Two weeks ago, our much loved COO Andrew Harris passed away after a long and valiant fight with cancer.
S and I attended his funeral in Austin, Texas. More than 300 people were present and although it was highly emotional (his two daughters and wife all read letters they’d written to Andrew – incredible), I left feeling inspired by a man who lived every day like it was his last and loved life – never taking anything too seriously. He was only 53.
I wanted to make a post here with some of my memories and a short letter to Andrew.
I regret never having actually told you how much I respected you as a person and a boss. I put that down to being British, like you. I’ve learned more than I realised from you over the last 5 years (can’t believe it’s that long) – and those lessons will be valuable to me for the rest of my life. You told me that HomeAway was the kind of company that a person comes across only once in their life; how grateful then am I that I also came across you. Thanks for being generous, patient, understanding, fair, funny, serious, light-hearted, firm and for setting a great example in how to be the kind of leader that people want to follow. I am inspired by you to live every day as if it were my last and to seize every opportunity that I find.
There is an “Andrew Harris”-shaped hole in my life – you will be missed.
And here are some memories of my relationship with Andrew:
I first met Andrew when he came to London for six months to become the interim MD for Holiday-Rentals, taking over from the two founders who were leaving. He was initially taken aback by the office location in Acton (not a great part of town) as he had misunderstood Brian and thought the office was in a much leafier part of West London.
The first couple of weeks were probably the hardest for him – he had to try to deal with the two founders during their tense handover. I remember him being impatient, and meeting with them separately to try to tease out their valuable knowledge. My relationship with him was to try to bring him up to speed on the business, the technology and the general operations. One of my first meetings was a cry for his help as I had much too much on my plate after the handover and needed his help to prioritise. His no-nonsense approach was perfect at that time.
I think at first, he saw the HR opportunity as just one to spend a bit of time in his native England, catching up with his great friends here, and just running the business as an interesting aside. But I’m glad to say that over the next few months the business got under his skin and he became much more focussed on it – eventually returning to the US to become COO at a critical time – and becoming the “backbone” of Homeaway soon after.
In the office in London he was famous for talking to everyone – walking the office and making sure everyone felt included. I think his down-to-earth and practical advice plus his inspirational competitive drive was just what we needed after a period of instability after the acquisition.
Andrew was very generous to me – inviting me over to his house in Austin (and his friends houses too when they were having a party and I was in Austin). He took me water-skiing behind his boat, out to dinner with his wife, and to a Boeing 747 simulator experience when in London.
I always knew that Andrew would support me when I needed his help. and back me up when I was out on a limb. And that he would expect the best from me.
I will remember him for his “grilled fish” – he always was very proud of the grilled fish he used to eat regularly at lunch time – always watching his diet because of his illness. He was especially keen always to say that his wife, Lisa, had prepared it lovingly each morning. I knew from talking to her she got up early every morning to grill it freshly and loved making it for him – to keep him healthy. He was so in love with Lisa and showed it.
Andrew’s fairly unique style of writing one line emails was always a talking point. Emails from Andrew with a single one line question could generate hours of work to respond to them – but you knew you had to reply. He had a clever way of running through his sent items monitoring for emails he’d sent but never got a reply on – and woe betide anyone who failed to. We often found similar one-liners had been dispatched (individually) to several people involved in a particular issue – and it was the differences between the responses that would often lead Andrew to identify the root cause of any problem. He liked to manage by dipping in like this, overruling the hierarchy and getting to the heart of the issue always. In the HR office, we had a competition to see who could get the “shortest” one line email from Andrew. Close contenders were “When?” or “No” but it was eventually won by Adrian Land who got a simple but effective “?”.
The “eye of Sauron” – Andrew had a habit of picking on an area of the business and focussing on it intently for a few weeks – almost ignoring the rest – to the point where he had got to the bottom of the issues, understood it, fixed the problems and could move on. Being “under the eye” as we called it, if your part of the business was being “inspected” was an intense experience, especially for the manager in charge. You could expect Andrew to come to your team meetings, talk to your staff, dig his nose in and tell you all the bad stuff that was happening and demand action. Once you’d been through the experience, things were in better shape,.
“Tim, my boy!” – is how he always greeted me, bellowing loudly, hand outstretched, like I was his long-lost son.
“….sensational” – is his favourite way of saying something was really good – and he said it with such passion and force.
The modification of words with “-ola” at the end – as in “Let’s spend some cash-ola” was a favourite – he is entertaining with his choice of words – and livened up any budget meeting.
Andrew has been a fantastic inspiration to me – I’ve never worked directly for him, but he’s the kind of boss I know I work best for and I am privileged indeed to have spent time working with him and learning from him.
I loved his “boyishness” – he was never too old to drive a fast car fast, always had a spring in his step and a plan for some trouble he was going to cause. He never had all the answers (or pretended to), but was open and honest about the way forward, always knowing there was one. He was sensible on the one hand, competitive and ambitious on the other.
He was the kind of leader you just want to follow. I loved meaning something to him and being respected by him. He made me feel valued.
I loved that he was grumpy, cynical (he said he loved people who were cynical and worried about the negatives – it showed they were passionate, he said), despairing sometimes of the daily grind and of meetings. He was hard to please, but happy when pleased.
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