Why Priceline's booker-in-chief is spending big
Huston's management mantra, repeated often around the industry, is "humble and hungry."
Darren Huston was trying to watch a hockey game, half-listening to a headhunter talk about a company he had never heard of before. But as the headhunter went on, the then-45-year-old executive in charge of Microsoft's global consumer and online businesses tuned out the arena noise and began listening to what he thought was an impossible story.
"I said, 'There's nothing that big in Europe on the Internet,''' he recalled, laughing.
Darren Huston, president and CEO of Priceline.com
The 2011 call was from Booking.com, the Amsterdam-based unit ofPriceline Group that dominates the European online travel market. By last year, Huston became president and CEO of Priceline Group itself, which has come from dot-com laughingstock to the fifth most-valuable U.S. Internet company—if one still really considers it a U.S. company, because 90 percent of its profits come from overseas, most of them from Booking.com.
Everyone knows Booking—and Priceline—now.
A year after taking over from now-chairman Jeffery Boyd, Huston is building a Priceline in his own image. It's bigger, certainly, and makes bigger deals than ever, dwarfing the $135 million buy of Booking itself in 2005. But it's also becoming more of a technology-services business, reflecting Huston's own software background. And—reflecting Huston's early career stops in consumer services (at Starbucks) and as a McKinsey consultant—Huston's Priceline is keeping Boyd's focus on maniacally minding the details of online-advertising tactics and software design.
"When they recruited him for Booking, it was clear he was the guy,'' said Philip Wolf, founder of PhoCusWright, an online-travel consulting group that runs the industry's most influential annual conference. "If you get the job to fill Jeff Boyd's shoes, that's pretty tough. Darren not only stepped in but picked up the pace."