Amid change, Galvin helps carve a niche

CLOSE TO HOME: Collette Vacations Chief Financial Officer John Galvin joined the company 22 years ago, when it had $63.2 million in revenue. Last year, it had $172.2 million. / PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
CLOSE TO HOME: Collette Vacations Chief Financial Officer John Galvin joined the company 22 years ago, when it had $63.2 million in revenue. Last year, it had $172.2 million. / PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD

Though many would-be travelers swapped their exotic vacations for “staycations” during the Great Recession, Collette Vacations grew its tour-operation business significantly, thanks in part to the strategic vision of Chief Financial Officer John Galvin.
When Galvin joined Pawtucket-based Collette more than 22 years ago, there were only about 40 employees and 12 office locations – mainly travel agencies. Since then, the company has successfully evolved its approach to travel and tourism, and grown in a big way.
Galvin’s eye for new financial opportunities and foresight into the travel market helped the third-generation, family-owned business grow revenue from $63.2 million in 1990 to $172.2 million in 2011 – a compound average annual growth rate of 4.9 percent.
Over the years, Galvin has also maintained a debt-free balance sheet, with assets exceeding $70 million and more than 84 percent highly liquid assets.
“His great financial acumen” makes Galvin one of the state’s top CFOs, said Collette Vacations President and CEO Daniel J. Sullivan Jr., who nominated Galvin for the honor. “His stewardship of Collette Vacations’ finances has helped make us one of the most financially stable travel companies in the USA,” Sullivan added.
Galvin helped the company grow its gross income from $117,864,000 in 2009 to $184,934,000 in 2010 and $178,634,000 in 2011. Under his leadership, the company also added about 180 employees since 2009, bringing its employee base to nearly 550. Collette also expanded the business into new areas of the country, plus Canada and the United Kingdom.
Collette could not have grown its business without leaders who are willing to change course, which the company has done many times since its beginnings in 1918.
When travel websites gained popularity, for instance, Galvin and other company executives knew that brick-and-mortar travel agencies would suffer. They moved away from that model and focused on offering unique tours that consumers can’t get with a few mouse clicks, he explained. “We’ve developed a high-touch, high-service business model,” Galvin said. “We aren’t just book-a-flight, book-a-car and book-a-hotel type of business.”
By developing relationships with national travel organizations such as AAA, Smithsonian and Marriott Vacation Clubs, and with small tourism-related organizations, the company created tours that travelers can only get through Collette Vacations, he said. For instance, customers who do one of Collette’s tours of Tuscany can visit a private winery for a tour and have lunch at the vineyard owner’s home, Galvin said.
“You can’t buy online what we offer,” he said. “We make a living giving customers bragging rights about their unique travel experiences.”
The company’s long relationships with vendors help keep its tour costs down to stay competitive with travel websites, while providing customers with perks. For example, Collette often provides a town car to bring its clients to the airport, making it easy to travel with them.
“We can do things like that and make it look easy, where some competitors may not want to partner with 150 limo companies to provide that type of service,” Galvin said.
Offering a diverse portfolio of tours – 150 in more than 50 countries throughout the world – has also helped. When one destination goes offline, as Japan did following the tsunami, or Egypt following the turmoil there, there are other international and national tours that Collette can offer.
Galvin has also implemented a hedging strategy to mitigate foreign-exchange risk, as a major portion of the company’s transactions involve foreign currency. As Collette offers tours to global destinations, it is paid by customers in U.S. or Canadian dollars and in turn pays vendors in the local currency, whether it’s Australian dollars, Swiss francs or euros. “To price our tours we have to estimate an exchange rate,” Galvin said, mostly using forward contracts to hedge currency exposure.
Collette also sustained growth throughout the downturn, when many people put off their travel plans, by maintaining its focus on an important demographic – people in their late 60s who aren’t as concerned about employment and want to travel, Galvin said. In fact, even if the tour operator does nothing to grow its margins, the company will continue to grow by catering to that clientele, Galvin said. “Looking at our business long term, the baby boomers are around 60 now and just about reaching our demographic market,” Galvin said. “Over the next 20 years, we could, in theory, triple our business just doing what we do now.”
Of course, the company doesn’t intend to rest on its laurels. Collette continues to seek new business opportunities, and Galvin has helped the company develop methods to do just that. Collette has made significant investments in technology that help the company determine new strategies. These include robust reporting suites surrounding the business and customer-survey analysis to make sure its products are built around ever-changing customer needs, Galvin explained.
Galvin, who also serves as Collette’s senior leader of the company’s strategic and executive committee, has also helped the company grow by hiring and developing senior executive talent across all departments.
Prior to joining Collette Vacations, Galvin spent five years at KPMG in Providence, where he worked as an accountant and audit manager. He then joined Paramount Card, where he served as director of strategic planning, and ultimately as assistant vice president, before joining Collette Vacations.
Galvin graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and received his MBA from Bryant University.
A married father of three, Galvin gives back to the community through his involvement with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, Meeting Street School and Women & Infants Hospital. He is the finance-committee chairperson for Tourism Cares. He helps these organizations by “keeping their books in balance and on solid financial ground,” Sullivan said. •

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