Sam Gilliland didn't set out to become CEO of one of the most influential travel technology companies in the world. He was an engineer by trade when he joined Sabre Holdings in 1988 as a software developer.
"I was hunkered down in a cubicle for quite a while in the early days of Sabre," he says.
A little bit of luck and a lot of hard work landed him in the top spot of the Dallas-based company in 2003, managing 10,000 people in 60 countries.
Sabre, a global technology company, plays a role in all aspects of the travel industry, from giving travelers the tools to find the best airfares to helping hotels fill rooms to making travel agencies more efficient.
In March 2011, President Obama appointed him to the President's Management Advisory Board. He is also vice chair of the U.S. Commerce Department's Travel and Tourism Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Commerce.
Gilliland, 51, is no longer CEO, having stepped down from that role in August to spend more time with his family, but remains on the company's board of directors, where he still plays a role in shaping the company's direction. (He has been succeeded by Tom Klein.) Gilliland's 10 years running the company taught him a thing or two about managing people, and customers' expectations.
He says he's had a "sensational appetite to understand more about the customer and what they wanted."
"I got a huge appreciation for their needs," he says.
Their needs are constantly changing in a world where they have access to so much information online.
And that's what Sabre, which owns Travelocity, helps airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, travel agencies and pretty much any travel company do: present choices to travelers in an approachable way.
"As a consumer you can spend a lot of time shopping and researching," he says. "How do you ... turn those choices into something that is easily consumable?"
The name of the game in travel these days is personalization, and Sabre is helping travel services companies and others figure out how to make consumers think their individual needs are being met.
They're doing so by collecting data and determining people's shopping and buying behavior.
Gilliland says companies can do that by "collecting information on that last experience or last set of experiences." (continued...)
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