Speed, agility and innovation: keys to winning customers in 2015

NEW YORK—Speed, agility and innovation were the big takeaways from yesterday's motivational keynote speech from Terry Jones, the chairman of Wayblazer, founder of Travelocity.com, and founding chairman of Kayak.com. The entrepreneur and free thinker spoke about how his days at American Airlines—and the several times he left a steady job to start a new companytaught him great skills, including pushing boundaries and taking both small and big risks.

Jones wanted the full-house of attending retail industry employees to know that innovations are the ideas that will make a difference to customers. And to begin down that creative track, companies need leaders that are willing to push boundaries and listen to employees.

"If you get the culture and team right, you put gas in the tank of innovation," he said. He gave the example of when he left American Airlines to start Travelocity.com and how he wanted to hire young people from the outside. But the industry wanted the "older suits," who were notorious for not pushing boundaries and moving at a slow pace. So in the end, he mixed up the culture and hired both types of employees.

"One person can make all the difference," Jones explained about hiring the right people. He noted the example that it was a customer service representative who suggested Travelocity begin sending out flight update information to customers when she was tired of being inundated with calls about possible flight delays. These great ideas often come from those working well below the executive level, from the employees who deal with customers on a daily basis.

Jones did also stress that speed is very necessary in 2015 in order to keep up with the consumer. Therefore, retailers' innovation teams need to be small. "Big teams don't innovate, little teams do," he said. "Scale can be the enemy of speed."

But ultimately, Jones said retailers need to take risks. He noted the several risks, big and small, he had taken in order to create what turned out to be successful companies such as Travelocity and Kayak. How did he do it? "Clarity, focus and the courage to do it," he said. He encouraged retailers to be agile, "so you can run as fast as possible," to keep up with the smarter, faster, consumer.

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