Preview: Terry Jones, Travelocity founder, comes to Wilkes

Sean Schmoyer, Managing Editor

Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity and founding chairman of, will be the first guest speaker to participate in the Allan P. Kirby Lecture Series in Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship this academic year.

Jones’ lecture will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 in the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts. It will also be live-streamed.

Outside of his founding roles in Travelocity and Jones has also gone through five startups with only one failure, served on 19 different board of directors and has written two books, “On Innovation” and “Disruption Off”. He outlined the topics of his books, innovation and disruption, as key points that he wants to talk to students about.

“I want to talk about innovation, particularly from my perspective, what are the keys to building an innovative organization. It is so critically important now.”

Between what Jones considers one of the largest disruptions – COVID-19 – and one of the driving factors behind innovation – technology – Jones could identify no better time to talk about his experiences than right now.

“We have to innovate; we have to evolve; we have to change. How do we do that? The two biggest pieces of that are culture and team. That’s what I’m going to focus on, is really having a culture that promotes experimentation and is accepting of failure. If you experiment you are going to fail.”

If someone is not willing to experiment and fail, there can be no growth in business. Jones said that it is important to make sure individuals remove products and ideas,  and not the people behind, just because they failed.

Jones also talked about the second piece of change, the team.

“It is about picking the right team. I think having a team of rivals is real important. Mixing up skills and backgrounds and diversity is great for innovation because you get different perspectives. People argue and out of that conflict comes great ideas.”

There have to be solutions to the conflicts. Jones noted that a business cannot always be in conflict. In the same way, he talked about needing to pick the most talented people for a job, not just best friends.

In addition to the conversation on innovation and disruption, Jones also is looking to speak to students and others in attendance about how to generate and fund new ideas. He may also potentially discuss how Travelocity was built, since it was built inside of American Airlines, as opposed to his work with Kayak, which was a venture-backed startup.

After mentioning the unique creation of Travelocity, Jones talked about entrepreneurship and specifically what got him into travel businesses.

“When I graduated from Denison University in Ohio I had a degree in history and I thought I was gonna go to Vietnam ‘cause I had a low draft number.  I was rejected because of my eyes.” 

Jones continued to explain that his then-college roommate had a free pass to travel the world because his father was a pilot for a major airline. Jones joined his friend traveling the world for a year.

“I fell in love with traveling. When I came back I said to my dad I wanted to be a travel agent. The agency that I ended up working for did all kinds of different things, but one of them was that it was one of four agencies that was appointed by the Soviet Union to handle travel to Russia. My boss said ‘let’s quit and open our own company, I have a backer and we’ll go over and get appointed by the Russians’. It was high risk but we did it and got appointed, and that was my first startup,” Jones said.

From there Jones went on to other startups and eventually wound up inside American Airlines for 18 years until he was chief information officer and was given a small online product on AOL that ultimately turned into Travelocity.

Those interested in hearing Jones speak can sign up for through the registration form on the Allan P. Kirby Lecture Series page. 

“The Allan P. Kirby Lecture Series in Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship brings leading voices in free enterprise and entrepreneurship to Wilkes University,” according to the Wilkes website. The lectures are open to student and the public and are designed  to “ give students and the community insight into the creative process and drive of the entrepreneur.”