purely by accident, Powell landed up in South Africa on a holiday. Simultaneously, during the same period, the company was figuring out how to change the business down in South Africa.

This presented a new opportunity for Powell to oversee operations in Africa, which meant, being based in Dubai, managing operations for both UAE and Africa. The tenure which started in 2009 lasted for three years, post which, Powell was given the mantle of the product team again. Over the last couple of years, he took on commercial responsibility for India and until two years ago, took on the role of Managing Director for Middle East and South Asia. In Powell’s words, “the journey has been amazing and I have to actually pinch myself to believe the number of years that have passed.”

The Motivating Factor

The working environment as explained by Powell at Travelport has been fun all the way. This blended with his personality as he is of the belief you have to enjoy your work no matter what the responsibility. It is this fun-attitude that will help an individual give his 100%. He further attributes his positivity to the organization, which is a fairly large company but has a heart and soul of a small organisation. If a problem arises, there is a team approach to solve the issue. There is also a very family environment. Citing an example, Powell says, “Our CEO Gordon Wilson is very much a hands-on person and loves to get involved with everything. He believes in the power of communication and makes it a point to interact with all employees on a regular basis. This makes a difference as it shows ease of functioning.”

Powell is also grateful for the extensive travel opportunities to unique places, the job has presented. There is also a lot of passion that exudes right from the CEO downwards which is a critical factor for Powell. And finally, it is the respect with which employees are treated that makes a big difference and shows the culture of the company.

The Experience Factor

The vast experience factor across Europe, Middle East and Africa, makes Powell feel that the travel fraternity in every country thinks they are unique and do things differently. Nonetheless, when one goes to the core, be it a traditional company or an OTA, the functions and focus are the same –customer experience. Powell highlights one interesting fact on how different cultures in different countries act differently in the way they work and how advanced is their technology. He is all praise for the UAE in terms of technological advancements and highlights some concerns about Africa. IN his view, Africa has limited resources, regular power cuts, sub-standard infrastructure but the broadband connections are even faster than the ones in the UK.

Travel by Choice or Chance

Powell very emphatically says that travel was purely by chance. He recollects his school days and his passion for being a chef. However, the only hindrance to that dream was his hesitance to interacting socially. However, on the flipside Powell feels that in the bargain, he discovered the travel side of himself and feels grateful for all his travel experiences.

Leadership qualities

A leader according to Powell is someone who can listen. They should allow employees to share their point of view, thereby making the discussion, a free-flowing conversation. In his view, he feels that many a times, people confuse a leader with a manager, least realising that the roles are very different. Another aspect of being a leader is to gain the respect of your fellow employees. Powell says, “It is the people you respect that stand out and most importantly, who can take you along in their journey.” Communication is also the next essential quality. Powell feels that a leader with the right communication skills can express his vision and goal, not so much for today or tomorrow, but for years ahead. This keeps his fellow employees motivated and looking forward to a journey of success.

The Driving Factor

A good job done is a plus for Powell, who feels that at the end of a day, one needs to be proud of their achievements. Being a very competitive person, he is very optimistic about succeeding be it both professionally and personally. He dislikes losing which further motivates him in a touch situation to do better. He is also of the view that though money is important, one also needs to focus on other important factors such as their team, having the right work-life balance, being a fair player and finally, employee satisfaction.

Role Model

Motivation for Powell comes from regular people who are not big personalities. His inspiration comes from regular people who start with nothing but have the will-power, passion and drive to make it big. This could even be a homeless person down the road, who picks himself up, gets a job and pulls himself together. Then, there are people like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, where passion and perseverance is spelt out in their success.

On the Family Front

Powell is a proud father of two daughters from his first marriage, who reside in the UK. This is where he spends most of his time. The elder girl is 14 years while the younger girl is 11 years old. Being teenagers, they certainly keep Powell busy on his toes. He remarried in April 2017 to the love of his life and his ‘best friend’. Family values are very important to Powell who stands firm that family is everything. His values can be attributed to his close knit family set-up, where spending time together is essential. Powell’s younger sister also resides in the UK.

Donning the role of a Son, Husband and Father

A very caring and soft-hearted person, who is willing to do anything for anyone is how he describes himself. Family has been very close knit, with his parents being more like friends, which has helped in strengthening the bond. He believes he is a doting father, who is very particular about his kids’ education and their future opportunities. He would certainly like for them to explore the world travelling and experiencing new things. Powell sums up saying: “I am the go-to person as a son, I am the father, who wants the best for his two princesses and I have my best friend in my wife, so it doesn’t get any better.”

Self-introspection

Powell straight-forwardly says he is a fun guy, who works hard. He has a very focussed and driven attitude while also enjoying his responsibilities. This according to him is a great balance.

Hobbies

Sports has been a keen interest for Powell who preferred to be a spectator than participant. He loves his rugby and football. Fitness is his next big passion and Powell enjoys a lot of cross fit programs. Last year, he pursued a crazy idea of going the extremes and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. This achievement has planted a seed in his mind to be more adventurous. However, he is being dissuaded by his wife. He loves to socialise and does spend a lot of time with friends and family. Not much of a movie buff, Powell does watch his fair share of Hollywood, with Shawshank Redemption and Good Feather being his all-time favourites. Reading is not much of a passion as he considers himself a slow reader. Nonetheless, when he does read, it is a lot of action and fiction books, with his favourite current read being the ‘Couple Next Door’. His favourite author is Lee Child. Music is a good eclectic mix of old school and new funky tunes. However, he would like to call himself a rock fan, who adores Guns n Roses.

On the travel path

Having travelled extensively, Powell certainly has a lot of favourites. The destinations that stand out are the United States, which fascinated Powell as a teenager and stuck with him for life. He recently holidayed in Vietnam and loves the country. Powell feels, there is so much to explore in Vietnam, having travelled across the country from North to South for about 10 days. A big part of Vietnam is untouched which is very refreshing. Powell lives by adventure but also likes his fair share of city-breaks. He finally describes himself as an explorer, who loves to discover something new about a destination. The destinations on his future holiday list are Laos and Cambodia, which according to him, are very intriguing.

Food

He considers himself to be a big foodie and enjoys every bit of his meal. Indian food is an all-time favourite and he just can’t get enough of it. This drives his wife mad. Powell also loves experimenting with food and finds cooking a relaxing approach to wind off the day.

Principles in Life

  • It is important to have a vision and purpose
  • One has to stay focussed on their goal and not get distracted
  • Look after people be it your staff or even your family
  • Have fun doing things, or else it is just not worth it
  • Whatever you do, do it well and excel