Skift Take

The travel technology giant has bowed to investor and airline demands for a management team more focused on software solutions that help with the retailing, distribution, and fulfillment of travel as an end-to-end journey, not just siloed by function.

Sabre CEO Sean Menke, only a year-and-a-half on the job, seems to think the secret to moving forward is to restructure the company structure and its leadership.

The aim is to promote insight-sharing and cooperative behavior across business units.

On Wednesday the Southlake, Texas-based company announced organizational and leadership changes. Until now, the company had three divisions: Travel Network, which acts as a middleman distributor of content between suppliers like airlines and travel agencies and corporate travel management companies; Airline Solutions, which provides software that helps airlines run their operations; and Sabre Hospitality Solutions, which offers software such as booking engines for websites to hotels.

Sabre is unifying two of those divisions, its distribution-themed Travel Network and its airline services-themed Sabre Airline Solutions, under a new organization called Travel Solutions. The move means a promotion of Dave Shirk, who Menke brought into the company and installed as president of Airline Solutions a year ago, to the newly created role of executive vice president and president of Travel Solutions. That unit, Travel Solutions, will oversee the two business lines.

To maintain transparency about its business, Sabre will continue to report on financial developments for its segments Travel Network, Airline Solutions, and Hospitality Solutions as separate units as it began to in the first quarter of 2018.

In 2017, Travel Network booked $2.55 billion in revenue, or roughly two-thirds of the company’s revenue. Hospitality Solutions reported revenue of $258.4 million, while Airline Solutions generated $816 million.

The move may encourage more collaboration on building data and analytics solutions. For decades, airlines often outsourced the creation of offers, or the mix of price, availability, and perks like free checked bags, to the technology middlemen like Sabre and its rivals Amadeus and Travelport. But increasingly so-called offer creation relies on data generated in the passenger service systems and other airline software. So more collaboration between Sabre’s divisions that work on both parts of the equation makes sense.

Rival Amadeus has seen some commercial success in converting customers of its airline passenger service system into its larger distribution and retailing software services on the promise of seamless integration. Travelport has largely exited the airline services segment except for some work for Delta.

On Wednesday Sabre also announced that Sundar Narasimhan, who most recently served as director of engineering at Google, will join Sabre as senior vice president and president of Sabre Labs and product strategy at the end of the month.

At Google, Narasimhan led teams working on the company’s hospitality efforts. Before that, he was the chief technology officer of ITA Software, which was acquired by Google in 2011. Narasimhan was involved in the development of ITA Software’s airline distribution platform and its passenger reservation system that was discontinued after Google acquired the company.

On the vision front, Menke has been repeating and articulating a vision for the company’s leadership to instill in its teams. “We are on a mission to reimagine the business of travel, which is all about retailing, distribution and fulfillment,” he told Skift in June.

Menke has replaced, reshuffled, or created more than a half-dozen top leadership positions since his arrival in his quest to create an accountability culture. The company has initiated searches for a leader to fill Shirk’s previous role as the head of Airline Solutions and to hire a leader for its data and analytics efforts.

A key challenge for Shirk as the CEO’s ringmaster will be to avoid playing favorites and encourage open conversations among leadership about the inevitable faultlines where conflicts will arise.

The goal is to bring in the best people to share insights regardless of who “owns” any given problem. Easier said than done.


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Tags: distribution, gds, sabre, sabre airline solutions, travel agents

Photo credit: Sabre CEO Sean Menke in London in late June 2018 at the European edition of the company's customer conference. The Texas-based travel technology giant has bowed to demands for a management team more focused on software solutions across travel sectors. Sabre

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