My Working Day: Expedia's Gary Morrison

Part of our series which peeks in to the working lives of successful men, partly in the name of casual voyeurism but mainly in an effort to steal some ideas and good habits for ourselves.

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After a stint as vice president & head of product management and multimedia devices at Motorola, an Independent consultant role at Dell and a year as head of global sales operations at Google, Gary Morrison was more or less the perfect man to take over as SVP and head of retail at Expedia worldwide.

We spoke to him to find out what a day at the top looks like (and how we can get there ourselves).

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How does your working day begin?
It’s pretty early, around six thirty, I usually do a very quick scan of email and news to see if anything’s come in overnight. After that breakfast with the kids and then I drop my daughter off to school and I get in to the office. If I’m travelling I’ll generally obviously not do all of that, I’ll go to the gym.

How often do you manage to fit the gym in?
A lot. I used to actually cycle a lot to work but I had a few near misses so I don’t do that so much now. And now I’ve got a personal trainer, I usually see him two-three times a week. But for me I’ve collected a few injuries over the years and for me it’s incredibly important. It’s not the staying in shape, it just makes you more resilient and you sleep better, so I really enjoy it.

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Do you have a better day after exercise?
Oh, a hundred times better day, you’re just a bit more brighter, alert. You know, you feel well.

Given your job, we’d expect you to do a fair amount of travelling. Is that right?
Yes, there’s travelling for business a lot of the time. Our head office is in Seattle but we also have offices in London, offices in Geneva, offices in Sydney, Australia so I try and get out and see the rest of my team and then I’ll often spend some time with some of our suppliers.

Is there a typical structure to your day?
Actually, no. What I tend to do is block out chunks of my days so I can just walk the halls or hold impromptu meetings or people can get hold of me. I only have one very firm meeting which I hold every week, which is on a Tuesday, which is our Global Trading Meeting. But I much prefer doing things in an ad hoc manner.

Do you have your own office?
No, the office is entirely open plan and we actually moved into the space two or three years ago and specifically designed it around all open plan with lots of whiteboards and meeting rooms. Generally what we try and foster here is if you’ve got something on your mind, you’ve got an idea, then go and pull the relevant people for fifteen minutes and hash it out. Rather than set up a meeting for an hour sometime in the future.

That obviously works for you.
Yeah, it doesn’t work for everybody. Some people prefer a lot more structure: I prefer a lot more sort of ad hoc conversations. As I said the office was kind of designed around that and we have a 20,000 square foot terrace on the top of the building that we use for a lot of internal entertaining and external entertaining.

So if you were walking round the office you would see probably fifty different nationalities, all different kinds of backgrounds, languages. It’s a really nice mix of technology and creativity which moves so incredibly quickly, being able to shake an idea and test it is part of our competitive advantage.

On that note, what would you say Expedia’s USP was? What’s makes you better than the others?
I think we have a really maniacal focus on trying to figure out what the best way is to serve our customer needs. That’s an easy sort of thing to say but we back it up by making huge investments in technology and we run hundreds and hundreds of tests every year, experimenting with different kinds of features and functionality on our apps or websites.

And sometimes these are very small things but what you see is how customers engage and interact with those features and you can tell if they’re adding value. And if they are, you keep them and then you go on to the next idea. So it’s that velocity of testing and learning continuously which I think is something that marks us out. And of course we’re a company of travellers; people who work here love travel.

What’s your tip for dealing with email?
Well, like a lot of people I get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails. I generally parse them out into different folders. The most important ones I’ll respond to. But as far as humanly possible what I’ll generally do is get out of my chair and go and talk to the sender and have a five minute conversation. And in part what you’re trying to do is say: ‘Don’t send email. Pick up the phone or go and talk to someone’.

Does your job involve giving many presentations?
Yes. It involves doing that a lot, both internally and externally and I really, really enjoy it. It’s like most management skills: it comes with a lot of practice. You look at other people and the tips and tricks they use and you develop your own. For example, I tend to keep my slides incredibly simple and they’re really there as a cue for me as to what I want to say next.

If you know your material and you’re very passionate in the delivery, it’s going to go down well.

How do you spend your time out of the office?
A lot of the week is soaked up with work. So when it comes to the weekends I just do stuff with my kids. Go to the movies, or go cycling. I’m also trying to teach my two boys how to play golf. Not that I know how to play golf! I’ve also just started teaching them how to ice skate.

Next year I’m going to have a go at teaching them how to ski. So, it’s much more family orientated stuff. I put all the electronic stuff away.

How are your evenings structured?
It really depends. It’s either going to be an early one where I can get back and spend some time with my kids, help them with homework and all of that sort of stuff. Or it’s going to be a late one. And a late one might be because I’m out travelling and I’ll use the opportunity to take people out for dinner.

Or there’ll be some sort of work function on at the office, where we’ll have suppliers in. So there is no structure. The only structure is at the weekends where you generally focus on things other than work.

What’s the best thing about your job?
I would say, there’s sort of couple of things. First, every single day is different; I have never worked in an environment where the pace of change is so great so I can say, hand on heart, I have never ever been bored ever. So there’s always new problems or opportunities or challenges. And the other thing is, I really enjoy the culture here, I really, really love the people I work with.

Obviously you get asked this a lot, but what’s your tip for booking your holiday online?
Instead of booking your individual travel pieces, like flights and hotels or flights and cars, if you book them together you will almost always get a better price. At Expedia we pride ourselves on having a very large array of all of the above and being able to show all the different permutations.

Then I suppose you could argue that booking early or booking late is an advantage. If you really know exactly where you want to go then booking early has the advantage: you’ll get the biggest discount. If you’re looking for a last minute deal and you don’t really mind where you go and you’re just looking for a weekend city break – you and your partner want to get away for the weekend – there’s lots of deals that are there for that last minute traveller.

What are you like on holiday? Are you good at switching off from work?
I’m learning, I’m trying to get better. Unfortunately, just because of the nature of the job, you almost always need to spend fifteen minutes just scanning through stuff to see if there’s something that needs to be attended to. But I try and do that at times when it doesn’t intrude on anyone else.

You’re not sat round the pool with your Blackberry, then?
No, because I’d be in the pool and it wouldn’t work.

Learned anything?


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