2021 Kirby Lecture: Cultivating Innovation and Change with Terry Jones

By Sara Ross



On October 21, the founder of Travelocity.com and the founding chairman of Kayak.com, Terry Jones, visited Wilkes University to share his views on innovation and change, and the future of the marketplace. He participated in an Honors Q&A session in the Miller Room and a Kirby Lecture in the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center. The lecture was live-streamed for those who could not attend in person.


Jones began his career as a travel agent and later spent many years in product marketing and information technology at American Airlines. The knowledge he gained from these experiences prepared him for his role as CEO of Travelocity, which Jones was able to transform into a three billion-dollar public company. After Travelocity became private, Jones founded Kayak.com, where he was chairman for seven years before selling it to Priceline.


Jones prides himself on being an expert in the areas of innovation and change, which was illustrated during the earlier Honors Q&A. He answered questions prompted from students in the Wilkes Honors Program as well the Kirby Center’s scholars and interns. He discussed how innovation has led to some of the most profitable markets today.


When asked how he has dealt with challenges throughout his career, Jones explained how disruption is often one of the biggest motivators for change.


“Disruption and innovation are just two sides of the same coin,” said Jones. “The only reason you call it a disruption is because you did not do it. If you did it, it would be called innovation, but you did not, so it disrupted your business. Innovation is the antidote for disruption.”


After the Q&A, this discussion carried into the evening at the Kirby Lecture in the Darte Center. At the beginning of the lecture, Scholar of Project Management, Client Outreach, and Engineering, John Pezzolanti, recognized the hard work of the scholars who produced the event, along with Executive Director Charles Pierce and Executive-in-Residence Gerald Ephault. He then welcomed President Greg Cant to the stage who introduced Jones.


According to Jones, over the past year, COVID-19 has been the largest disruption. Post-COVID, it will have affected the making, selling and buying of products forever. During the lecture, he asked his audience to consider the changes that led to new developments in food delivery, telehealth services and e-commerce.


Not only this, Jones showcased his expertise further by discussing the significance of connectivity and how customers are taking increasingly more control over the market. He claims that they are in the “driver’s seat” like never before, and this is largely due to the number of choices and options in the marketplace.


“Today, especially, with the amount of technological advances, choice happens instantly,” said Jones. “Other factors that have an impact are location and connectivity which helps you stay on top of your competitors. They are only an eighth of a second away.”


In addition, Jones expanded on how new opportunities lie where old models are crumbling. However, he recognized how this can be difficult for industries, making them feel disoriented and unsure of where to explore next when previous structures are no longer working. To Jones, they must consider how to begin a path to a new future, while at the same time, avoid making destructive decisions that could harm their business.


Brick-and-mortar stores, for instance, are one of the old models. Not everyone is making the same choices to purchase their products in person and would rather do so online. The traditional means of distribution, technology and intermediaries have been altered and are continuing to evolve.


While change can come at great lengths, Jones claims that it ultimately comes down to creating a team and establishing a culture that is open to change. By doing so, it allows a team to actively seek innovation within an organization.


As a center for entrepreneurship on campus, the APKCFEE and its scholars recognize the values within Jones’ lecture and how they can affect their day-to-day interactions with clients. After the event, Pezzolanti remarked on his role as one of the project managers for the Kirby Lecture and his overall experience.


“It was a nice opportunity, as I got to work with many scholars to make this event possible and learn about my own skills during the planning process by dealing with the constant changes due to COVID-19,” said Pezzolanti. “It was, overall, a great experience and event. As for Terry Jones, he was a speaker who shared inspiring experiences of how to deal with failure and continue innovating.”


For more information on Jones, turn to his books on innovation and disruption, and visit his site at tbjones.com for his complete lecture.


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