The business cycle: how Flight Centre’s Graham Turner helped son Matt pedal to success

Graham Turner, 71, is the co-founder of travel agency group Flight Centre. After dreams of being a pro tennis player, then a stint as a physiotherapist, his son Matt, 39, followed his father into business by co-founding cycling retailer 99 Bikes.

Graham and Matt Turner: "Dad was supportive and not offering too much advice, just wanting to let me do my own thing."
Graham and Matt Turner: “Dad was supportive and not offering too much advice, just wanting to let me do my own thing.”Credit:Paul Harris

MATT: Dad and I share the same birthday, and one of the earliest memories I have is of a birthday trip to Greece. It might have been Dad’s 40th, or his 38th. It was with his partners in Flight Centre at the time and their families. They were good memories, and we’ve been back to Greece a fair bit since.

Dad was around quite a lot when I was growing up even though he’d travel for work. I remember him taking me to tennis tournaments. He would always at least drop me off to school or pick me up. It seemed his timetable revolved around whatever I needed. Mum did most of the parenting but Dad never worked late. If he had the opportunity, he’d go into the office early and be home by 6pm for dinner. He’s got very good routines. He’ll go for a run and exercise every day.

He’s a little cheeky. I remember as a kid always being quite annoyed at him for stealing food off my dinner plate. He’d find it funny. So I became really fond of anything with mint in it because he hates mint.


Mum and Dad didn’t talk much about business when I was growing up; it was just where Dad worked and Mum worked for a little bit. There wasn’t an expectation [that my younger sister Jo or I would follow in their footsteps].

When I was young, the only thing I wanted to do was be a professional tennis player. I didn’t get overly competitive when Dad and I played each other. I was more annoyed when Mum beat me. I gravitated towards all types of sports, and went to watch rugby union with Dad at Ballymore [in Brisbane] as a kid because that’s his favourite sport.

I gave up on that tennis dream after a few injuries, and went into physiotherapy. Once I’d worked as a physio for two years, that’s when I figured out that I wanted to start my own business. In business you’re doing different things each day and that suits my personality. It was probably a similar story for Dad; he studied to be a vet.

We’d been going for about five years [at 99 Bikes]. It was around 2012 and I was probably working too hard. A huge amount of money had been invested by Flight Centre into our little business. We’d lost $1.5 million in a year and I took that to heart. I felt the responsibility. I decided I’d had enough. Dad was like, “That’s fine, if that’s best for you.” In his normal way he was supportive and not offering too much advice, just wanting to let me do my own thing. I took two months out and went back.

Dad will never tell you what to do. If he thinks it’s a good idea, he’ll subtly keep mentioning it. He doesn’t like to push people into something – and that’s how he operates at work as well. Dad seems to be handling [the hit to Flight Centre from COVID-19] well. He doesn’t show a lot of disappointment or anxiety. He’s stoic, whereas I’m a bit more sensitive.

His attitude is: why would he get upset, how’s that going to help? Dad’s a very reliable person – you know he’s going to be there.

GRAHAM: We moved back from London when Jude was pregnant with Matt and he was born in ’81 in Brisbane. We were pretty pleased with ourselves. First-borns you’re pretty excited about and he was a good baby. Right from the start you think your kids are pretty smart, and it’s the same again when you become a grandparent.

Before he went to school Matt was quite adept at doing sums in his head. He was data-driven and interested in sport. He started playing tennis early and became a good player. It was probably helped by Jude and I who were into exercise and sport. I played uni rugby and used to take Matt with me when he was little. He got looked after by some teenage girls that were at the rugby – I don’t think Jude knew too much about it until she met them later. I generally played reserve grade; I played some A-grade with [former Wallaby] Michael Lynagh.

We didn’t ever really push the kids. They were both self-disciplined and self-motivated. Matt got an OP1 [in year 12], and when he finished school he had a tennis scholarship to go to the University of Tennessee in the US. He got a lot out of that but was quite happy to come home, then he studied physiotherapy. Matt’s more of a homebody and Jo [who lives in London] is the opposite. It’s interesting how they turn out like that.

Matt does triathlons; he’s done the Noosa triathlon for about 20 years. He’s trying to make sure he doesn’t miss one. I’ve missed the last two. I was in London in 2018 when Jo had a baby, and last year I got a rib cartilage injury playing touch football. So I pulled out of the triathlon, which was pathetic.

Matt’s a calm and quiet person. On the Myers-Briggs [personality test] he and I are the same, which is INTP [introverted, intuitive, thinking, perceiving].

Matt worked as a physio for a couple of years, then discussed retailing bikes and now he’s made a business of it. [Bike sales have soared this year because of COVID boosting businesses such as 99 Bikes.] He would definitely ask my advice at various times; he’d take it or leave it, and that’s the best thing. He was doing his thing and taking responsibility for it. He’s smart and he assembled a very good team. We both ride, though he’s always been a road biker and I’ve always been a mountain biker.

They’ve had their ups and downs over the years [at 99 Bikes]. It’s a matter of getting through those, which doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve supported him. Flight Centre pretty much owns half the bike business. With our business, there have been the odd times where things don’t go as well as you’d like. In the end it’s really important to learn from your own difficult decisions that have to be made. [COVID’s] something you couldn’t anticipate.

Last year we had a family holiday in the Maldives for my 70th birthday and Matt’s 38th. He organised the Maldives trip: it was Jo and her family, Matt and his family, and Jude and I. We had nearly a week. That was great.

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