Visiting executive offers students "travel" advice
Sivley to students: "Take educated risks"
"Who here has purchased a ticket through Orbitz?"
That may seem like a strange question for a speaker to ask his audience. But when the speaker is Dean Sivley, and Dean Sivley is the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Orbitz for Business, and the audience consists of students who may be looking for travel deals online now or in the near future, the question makes perfect sense both as market research and as a source of pride. Among the 100 students attending Sivley's second session of the day, approximately a third indicted they were Orbitz customer (more than 300 students attended the two programs and a student breakfast with Sivley).
Sivley has put on a few miles since he left UW-Parkside with a business degree. He traveled back to campus in late February to serve as the spring semester "Executive In Residence" for the university's School of Business and Technology.
Sivley, whose corporate destinations have included Accenture during the days when it was part of Arthur Anderson, 14 years with Duracell in Europe, the travel agency Rosenbluth International, and Cendant Corporation prior to its purchase of Orbitz, gave students a brief rundown of his resume and a behind the scenes look at the highly competitive and constantly changing travel industry.
Asking students to name the top e-commerce categories, Sivley probably wasn't surprised to hear them offer the categories of online auction sites like eBay and vendors like Amazon. One they failed to name was online travel which Sivley said is three times larger than any other e-com category.
Citing the research of Harvard professors Clayton Christensen and Michael Porter, Sivley said Orbitz and its competitors like Expedia and Travelocity are the beneficiaries of growth through "disruptive technology or disruptive business models." Started in 1999 by five airlines to blunt the power of traditional travel agencies before going public a few years later, Orbitz invented the Travel Matrix that allowed customers to quickly and easily find the best travel deals online. The idea caught on among consumers and travelers who worked for small companies--what he called the unmanaged business traveler--and eventually moving up the food chain to capture the travel dollars of mid-size and large corporations.
"By about 2001...for the unmanaged business traveler, we had a product that was every bit as good as the experience you were going to get from American Express or Carlson or any of the other large agencies" and less expensive, Sivley said. By 2005, he added, Orbitz was part of many mid-size and large corporations' travel plans.
Sivley said the travel business continues to change with Orbitz being challenged to adapt to competitors like Kayak and Sidestep. These companies attempt to, as he put it "steal that first click from us" by offering a better search experience for people planning their travel online.
Sivley, who graduated from UW-Parkside in 1980 with a business degree and concentrations in accounting and information technology, closed his program by offering some advice to students.
"Take educated risk with your career," he said.
He cited his own decision to delay entering graduate school despite being accepted at NorthwesternUniversity, and take a job overseas. That decision would lead to his selection as the chief information officer for Duracell at the age of 28. He eventually earned an MBA from ColumbiaUniversity in New York City.
He also urged students to have a plan and an exit strategy.
"To me," Sivley said, "you can never get so locked into the plan that you're not afraid to change some of your choices."
Sivley was invited to campus and introduced at both sessions by UW-Parkside School of Business and Technology Dean Fred Ebeid.
"The experience and knowledge Mr. Sivley shared with those attending the breakfast, the two Executive In Residence sessions, and a luncheon meeting were of particular benefit to our students as they prepare to compete in the global economy," Ebeid said.