As CEO of Travelzoo, Chris Loughlin likes to apply the personal touch. “I call subscribers at home whenever I can, just to find out how they are using our products,” he says.
Loughlin says he learns something from just about every such call. Take the Ontario lawyer, a frequent Travelzoo customer, who told Loughlin he wanted to be able to search the site for hotels any night of the year. Now Travelzoo offers that service, and has expanded its offerings in several other ways as well to compete more widely in the crowded online-booking business. Those calls have proved “invaluable,” says Loughlin, CEO of the Nasdaq-traded company since 2010.
Loughlin grew up traveling, but, like so many other Haas alums, is also a tech nerd who went to business school to add to his skillset. The British son of Northern Irish parents spent his youth in Germany and Belgium. He attended boarding school in a grand old estate home in Wales, where he developed a knack for computing. “I was programming at age 11, and building robots by 13,” he says.
He ended up working in London for Marks & Spencer, where he joined the upscale retailer’s fledgling Internet team. Then Loughlin launched a travel site, Weekends.com, eventually selling the domain name to Travelzoo, which he joined in 2001 as a vice president of business development. Travelzoo founder Ralph Bartel advised him, “In the United States, if you want to be a public company CEO, you have to have an MBA. We’ll sponsor you, but go to a top-notch school.”
After attending the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program, Loughlin put his new learning to work when he launched Travelzoo’s European operations.
One lesson: “Never assume. You have to make sure things are getting done, so you have to spend time down in the engine room.” But at the same time, a top manager must always be thinking strategically. Striking the right balance between strategy and tactics is the whole game, Loughlin says: “I’m constantly zooming in and out.”
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