How to control your professional destiny! A travel industry case study

Career interrupted?    Industry disrupted?    Reputation disregarded?

Ursula_Boll

Ursula Boll, president of Miles Partnership's hospitality division, is helping independent destination hotels compete against huge chains and management companies.

Employees of every age and rank have crashed head first into these brick walls during the last 15 years. Yet, few saw the immovable barriers approaching. People — especially executives — are not inclined to predict and prepare for their own professional demise.

This is a story about a successful business woman who anticipated the need to change directions after 25 years in one career. With smarts and courage she moved into a new industry on her own terms where she is beating leading competitors. For a lesson in controlling your destiny, read on.

Is daddy feeding Howard Hughes again?

Ursula Boll was born into the hotel business and learned its hazards at an early age as her father, Manfred Boll, began his hospitality career as an executive chef at The Royal Bahamian in Nassau Bahamas. In addition to normal demands of the business, he was on call day and night to prepare special meals for billionaire recluse Howard Hughes who languished in the penthouse. Her mother became a legend in the airline and hotel industries, building a high-end rep firm with clients such as Venezuela, and many of world’s most exclusive and remote resorts.

In 2008, Ursula’s career as a hotel executive was at a peak. As vice president of sales and marketing for Hawk’s Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, she had consistently delivered profits, just as she had done for other top resorts. That year, her employers sold the resort and she was rewarded for her role in growing its market value.

She should have, could have strode proudly into a leadership role at either an élite resort or management company — 99.5% of people in her position would have done that — but she stopped to look beyond the most logical next step in her career.

Is the conventional path the most rational?

“I asked myself, what is going to be happening in the travel industry?” she told me. “What’s going to be important over the next 10-20 years, not what’s the best job I can get now?”

Technology had changed everything about travel.

Howard_Hughes

Billionaire recluse Howard Hughes demanded that Ursula's father, Royal Bahamian Executive Chef Manfred Boll, prepare special meals at all hours. That was her introduction to stresses of the hospitality industry.

“Hotel sales and marketing had always been about building relationships, about guest satisfaction. We created long-term value and loyalty,” she said. “Today, even high-end travel experiences are commodities. Online rate competition makes it nearly impossible to earn solid profit margins. It had been hard work but fun. I saw the fun going away. It became less about true hospitality and more about the bottom line.”

Everyone muses about a new career. But, few in her position manage a 180-degree career turn without investing their own money (many people with similar resumes open their own hotels) or taking a step backwards.

First, she deconstructed her résumé by isolating her skills and accomplishments from the context of the jobs she had. For example, instead of looking at herself as a “hotel sales and marketing executive,” she evaluated her value as an “executive,” “hotel executive,” “sales,” “hotel sales,” “marketing,” etc.

The way to do a career 180

“That gave me confidence I was worth something outside hotels,” she said. “But confirmed my value was cemented in the travel industry.”

She then considered geographic options. Nothing made sense other than staying in Florida, where her reputation and relationships were strong. All that was left was to find a company with a need for her unique capabilities.

The career asset deconstruction exercise?

With perspective gained from her career asset deconstruction exercise (the next time you see that phrase, I’ll have trademarked it and be hawking seminars) one company fascinated her, Miles Media Group in Sarasota, FL, which was re branded as Miles Partnership earlier this year. Starting in the 1980s when he purchased of a tourism guide-book publisher, Roger Miles had built what is today the most successful destination marketing company in the United States. Miles develops integrated strategies and produces print and digital promotions worldwide. Clients include Brand USA, US Travel & Tourism, 14 state tourism bureaus, more than 25 regions and cities, and 11 overseas entities.

Ursula saw an opportunity to help Miles Media grow. More importantly, she learned that Roger Miles’ built his company by recognizing and acting upon opportunities. Miles handles millions of online visitors weekly because in 1997 he envisioned the future, then stuck his neck to deliver Florida tourism’s first official website in 45 days at a fraction of the cost bid by the dot-com era’s high-flying web developers.

Neither of us have done this, so what

So, Ursula set out to convince Roger Miles that she could lead a new business unit that would complete against the nation’s top advertising and interactive marketing agencies for hotel accounts. They could do it, she told Roger, by convincing hotel and resort managers that Miles would market each property as a destination. Miles’ hotel clients would share expertise available only to the world’s largest tourism entities.

“I don’t know whether Roger liked the idea all along and made me work to convince, or whether he thought it was a stretch,” she said. “I pursued him for months before he hired me. I had done my homework. I wanted to join this company.”

This isn’t the part where they live happily ever after

hawks-cay-duck-key

Hawk's Cay in the Florida Keys is a unique destination resort. As vice president of marketing from 1998 - 2004, Ursula Boll directed the property to record profits and participated in a profitable sale. Now, her new company is responsible for 78 percent of all leisure travel revenue using sophisticated technology.

What happened over the next two years may be the most important part of the lesson. Ursula’s concept and business unit struggled. She had no agency experience, other than being a client. Miles had never handled hotel clients. Her little project demanded resources and delivered little revenue, while the Miles creative team toiled to manage its growing destination client work load. She had to experiment with the right messages (her brand was originally Miles360) and discovered all the tiny challenges a new business faces.

“For a while, Roger’s support surprised me because I knew that he had gone out on a limb and things weren’t going exactly as planned,” she said. “I found out that Miles was the right place for me because we were all in it together. In other companies, the department that’s not meeting its quota is the scapegoat for everyone’s problems.”

Operating in a trusting environment, working with people who knew she put more pressure on herself than anyone else could impose, the hospitality division of Miles Partnership built momentum in 2010 – 2011. This has been a breakthrough year. Their portfolio includes more than one dozen resort properties and a restaurant chain. Contracts signed this summer guarantee billings in excess of $5 million in 2013.

It’s not easy, but anyone can do it

Can anyone do what Ursula did? In the most important way, yes.

  1. Sense changes that will affect every aspect of what you do.
  2. Study your strengths from different viewpoints; use unconventional definitions for your skills.
  3. Know how you can deliver long-term value, not what you want to do.
  4. Find an organization ideally suited for you.
  5. Do whatever it takes, however long it takes to join that team.
  6. Buckle down and produce excellent results.

Easier said than done? Of course, everything is easier said than done. But, knowing how and why others have done it might help.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://twitter.com/AzHip MaryLynne Christman

    This story sounds a lot like me. I just recently left the Hospitality industry after over 25 years and took a look at what my passions were. One thing I noticed was that the hospitality industry sales people are so busy responding to RFPs that they do not have time for relationship building. I love and miss the relationships with clients. Now I am building relationships across the globe through Social Media Marketing. I may not be at the 5 million dollars level yet, but I know with the same persistence I will be some day. Congratulations Ursula!

    • http://media-proinc.com John Ribbler

      Thanks for sharing MaryLynne. I too, was in a similar situation. Know what you want to do and making a sound judgement on what portion of it is most feasible may be the hardest part.

  • Tom Groenfeldt

    Great thinking and useful advice for journalists who have a variety of talents that can be valuable outside the declining world of newspapers…Look forward to the asset deconstruction exercise seminars…will they include a free copy of a Jacque Derrida book?

    • http://media-proinc.com John Ribbler

      It will take a while to tell you Tom, because you stumped me on Jacque Derrida.