Galeotos positions Galileo for the long haul

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am Galeotos, the new chief executive of Galileo, refers to the early part of his decade-long tenure at rival Worldspan as "brutal."

It was February 1990, and the Worldspan res system was being patched together out of Delta's Datas II and the TWA/Northwest PARS.

"The industry was changing significantly," said Galeotos, who had left Delta to become Worldspan's vice president of sales. "We had a different ownership base, and we were trying to merge these two huge networks."

It could be beneficial to Galileo that Galeotos, 44, is accustomed to challenging professional environments and fitting corporate puzzle pieces into place.

Appointed president and CEO of Galileo last month, Galeotos said he will try to reverse the GDS' declining market share, reposition it to take advantage of e-commerce and leverage his career-long experience with suppliers to bring new content to Galileo subscribers.

"Competition has never been as fierce as it is now in all aspects of the industry," said Galeotos, who also oversees the operations of parent company Cendant's other travel distribution businesses.

"What is travel distribution going to look like 12 months from now, 36 months from now? Our challenge is to try to figure that out and to be there."

On a recent morning in midtown Manhattan, Galeotos sat in Cendant's 37th floor President's conference room, with its Jerome Myers oil painting, inlaid mahogany paneling and skybox view of Central Park, and recounted his odyssey through the travel industry.

You get the feeling that with his open-collared shirt, easy laugh and regular-guy persona, he would be just as comfortable telling his story over a beer and a shot in a neighborhood tavern.

After all, it's a long way from his native Cheyenne, Wyo., where his "typical" Greek immigrant family owned a candy store, restaurant and bar.

One of his grandfathers wrestled for the U.S. Olympic team in the 1920s.

The other -- also named Sam Galeotos -- contributed to an entrepreneurial spirit in his young grandson when he showed him how to "stick gum on the end of a straw and retrieve the quarters and half-dollars" left between the seats by patrons of the family bar.

A 1982 graduate of the University of Arizona with a degree in accounting and management information systems, Galeotos was initially rejected for a job in Denver at Delta subsidiary DatasLink, which produced automated accounting systems for agencies.

"So I called them up and said, 'I think you made a bad mistake here,' " he said. He subsequently was hired by DatasLink.

From DatasLink and Delta itself, where he became systems manager of automation sales in 1988, Galeotos moved to Worldspan at its formation.

In the mid-1990s, he headed a Worldspan team that "re-engineered" the company toward e-commerce.

"We were so far behind on the traditional side, we thought it was important to get in where we thought the growth would be," said Galeotos, who became interim co-CEO in 1999.

When Worldspan brought in former Galileo CEO Paul Blackney for the top post in late 1999, Galeotos left for the Honolulu online agency Cheap Tickets, moving up to CEO in early 2001. Cendant acquired the firm eight months later.

Galeotos, who has built his career on working with suppliers from both the GDS and retail angles, said he believes suppliers "are abandoning great working relationships that they've had" and may "end up finding out that they have to come back."

"What the airline community did is they went out and broke their first rule of yield management," he said. "They went out and told the whole world, 'Here's our lowest fare.' And on top of that, they destroyed their corporate offerings."

Although Cendant's Trip.com and Cheap Tickets recently obtained Continental's Web fares, Galeotos said the launch of Orbitz was "not healthy" and was a "false start" for the airlines.

"Why does a group of airlines have to get together and basically collude to the extent of saying, 'We agree not to give these [lower] fares to other people?' " he asked.

Galileo, meanwhile, "will be the benefactor in the long run" of deals being struck for Trip.com, Cheap Tickets and other Cendant travel entities, Galeotos said.

"It's about being able to take different supplier products we have, whether they're air, car or hotel, and putting them together and bringing a better value package to the end consumer," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to bring more value to the Galileo subscriber base."

Some of that value will be in exclusive vacation rentals from Cendant affiliate Resort Condominiums International, as well as an online packaging engine in development.

"There is going to be an emphasis to grow both on line and off line," Galeotos said. "But clearly there is a shift going on from the old world to the new world in the online space, and Galileo needs to play in that."

Galeotos likes to play, too. He commutes to Cheyenne, where he still lives, most weekends and enjoys bike riding and "trying to hit golf balls."

Adept at shuttling between Wyoming, New York and Galileo's headquarters in Parsippany, N.J., Galeotos said Galileo is on the move, as well.

"We've got our thinking caps on, and we are going to be doing a lot of repositioning," he said.

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