Away’s Catherine Dunleavy is hanging up her CFO hat to become president

November 1, 2022, 10:37 AM UTC
Away President Catherine Dunleavy.
Courtesy of Away

Good morning,

“I have had a curated personal board of directors my entire career,” Catherine Dunleavy told me. “I intentionally ask people if they’ll be on my personal board of directors, and then I use them every quarter to help me with all my big decisions.”

One of the big decisions Dunleavy asked her personal board about was pivoting from a career as a CFO at Fortune 500 companies to focusing on startups. “I wanted to find founders that I could help and that ideally were women,” Dunleavy says. In October 2020, she took on the CFO role at the fashionable luggage and travel startup Away, which has raised $100 million in its Series D

Two years later, after steering the company through the pandemic, Dunleavy is hanging up her CFO hat to take on the role of president at Away starting today. As president, she will oversee strategy, operations, supply chain, digital product, legal, and finance teams. The position is “a totally different role,” she says. “So, this is not just the CFO taking on more scope, but rather, this is a role that Jen [Rubio] and the board decided was needed as we’re now in a new phase of growth.” And Dunleavy had the experience to take it on.

Rubio, the current CEO, founded Away with fellow Warby Parker alum Steph Korey. “In her two years with Away, Catherine has provided clear strategic vision, unlocked growth opportunities, and showcased her deep understanding of our business and our customer,” Rubio said in a statement. 

When Away launched in 2016, Vogue called the company’s only product at the time, “the perfect carry-on bag.” The inventory of products has since increased as has its popularity. Recently Away, headquartered in New York City, with teams in London and Toronto, launched the ’90s Pop Collection, luggage in bubblegum pink and retro swirls of color. 

“I can tell you that our 2022 revenue every week, every month, every quarter has been above 2019,” says Dunleavy, whose resume includes VP and CFO of global operations, technology, and strategic investments at Nike, and 16 years at General Electric in finance and operational roles.

In 2019, Away was accused of having a toxic company culture and then during the pandemic, suffered, like most in the travel industry, for much of 2020. In March and April 2020, sales dropped 90%

The first thing Dunleavy did when joining Away was create a long-range strategic plan, which included pillars of growth, she says. One of the pillars is product driven, she explains.

“We want to make sure we are staying ahead of the travel needs of the consumer and delivering products that inspire them to get away more,” she says. Away launched more products, like F.A.R. (For All Routes), an outdoor travel line. “And we launched a pet carrier in the middle of the pandemic as people were traveling with their animals for a long time,” Dunleavy says. 

The second pillar is retail. Away plans on opening more stores in addition to those opened during the pandemic, she says. The third pillar is omnichannel to entertain and engage customers to “deliver the best experience,” Dunleavy says. Away just completed implementing a new enterprise resource planning system, she says. 

“The customer is at the center of everything we do,” Dunleavy explains. “We are very metrics-driven around here.” She continues, “We have about 10 different metrics that we’ve curated that tie directly to our financial performance as well as customer experience.” Traffic, conversion, units per transaction, and marketing efficiency are a few, she says.

Away plans to hire a successor for Dunleavy’s CFO position. “I think having a very clear brand vision and then being able to execute on that is what makes the secret sauce here at Away,” she says.

Regarding career trajectory, Dunleavy highly recommends that women create their personal board of directors. And her board includes both women and men, she says. “I do believe that’s one of the things that has helped me to become successful,” Dunleavy says. 

Her favorite Away product? “It’s everybody’s favorite product, which is the Bigger Carry-On,” Dunleavy says. And, between us, she may have one in every color. 

See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada

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Big deal

CMSWire, a community of customer experience professionals created by Simpler Media Group, has released the 2023 State of the Digital Customer Experience (DCX) report. Sixty-one percent of organizations surveyed said DCX has gotten "significantly" or "slightly" better since the pandemic. The three most popular answers for why DCX is a priority for organizations are to grow revenue or consumer base (58%), improve customer success and retention metrics (54%), delight customers and strengthen brand value (50%). Larger organizations (over 5,000) are more likely to view DCX as "extremely important," than mid-size and small companies, according to the report. The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,200 DCX executives. 

Courtesy of CMSWire

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