01 Oct 2000
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Timothy G. Brier: The Price is Right

An airline industry lifer takes off with a high-flying e-commerce venture
by James E. Aisner

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As a young man, Tim Brier was so smitten with flying that he used to take dates to watch planes land and take off when he was growing up in Staten Island, New York. It's not surprising, therefore, that he would later embark on a career in the airline industry. But even Brier could not have predicted that his expertise in the business of flight would one day take him beyond the stratosphere and into cyberspace, and to an important role in the e-commerce revolution.

After working in nearly every facet of the airline industry for 25 years -- the last 10 as VP of marketing at TWA, Pan Am, and Continental -- Brier went dot-com in 1998. He cofounded and became president of Priceline Travel, a division of Priceline.com, the e-commerce company that enables its customers to name their own low price for airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, long-distance telephone service, and groceries. With his thorough understanding of the airline industry's complex pricing policies, Brier was the ideal person to explain to carriers how they, as suppliers, would benefit from the new venture. With the airlines on board, more than five million customers would follow, making the Priceline model -- which matches consumer demand with sellers' excess inventory -- one of the Internet's big winners.

The inspiration of former marketing consultant Jay Walker, Priceline opened for business a little over two years ago. Previously, in 1995, Brier had cofounded a Connecticut marketing company with Walker, who also headed a think tank for creating patentable business ideas. "When Jay first started talking about the principles that would shape Priceline, I knew we were really on to something," Brier says.

Once Priceline was up and running, he explains, "we realized that even though our patents represented a substantial barrier to entry to any competitors, our long-term success would depend on customer service, scalability, and building the brand. While practically every other dot-com chose to advertise on the Internet, we saw radio and television as the way to become a household name." With actor William Shatner of Star Trek fame starring in a series of quirky radio and TV ads for the company, that decision has proved to be an inspired one.

Most recently, Brier has focused on Priceline's plans to expand abroad. Joint ventures, scheduled to begin operations in 2001, are in place in Hong Kong and Australia. And in June, Brier moved ("with Pat, my bride of 28 years") to London to a new position as chairman of Priceline.com Europe. "Rather than transfer the American template abroad," he observes, "we've created an organization led and staffed primarily by Europeans to serve the diverse needs of the countries in that market."

Brier sees more hard work ahead, with only occasional breaks for golf, another passion. But he's not complaining. "Ideally, you hope you'll be able to do something with your life that will make a lasting difference," he says. "I'm grateful that with Priceline.com, we seem to be on our way to doing just that."

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