Vic Nakhleh, VP, Transportation and Yield Management, Transat Holidays and THN.com Personality of the Year 2008 says of his win, “I guess I got lucky”
In March, TRAVELHotNews.com went to Vancouver to meet with Vic Nakhleh, Vice President, Transportation and Yield Management, Transat Holidays.
|Presenting Nakhleh with his Award of Merit for Personality of the Year 2008 |
Out of 19 nominees, most of them based in Eastern and Central Canada, Nakhleh was voted the Personality of the Year for the TRAVELHotNews.com Awards of Merit 2008.
When asked about his surprise win for Personality of the Year, Nakhleh says, “I guess I got lucky. If you’re in the business for a long time and you treat people the right way…travel agents know me in Western Canada.”
A deserving winner
When looking over some of the comments his fellow industry colleagues wrote about him, many key phrases were used to describe the industry veteran’s ‘passion’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘experience’.
|At the Transat Holidays office in Vancouver|
One comment reads, “He has made an impression on everyone. His passion for this business is second to none and no one knows it better than he does. He not only can tell you where every Transat plane is at any given moment – he can tell you where his competitor’s planes are! What makes him unique is that he shares his passion, experience and knowledge with his people and all those who have had the opportunity to work with him.”
Family life is important
Life for Nakhleh began in Israel, and he says this is a little-known fact about his life. “I was born, believe it or not, in the old city of Jerusalem. I used to serve Mass in the Church of the Nativity with the Archbishop at Christmas and serve Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Easter.”
|Nakhleh with his 3 children|
With two brothers and two sisters, Nakleh’s parents brought the family to Canada in 1968. “[We’ve] been in Canada for over 40 years now. It’s a great country and we won’t regret [the decision that was made]. We miss back home but Canada is fantastic and the opportunities are pretty good for everybody.”
Today, Nakhleh says he hasn’t changed much from when he was a child. “I am still a child inside really. I still like it that way,” he explains, saying, “As a child you enjoy every day as it comes, so it was an unbelievable childhood. I enjoyed every second and I’m still enjoying my life. Life is good!”
The Nakhleh family is close-knit, with everyone residing in the Vancouver area – “The kids are not allowed to move,” he laughs. He has two daughters, aged 31 and 28; and one son, aged 24. Nakhleh will soon become a first-time grandfather; his youngest daughter, a Grade 7 teacher, will be adding another member to the family in August.
West Coast all the way
As of 2009, this industry veteran has spent 39 years in the travel industry, beginning his career in 1970 with Canadian Pacific Airlines “as an office boy in the accounting department”.
|Nakhleh with his team: Paula Rizos, Commercial Director Western Canada; Lisa Carlin, Manager, Marketing & Yield Management Western Canada; Barbara Tepoorten, Director of Payload & Transport Western Canada; Angela Soucie, Director, Marketing & Yield Management Western Canada; Carlo Trinidad, Director of Sales, Western Canada|
After working for five years in that position, he moved to the internal audit unit for an additional five years. Nakhleh then spent two years as the controller for CP Air Holidays in the tour operator division, before making the leap over to the marketing and sales department. “[I] never moved back. I still keep my designation but I prefer and enjoy doing the other jobs.”
After 25 years with CP Airlines, he took an early retirement. He continues to enjoy his retirement privileges such as lifetime air passes. Looking back on his time with CP Airlines, he names Bill Robinson, who he worked with at CP Air Holidays in 1980, as “a very good mentor” during the early days of his career.
Nakhleh worked two years for another tour operator, Skybridge, before joining Transat in 1997 as vice president and general manager in Vancouver. Of his long career in the travel industry, Nakhleh says, “It went fast. I don’t mind. I enjoy it!”
Starting from scratch
A self-described ‘builder’, Nakhleh is most proud about “[growing] companies. I like to start a company from scratch and build it up. [With] CP Air Holidays in 1981, that company became number one within a few years. Now with Transat, when I joined in 1987 it was a very little business – now we’re number one across all of Western Canada. The company keeps on expanding and I love what we do. That’s what I enjoy.”
|Enjoying a panoramic view of Vancouver from Nakhleh's office|
When asked about his management style, he says, “I like to give my people their direction, what they should do for next year, I give them their budgets, what their targets are, and I let them do their job. I’m not on their back about everything. That’s all there is to it.”
It’s easy for Nakhleh to get along with his staff, as many of them have been with him since his CP Air days, “some over 23 years. We trust each other and it works well. That’s the important thing. You work, you trust people, there’s no politics.”
No regrets in his career and in life
With respect to his career, Nakhleh says there is nothing he would change. “I wasn’t planning to do this job, I never thought I would be in tour operation, but you know, sometimes things happen for certain reasons and you just take that path and you work hard and you can do it. I enjoyed every second and I wouldn’t do it any different.”
What does Nakhleh want to be remembered for in life? “I guess people want to be remembered for their accomplishments, what they contributed to the community and to our social structure,” noting that he used to be the treasurer of his church and continues to be active in community activities.
Interestingly, if he wasn’t in the travel industry, Nakhleh says he would be a pharmacist. “I wanted to be a pharmacist since I was a little kid. But unfortunately when we came to Canada I couldn’t go back to university so I had to work. I started in accounting and since accounting was the only degree I could take at night at university, I continued that career.”
Although pharmacy isn’t a profession that runs in the Nakhleh family, he says mathematical skills have been passed down “from my grandfather, my father, myself, my son. Math is fantastic. It’s interesting how genes sometimes go in certain ways,” says Nakhleh, who proceeded to create an impromptu spreadsheet for TRAVELHotNews.com to illustrate the number of passengers who travel with Transat from Western Canada.
Enjoying the best of Vancouver
In his off time, Nakhleh enjoys the best that Vancouver has to offer, including walking, spectator sports, spending time with his family and an active social life. “I like a little bit of shopping too,” he quips.
When it comes to cultural pursuits, he enjoys watching movies that relate to comedies, adventure and mysteries, but won’t name the last comedy he watched “because it was not a good one,” he says diplomatically. His favourite actors of all time are Jimmy Stewart and Audrey Hepburn.
Nakhleh he finds time to read Clive Cussler and other writers he enjoys only while on vacation and when flying. Not surprisingly for a math whiz, he also loves to play the number game, Sudoku and is a self-proclaimed “pro” at solving even the most mind-boggling puzzles.
Palm Springs feels like home
Nakhleh’s favourite places to visit? Palm Springs, California and Europe. “I love the desert atmosphere of Palm Springs. I grew up in the Middle East so it reminds me of back home.” For a European vacation, Nakhleh loves being in Italy and France, his favourite two countries in the region.
|Nakhleh with his collection of Air Transat planes|
A destination he would like to discover more of is the Far East, “someplace I’ve never been and I’d like to go. I didn’t discover enough of the Far East. I’ve been to only Japan and China, but I haven’t been anywhere else.”
Service makes a difference
According to Nakhleh, “The only thing that changed in the industry is the technology. I think the people still are travelling. People want good value for a fair price. And we’ve seen competition come and go from 1970 ‘til now, so we’re talking 40 years. So it’s the same thing.”
With technology changing, “we have to change with it. So you notice people now booking on the Internet.” According to Nakhleh, forty per cent of Transat’s air-only business to Europe now comes via the Internet. “In the old days we had to take the bookings by hand. It’s just that technology makes it easier for business to be done.”
He adds that great service makes a difference to Transat’s customers. “If you give the [best] service, if you’re fair in your dealings, you’re going to get the business. And that’s what we’re noticing now. As the business is slowing down, the ‘cream rises to the top’ so we seem to be getting more business than last year.”
Western Canada’s capacity, according to Nakhleh, has increased over last year and load factors have also increased “dramatically, so we’re very happy and we’re expanding again. So there’s no such thing as ‘bad economy’. People still want to travel and we’d like to be their tour operator or the company that will take them away for a week of dream vacations.”
|A Q&A session with Nakhleh|
The more you know about Vic Nakhleh…
THN: What would be in your travel survival kit?
VN: Chocolate bars! And Splenda.
THN: Weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
VN: I had a soup of snakes in China.
THN: If someone were to play you in the movie of your life, who would it be?
VN: Jimmy Stewart.
THN: Words to live by?
VN: Live every day as if it is your last.
THN: Cats or dogs?
VN: None! Allergic.
THN: What’s in your pocket right now?
VN: Nothing. Usually nothing, believe it or not. I always carry cash. We’re not used to cards, in the old days you’d just carry cash.
THN: What song makes you get up and dance?
VN: Mamma Mia by ABBA.
THN: Favourite colour?
THN: Word that you use often?
VN: ‘Technicality’, according to my staff.
THN: What advice would you give to yourself at nineteen?
VN: Work less.
THN: Name one thing that most people might not know about you.
VN: I think you get more insight [about me if you know] where I was born, et cetera. I think most people don’t know that.
TRAVELHotNews.com would like to thank Vic Nakhleh for his time and cooperation for this interview.