Priceline CEO Says People Trump Tech in Dealmaking

Jul 17, 2017

Priceline.com (pcln) has turned itself into a $95 billion Internet travel behemoth in large part thanks to deft dealmaking.

But that success has been predicated on targeting M&A prospects for their people as much as for the tech at those companies, Priceline CEO Glenn Fogel told the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. on Monday. The company, whose shares have risen 32% since Fogel took the reins as CEO on January 1, owns Booking.com, KAYAK, agoda.com, Rentalcars.com, and OpenTable—in addition to its namesake brand.

"IP (intellectual property) is great, but the fact is everything changes so rapidly," Fogel told Fortune's Adam Lashinsky on stage. "You've got to be making sure you're getting the great people with that IP." He added: "You spent all this money to buy these companies and then what, you're going to let them go?"

Fogel, a 16-year Priceline.com veteran credited with landing some of the travel company's most valuable brands, got the nod after the company fired previous CEO Darren Huston in 2016 for having an affair with an unidentified employee. (Executive chairman Jeff Boyd, a former CEO, stepped back into his old job on an interim basis.)

A longtime dealmaker, Fogel said it was also important that such people be good fit, beyond their tech prowess. "A cultural conflict is one of the biggest reasons M&A transactions fail," he said.

Priceline.com's business is firing on all cylinders; in the first quarter, gross travel bookings for company rose 24%. And Fogel sees Priceline as still having a lot of untapped potential in top markets like the U.S. and China. Without giving specifics, he said he wants to further integrate the capabilities of his company's different brands, pointing, for example, to long lines at check-ins at hotels in Las Vegas and the absurdity of having to wait to have a key made when registering. He wants travel to become "frictionless."

As for the prospect of changing the name of the company to reflect the growth of its other brands, Fogel gingerly sidestepped the inquiry while acknowledging that the idea has come up.

"We are willing to experiment," Fogel said. "We kill sacred cows." After all, he pointed out, the company had long since de-emphasized the "name-your-price" air travel booking model that made it prominent in its first years.

Correction (July 19, 4:50 pm): An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that Fogel was previously a banker at Morgan Stanley. In fact, he was a trader at Morgan Stanley and a banker at Kidder Peabody.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. FORTUNE may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Quotes delayed at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Interactive Data. ETF and Mutual Fund data provided by Morningstar, Inc. Dow Jones Terms & Conditions: http://www.djindexes.com/mdsidx/html/tandc/indexestandcs.html. S&P Index data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions