A Conversation with Mike Cameron, CEO of Christopherson Business Travel at GBTA 2019.
Business Travel: Six Decades in the Making
Embarking on a business endeavor in tech is not an easy task, particularly at the early stages. Having been in business for more than sixty years, since 1953, is not only proof of undoubtedly solid foundations, since it involves overlapping of generations in the fast-paced world of technology, but also a ride that has been enjoyed by this husband and wife team of entrepreneurs.
To tell us the full story, we enjoyed a nice chat with Mike Cameron, CEO at Christopherson Business Travel, a travel company that delivers client-focused, tech-savvy business travel management services driven by a rather unique mission: connecting people.
Now a family-owned business led by a husband-and-wife team, Christopherson Business Travel started very small. When asked about its early stages, Mike said that he and his wife bought the company 29 years ago, and have since grown it to 6 brands, generating $680 million dollars with a 480 members team.
“We’ve had quite a good ride for the last 29 years”, Mike mentioned.
The Company’s Raison d’Etre
“When we purchased the company, we decided that we would focus on one thing and one thing only, and would strive to be better at it than anyone else” Mike stated. The company decided to start a technology division in 2005, and built a platform called AirPortal. AirPortal is a very robust platform connecting 4 GDSs, Worldspan, Apollo, Sabre, and Amadeus. “When we build this platform”, Mike said, “we decided that our focus would be the travel manager”. Mike made it clear that at some point, he noticed that the Internet was coming of age, and since mobile apps were not a “thing” yet, they saw the need to focus on the travel manager, something that has been a common thread in the case of all the tools being built by CBT.
What Makes CBT Unique
When asked about what he thought made CBT unique, Mike highlighted the fact that 98% of their client pool is comprised of travelers, but the other 2%, those who work behind-the-scenes, like travel managers, procurement, finance, planners and coordinators, among many other active players that make things happen, are left behind. Mike said that it was easy – and even tempting – to focus on the first 98%, since that’s where all the “action” is, so the company decided to serve this small percentage, this incredibly key yet sometimes invisible 2% as one of its main differentiators in the marketplace.
Value People, Create Value
As the time to wrap up the conversation approached, we asked Mike what drove the branding vision for CBT, what sort of values have been infused into this amazing travel tech company. Without hesitation, Mike responded, “value people and create value”. In closing, Mike shared with us that at some point he and his wife, as a team, were asked what they thought made them so successful, Mike stated, “…build a service or a product that is unique, objectively and quantifiably competitive, that is not a cliché and that is not claimed by the competition.” This is how business travel through technology is redefined time and again. That’s the secret sauce of a successful travel technology company or product: by creating value, in every imaginable way, and in a sincere and objective manner.