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If you’ve ever popped and found you can’t stop, you can largely blame a senior executive in the online travel industry.
Matthew Crummack, president of the dot com poster child lastminute.com, was responsible for introducing Pringles – the popular wheat, not potato, based snack (VAT reasons, apparently) – into the UK.
This was during a period at the start of his career at Proctor & Gamble, which he joined on a graduate programme, and which he recalls as great fun.
“In my first few years at P&G I pretty much covered all the products, everything from Pampers to cosmetics,” he says.
“My first experience was doing an internship selling soap powder to hypermarkets in southern France: it was a baptism of fire in hard negotiation.
“At that time at P&G everything was about detergents and health and beauty, and they had this strange brand called Pringles which was big in the US but an outlier in Europe. They asked me to bring it back in-house in the UK.
“We were in a phenomenally large, stable organisation, but in a unit that did lots of entrepreneurial things. The brand had real character and it had growth prospects. We had a fantastic few years.”
Crummack, who went on to the rather less sexy pet food brand IAMS, recalls his Pringles days as being important in that they exposed him to business in a less corporate environment.
With a sense of pride he recalls visiting the Design Museum in London recently where a Pringles Pop Box was on display.
It was a plastic container designed to hold just 10 of the wheat-based crisps, so consumers could add it to their lunch box and stop after popping instead of wolfing the entire tin in one sitting.
“It made me feel very old and very nostalgic,” Crummack adds.
Crummack says this period in his career gave him a “entrepreneurial twitch” and he left P&G to work for a small graphic design company called FPP Design.
This specialised in below-the-line marketing, direct mail and point of sale. It had offices in Switzerland and Newcastle upon Tyne but employed only 40 people, compared with P&G’s hundreds of thousands.
“I learnt a lot and my big-company process-driven comfortable existence got driven out of me, which I think was one of the best things I ever did,” he adds.
“You do not really appreciate how businesses run until you get to a small business of that size and your email isn’t working because the server underneath your desk is broken and there is no one else to deal with it.
“The hands-on nature makes you realise every pound you spend and every decision you make has implications.
“People talk about treating your business’s money as your own but very rarely do people demonstrate that as a behaviour.
“When you see bank statements that are directly down to your successful or unsuccessful attempts to bring in business or manage costs, that makes it a lot more real. I learnt a lot about that – it was an awakening.”
The lure of the big corporate, however, drew Crummack back, largely, he says, because he missed the geographic exposure the P&G roles had given him.
In his next role, managing Nestlé’s Co-operative relationship, he added knowledge of Asia to his already deep understanding of western Europe.
Here, Crummack says he picked up something he believes is relevant to his current role in travel – the need for supplier and retailer to forge more of a partnership approach.
“In the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry the sophistication of the relationships that they have now is much stronger than they were 15 or 20 years ago.
“They used to be very confrontational and there was little searching for common value drivers in the relationship. It would orientate around one number, and that was probably margin.
“At the time I was at Nestlé they started to orientate around a business plan which looked at the total relationship – a more long-term partnership.
“The travel industry can learn a lot from relationships where you focus on the creation of value through providing the customer with a better experience and creating demand.
“The commentary in the travel industry is very much about single items rather than how we get more demand.
“There has always been a sense of partnership but partnership and relationship are two different concepts. Partnership is a relationship based on the delivery of results; a relationship is just you like each other.”
Crummack’s break in travel with Expedia, where he was brought in to manage airline and tour operator business in Europe and was senior vice-president of lodging, came following a call from an executive search headhunter.
He admits his travel experience was limited at that point but believes that his skills built up over his career and his knowledge of different geographical markets made up for that.
“It was a real challenge, but what I liked about it was they were prepared to think differently and had open minds. It reminded me of people at P&G,” he adds.
“I knew the geography really well and my skill set was reasonably well matched so I was bringing a different way of thinking to the group, which was what they were looking for.”
Crummack has now been at the helm of lastminute.com for just over a year, ending what looked from the outside as an unsettling period for the firm following a succession of senior management shake-ups and rebrands.
Now, with lastminute.com having moved to new offices in central London from its old Victoria home, he is looking to reinvigorate a brand which he admits went through difficult “teenage years”.
He is surrounding himself with people who are passionate about what the lastminute brand is all about and trying to instil some of the Pringles fun he enjoyed at the start of his career.
“What’s interesting about this industry is that it is continuously moving, and for companies to remain in the marketplace – and lastminute has been around for 13 years – they have to continuously adapt to the environment.
“Technology has influenced me incredibly. I used to work on the flow of goods and services in what was called the fast-moving consumer goods sector and I genuinely thought that was the case. But when I came to an online business I realised what fast really looks like.
“Having been around for 13 years lastminute has gone through some challenging times but we feel we are in a good place to be successful and sustainable, but we cannot stop innovating.
“We keep our eyes and ears open to what’s changing in the marketplace but also tune in to what the customer is doing.
“We are laser-focused on our own mission because we believe in five, 10 years’ time and more, people will still be there at 4pm in the afternoon wondering what to do in the evening and we will be there to help them.”