< PrevNext > Lauri Reishus ARC COO Share ARC promoted Lauri Reishus to EVP and COO in March. She joined the company in 2005 and brought with her a dedication to customer relationships and service that has fundamentally changed the organization. Reishus spoke with BTN editor-in-chief Elizabeth West.BTN: How did you get started in travel?I worked in reservations at American Airlines in the middle of the night. I was a single mother of two very young children. I realized that was just unsustainable from a daycare-providing perspective, you know, life-sanity perspective. I was talking to a colleague who said, "Well, you could go be a travel agent." At the time, I wasn't thinking about a career in travel. I was in school, trying to finish a teaching degree.BTN: So you become an agent at Gelco Travel and then moved over to managed travel at Sato Travel, which became Navigant.I learned the travel agency business from the ground up in an operations role. Mike Premo [now ARC CEO] recruited me over to Sato Travel to help him develop customer relationship management and account management programs. At that time, Sato Travel [was an] airline-owned company serving the military and government. It found itself having to compete for that business for the first time and needed to expand its services.BTN: That sounds similar to the challenges ARC was having when you joined up in 2005.The company I joined had a very association-type mentality. We did settlement of airline ticket sales between agencies and airlines, [and we did] accreditation of agencies. Their culture was, "We are here to serve the airlines: They tell us what to do, and we make sure it's done." I even used the word "customer" once and I was told by organization leaders … that we didn't want to use the term "customer" in case it set expectations that ARC might not be able to deliver. In 2005, though, ARC was beginning realize that all its eggs were in one basket. To grow, we needed to look at our current "participants" as customers and figure out what else we could do for them that they would pay us for. Like at Sato, we had to start competing for our customers. Part of the win for me was proving to doubters within the organization that ARC could raise its profile in the industry and not just exist in a background role to serve others." BTN: Yet, at that time, it was not evident even to your customers what value ARC was delivering. Tell me about that "ah-ha" moment.Yes, we sometimes point to this as a pivotal moment: We were looking to change the fee structure in our settlement contracting. Until 2007, airlines had been paying 90 percent of ticket settlement costs and agencies were paying about 10 percent. We thought agencies were getting a lot of value for very little cost and wanted to shift that structure to something more like 85 percent/15 percent. When we tried, our agencies actually took us to arbitration. They said they weren't getting enough value to justify the increase. ARC lost that argument. We couldn't get any agencies to articulate our value. Coming off that, and knowing that we wanted to grow our business, we had to take a different approach. We brought the agencies and the airlines together to rethink the basics of the ARC relationship. There was a lot of education that had to be done among the groups about [why certain things] were important to each party. … It was the inspiration for my approach to how, profits aside, ARC can best demonstrate its value to the industry. It's a model that we've taken forward to approach other challenges.BTN: You had a lot to do with defining that model.Yes, I personally charged this path forward. Part of the win for me was proving to doubters within the organization that ARC could raise its profile in the industry and not just exist in a background role to serve others.BTN: What other challenges have you tackled with this model?We brought agents and airlines and global distribution system providers together on debit memos. We wanted to get smarter about what each respective group needs out of this process and began to solve the problem. We've seen debit memos go down dramatically. One year, we saw something like a 40 percent reduction. Now we're taking that same model to the future of settlement. Last week, we launched our new settlement council, which consists of agents and airlines and GDS providers to help us determine a road map for the services that ARC can provide that will support the business needs as we move into an era of new distribution capabilities.BTN: That should keep you busy.One of the reasons I came to ARC is there are so many super-smart people here who really understand how everything works. There will always be a need in the industry for an organization like ARC that can play the role of bringing people together to solve problems.