Frequent flyer happy to call Australia home

Wild Geese: Karl Schuster, Sydney

Karl Schuster believes Sydney  is a “sensational place to live”

Karl Schuster believes Sydney is a “sensational place to live”

 

Karl Schuster lives in Sydney where he is chief executive of Velocity Frequent Flyer, the loyalty programme of Virgin Australia.

Not averse to frequent flying himself, Schuster has led businesses across four continents throughout his career.

As a young child, Schuster lived in Palmerstown in Dublin before moving to neighbouring Lucan. His father Lubo was an engineer and a post-second World War Czech immigrant. His mother Breda White was a well-known Dublin model in the 1950s. But tragedy struck the young family early on.

“My father died young in 1967, leaving my mother a widow at 33 with five children under the age of seven. My mother demonstrated strength of character, bravery in adversity, determination to succeed against overwhelming odds and the deepest love for, and loyalty to, all her children,” says Schuster.

He developed a taste for travel early on. His father’s brother Michael ran a concrete road machinery import business based in Palmerstown and arranged for him to do a summer engineering apprenticeship in southern Germany at the Elba factory aged just 15.

“At 17, I spent the summer in Holland working in food factories. Both were great experiences and I developed a love for independent travel. Moving from country to country throughout my career has been perfectly normal and quite exciting,” he says.

Schuster was educated at Mount Sackville primary school, went to secondary school in Clondalkin and finished at UCD with a B Comm in 1984.

Cape Town

He worked in the “fledgling” direct marketing business in Dublin before leaving in 1988 to join Ogilvy in London for four years. At 29, he “grasped an opportunity to go to Cape Town with Ogilvy in the early days of post-apartheid South Africa” where he became managing director of the OgilvyOne business and met his wife Genevieve.

After six years in Cape Town, he returned to London to spend three years running agencies until an opportunity arose in Sydney in the loyalty industry.

“I was attracted to Australia because I had never been and my parents had had a stint in Sydney and Brisbane in the late 1950s,” he says. “I worked for a private US travel, marketing and hospitality conglomerate for 15 years – initially running the Australia and New Zealand loyalty business and then the whole of Asia Pacific region.

“A company called Carlson Marketing hired me from the advertising business in London to help rescue their loyalty marketing business in Australia and New Zealand,” he says. “My client services skills and experience in running successful businesses was transferable to a loyalty services model.”

Singapore By 2006, he was promoted to run the Asia Pacific region which prompted a move to Singapore for five years in 2011 before a return to Sydney to take up his current role at Velocity Frequent Flyer.

On a daily basis Schuster’s role involves three different aspects. “The first is ensuring my team is keeping focus on what’s important to driving the business forward. That revolves around excellence in execution so we deliver our results in the current financial year, but also focusing on the medium and longer term so we’re staying ahead of the market,” he says.

A time-consuming aspect of his role is the company’s transformation. “We’re changing how we do everything. We’re changing our platforms, we’re developing our offer to the customer and we’re planning new innovations. That absorbs a lot of my time.”

The other aspect of his job is stakeholder management as the company has large relationships with some of the biggest players in Australian retail and banking, and with companies such as BP and American Express.

“I need to ensure we continue to deliver value for them and for our members. So a typical day might involve reviewing new technology investments, meeting senior executives from partners in our programme, conducting one-to-one meetings, preparing for board meetings and reviewing financial performance.”

Adventure

Schuster and his wife have two teenage sons Josef and Daniel who were both born in Sydney.

“We’re a tight family unit and regard travelling as an adventure – it’s in all our blood,” he says.

Schuster says that when his father passed away, his aunt Maria and her husband Noel were very supportive. “Noel was an important role model for me growing up. A man of huge integrity, faith and kindness. I try to model his behaviour,” he says.

Schuster returns to Ireland once a year and loves to catch up with family and old college friends. “A pint of Guinness or dinner with friends is what I miss most,” he says.

A member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Australian British Chamber of Commerce, he is not a member of any club with Irish affiliations but says he is a keen golfer and walker and enjoys photography in his spare time.

Sydney is a place where people are possessed with a can-do attitude and are open and transparent, he says.

“Senior people are accessible and helpful. It is massively multicultural. Our workplace is really rich, interesting and fun as a result. I take a random selection of staffers to lunch once a month and invariably it is a group of people from China, France, England, Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, India … you name it.”

He also believes that the city is a “sensational place to live”. “It’s consistently placed in the top 10 cities in the world. Australians love life – sport, food, travel, the outdoors. It’s refreshing and exciting every day.”

His advice to those weighing up the pros and cons of moving to work in the city? “Get here. Now.”

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