The leap to general management

"It gave me the confidence to move forward and refine my own style."

John Vermilye

Owner and Chairman, Travel Sentry and co-founder, Gallifrey Foundation
Participant on the Accelerated Development Programme

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Taking the chance for personal development

"You have to be prepared to identify your weaknesses and work on those. It's about taking that hard stare in the mirror."

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Putting people skills first

"I’d been with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for seven years when I took the ADP and for me it was an inflection point. I’d been used to changing roles every year or so with continued promotions but my remit changed soon after I came back from the programme and I ended up as senior vice president. It was less about the title than it was about the increasing complexity of my span of control. So rather than two or three projects it became a dozen, instead of a dozen it became a couple of hundred. And from having a small team in Geneva I ended up with teams in Montreal, Beijing, Singapore, Miami and London.

I came from an operational background in airlines. I was good at setting standards, monitoring and controlling, and that’s bread-and-butter management stuff. What becomes different as you move up in seniority is being sensitive to people issues, understanding strategy and executing against a complex set of variables. Your job is not the job that is set out in the job description, your job is to do that with all the constraints that are loaded on, whether that is poor senior management, a financial crisis, a weak team of employees or budget constraints; your real job is to get the job description done despite everything.

For me it was the people skills development that was the single most important takeaway from the programme. It’s a matter of taking time out for a really deep analysis of your strengths and your weaknesses.

While I’d done some management development and personal skills training, the ADP was far more multidimensional as it drew on assessments and feedback from my boss, my peers and my direct reports. We divided into small groups to analyse these and worked very intensely together. That’s where the weakness and vulnerability comes in as you are staring at yourself in the mirror, and you are helping your three cohort members to go through the same thing. There’s a level of trust there and a perspective you get from your course colleagues that was one of the strongest elements of the programme.

I didn’t realise in advance the impact that it would have on me. Not that it was an awful experience but rather how constructive it was to see some of the same issues being characterised in slightly different ways by different people and then drawing the threads together and realising that there was something I could work on. 

For me it was about improving my communication. If I was driving to an objective I wasn’t being effective enough in bringing people along with me; I was just aiming the torpedoes straight ahead rather than explaining why we needed to go into battle.

That’s why I started travelling more to make sure I got in front of people. And that’s not just standing up in front of 20, 30, 50 people, but also meeting people in more informal settings. It’s about involving people from within the organisation along with the change itself as a lot of changes will be painful.

Having been the only person to go on a programme like this within the IATA and having realised the value for myself, I then encouraged a number of other people behind me to take it, so that helped us develop potential within the organisation."

Personal development

"It's less about learning a bed of knowledge than having a mindset that says 'I'm open'"

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Broader perspective

"The importance of the ADP for me was hearing from faculty who absolutely understood a global context. I found they had a tremendous depth of competence."

Taking on new challenges

"The ADP was the opening to a longer relationship with LBS and it gave me the confidence to start something myself." 

John Vermilye 3rd Quote

Knowledge for life

"I'd always had a desire to set up my own business - it was a matter of getting to the point of having the confidence to jump and do it."

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A move into venture philantropy

"It was after a spell as an advisor to the US Transportation Security Administration on how to manage US airport security after 9/11, that I developed the idea of a global standard for luggage locks. I set up Travel Sentry in 2003.

Over 650 airports in 30 countries now use the system and over half a billion Travel Sentry approved locks have been produced with the symbol of a small red diamond showing that they can be unlocked and inspected by security authorities without damage. Each lock has a code that’s used by security agencies to know which tool to use to open it.

The greatest challenge isn’t the operational work. It’s establishing a consensus between air travel security agencies and luggage and lock manufacturers, holding that consensus and keeping everyone informed and in agreement. And there’s an element of that which I learned from the ADP about bringing people along with you.

I've now stepped back from day to day management to focus on philanthropic work with my wife Antoinette. We co-founded the Gallifrey Foundation, which has two remits around education for social enterprise and marine conservation. The first is carried out mainly through LBS: the Gallifrey Scholarship for Social Enterprise supports an MBA or Sloan student coming from a not-for-profit background and we support an internship for an LBS MBA student to work at the not-for-profit Turquoise Mountain set up by LBS alumna Shoshana Stewart.

The marine conservation work is split into three parts around preservation of the Arctic, deep sea mining and marine plastic pollution. In the last area we have set up a central, neutral, depository of information on all the organisations working on that issue which can be found at

And there’s an ADP lesson or two in the work I’m doing now. First it’s about having a global view – I see way too many times in business where someone wants to make a product or service and they don’t think about scaling up. They just look at their own space rather than taking a broader view of how it could be valuable in Japan or China too, rather than just the UK, for example.

“Second is the importance of execution. If you want to do something you have to sit down and figure out exactly how it will work. I do a lot of planning and thinking about how something is going to work, how we will fund it, what are the barriers to overcome. So rather than just having a brilliant idea, you actually put the roadmap together.”

Accelerated Development Programme

Reach your potential. Gain the knowledge, practical skills and confidence to step up to a general management role.