Outgoing Priceline CEO Jeffery Boyd, who will serve as non-executive chairman of the company, says he doesn’t intend to be “a typical buttinsky former CEO” and has no intention of running another Internet company again.
Meanwhile, the new guy, incoming Priceline CEO Darren Huston, who has headed its Booking.com unit for the last couple of years and takes over as Priceline CEO on January 1, sees “amazing potential” in the company’s future, adding that “maybe this is the first chapter.”
Skift interviewed the dynamic duo outside the PhoCusWright conference in Hollywood, Florida yesterday, and they answered questions about where Priceline has been, and where it is heading,
Asked if it is a no-win proposition succeeding Boyd, considering he took the company from the doldrums to king of the hill status and with a $59 billion market cap during his 11 years at the helm, Huston said he’s seen the stock nearly double in price over the last couple of years, and he plans on maintaining the Priceline Group’s consumer focus and making it “more and more global.”
Allowing the brands, including Priceline.com, Booking.com, Agoda.com, RentalCars.com, and Kayak to keep operating independently is a strategy that Huston plans on continuing, he said.
Does Mobile Spell Trouble?
We asked Huston if the advent of mobile bookings poses an existential challenge to Priceline’s market advantage because all of that huge search engine marketing spend on Google can’t easily be replicated on mobile.
Huston said he’s not discouraged by the the mobile challenge, calling each device type, from smartphones to tablets and the mobile Web, “almost a new channel” in themselves.
He added that Kayak, which Priceline acquired earlier this year for $1.8 billion, has lots of app expertise to lean on.
So will Priceline’s future entail growth through acquisition, and is the game plan just about spreading Booking.com’s and sister company Agoda’s footprints into new geographies?
Acquisitions and the Sharing Economy
Huston wouldn’t comment on whether Priceline would be interested in buying a company such as HomeAway or another vacation rental player, although he cited Booking.com’s experience in aggregating virually all lodging types, from hotels to vacation rentals and hostels, as very valuable to travelers.
But, while not ruling out any acquisitions, Huston said Priceline won’t make a ton of them because that’s not in its DNA.
“We cannot have 50 plays,” Huston said, meaning going on a startup-acquisition binge and having 50 companies to the Priceline fold. “We are not that kind of group.”
The focus of Priceline’s expansion efforts, Huston said, will be on organic growth.
Jeffery Boyd’s Turn
We then turned to Boyd, who was sitting next to Huston on a couch in the lobby of the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, and asked Boyd to share his views on the sharing economy.
On that note, Boyd said Airbnb’s and Uber’s “disruption” has gone beyond upsetting the business status quo, and meandered into at times contradicting local regulations.
“We can’t disrupt the existing regulatory system,” Boyd said, in considering getting into Airbnb- or Uber-like businesses or partnerships. “We really have no choice to run the business that way.”
Boyd was asked to reflect on his tenure as CEO and what turned out to be probably the biggest comeback in Internet history, and whether there are lessons in that for companies such as Yahoo or AOL.
Boyd said Priceline was “a very good brand,” and had “high brand awareness” when he became CEO in 2002, and he worked on product improvement, containing costs and profitability.
But he cautioned that this was more than just an Internet turnaround story, and that building Priceline’s international business “was a distinct exercise.”
AOL and Yahoo have done a very good job in turning things around and now they have the same opportunity that Priceline had “to see what they do next,” Boyd said.
What’s the Job Description?
So how will Huston and Boyd divide responsibilities as CEO and non-executive chairman, respectively.
Huston said he will look to Boyd as someone to turn to for advice.
And, Boyd said he won’t be in the office every day.
“My intention is not to become a typical buttinski former CEO,” Boyd said.
Asked if he sought to one day operate another big Internet company, Boyd said he doesn’t.
“If I had wanted to run an Internet company, it would be the Priceline Group,” Boyd said.
It’s clear Boyd is moving on after leaving a legacy that will be nearly impossible for Huston, or anyone else, to replicate.