In October 1977, Jimmy Carter is into his 10th month in office. With 33 home runs, Steve Garvey leads the Dodgers into the World Series against the Yankees, and the most popular shows on TV are “Laverne & Shirley” and “Happy Days.”
It’s the year that “The Love Boat” premiers. Elvis dies and the Apple II computer goes on sale. It’s the year of the first Star Wars movie. Donald Trump marries his first wife, Ivana. And Herb Medrow begins a business called Creative Travel Planners.
1977 is also the year I move back to Saginaw after graduating from Western Michigan University, Summa Cum Laude, with a degree in Home Ec Education and no teaching prospects.
As Vice President of Sales for Princess Cruises during the time when cruising has become an increasingly popular vacation option, Herb launches their group department. Things are going swimmingly. One day he terminates an unproductive salesperson. Who, it turns out, is the mistress of the company president. Whoops!
Herb is soon unemployed, but with a keen head for numbers and an insider’s knowledge of the cruise industry. He’s privy to the substantial profit margins and knows when the cruise lines need to fill their ships and are cutting the best deals for groups. He recognizes how much markup can be added onto a discounted group rate, and still offer a great deal to the traveler. He can smell opportunity.
At the same time, Herb recognizes the potential for corporations to use incentive travel programs to motivate and reward their employees: It’s a pretty simple concept: XYZ Company needs a bump in profits so they announce a sales contest. Every salesperson who attains certain sales targets will earn a Caribbean cruise. The salespeople work a little harder, close more sales, and make more money – for themselves and for their employer. The employer spends a portion of that incremental revenue on the cruise, adding the rest to their bottom line. Successful salespeople and their spouses enjoy a wonderful week in the company of corporate execs and their peers. They feel recognized and appreciated. They love their job and their employer. And those salespeople who fall short pledge to work harder to make it next year. It’s a win-win-win, all around.
Somebody needs to negotiate, arrange and manage all the travel details. Herb leases an office at 700 South Flower Street in downtown LA. CTP is born!
Herb is President and brings in the business, Tommie Jeffries handles all the operational details, Doris Hostetler answers incoming calls and types up his correspondence and his wife, Judy, does the bookkeeping and payroll. Office equipment includes Selectric typewriters, a postage meter and of course, the telephone.
A native of Chicago, Herb has that midwest work ethic and homespun practicality. He’s honest and honorable, and earns the respect of suppliers, clients, and employees. Using his industry connections and his extensive client list from his days with Princess, the little company prospers.
Meanwhile, back in Michigan, I am hired by the Holiday Inn on State Street as the breakfast shift hostess. Me – who graduated Summa Cum Laude! I don’t get offered the dinner shift or even a waitress position? My high school friends have dispersed and my best friend is living an exciting life as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. I hate my hometown and am bored and friendless.
On the first of October, 1980, Herb moves his growing company of four employees into a brand-new mirrored-glass office building on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Woodland Hills. Warner Center is a new commercial development on the former Warner Brothers Studio back lot. It’s so new that a farmer still harvests sweet corn across the street.
He’s hired one more employee to help with airline ticketing, which is an onerous process: First, Tommie looks up a city pair in the OAG (Official Airline Guide), a monthly publication as thick as the LA telephone book. Details get recorded on a paper form: airline and flight number, departure and arrival times, and airfare – either economy or first class. Discounts apply only if travel dates include a Saturday night. This process gets repeated for the return flight. Next, she calls the airline’s reservations department to provide them with all the details, including client name and our agency IATA number. She advises the customer’s preference for smoking or non-smoking, as well as any special meal request. When it’s time to ticket, Tommie calls back to authorize the res agent to issue. Almost instantly, a big teleticketer – the size of a refrigerator on its side – rumbles into service …. typing the ticket onto perforated stock with red carbon copies.
Every Friday afternoon transactions get tallied on an adding machine. The report totals, auditor coupons in numeric order, and a check for the net ticketing amount are mailed to the ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation). If the envelope isn’t postmarked by Tuesday, or if there is a single coupon missing, it’s a big problem and ARC could shut them down. For all of this effort, the airlines pay a commission of 10%.
In 1980, my life takes a turn. I return home from an exciting and life-changing adventure through southeast Asia and India after visiting my girlfriend in the Philippines. An older cousin, Vice President for a company that offers incentive travel programs, pulls strings to get me hired as an International Travel Specialist with the E.F. MacDonald Travel Company in Dayton, Ohio. Within the first month of my employment the VP, Mr. Connelly, takes our entire department on a familiarization trip to London! I have a red Chevette and my own apartment on Irving Avenue for $140/month. Life is grand!
EFM is the second largest incentive travel company in the world, employing about 800 people. There have separate departments for Domestic, Cruises, Caribbean, Conferences, and Air Ticketing. Account Executives are treated like gods. They even have an entire department dedicated to packaging and mailing final documents to travelers.
My job involves all the pre-sale planning for groups traveling outside of North America. My supervisor is a chain-smoking German woman named Renate Glasscock. I’m taught how to use a telex machine and prepare trip budgets with all the bells and whistles for a successful incentive travel program: housing, transportation, guided tours, private admissions, cocktail parties, meals, entertainment and amenities befitting a top performer. File drawers are filled with published tariffs from our overseas suppliers for hotels, meals, motorcoaches and other components for favored destinations like Paris, London, and Rome. I learn to convert foreign quotations from Francs, Pounds, and Lira into U.S. dollars. I travel the world in my imagination, as well as on fam trips or as a junior trip director, wearing my name badge and company uniform – a polyester blazer in the MacDonald tartan plaid.
It is the job of a lifetime – despite the fact that I eat popcorn for dinner and keep warm under an electric blanket because I can’t afford a proper meal or the expense of heating my apartment. I throw myself into my job with gusto because I love it so. At my one-year performance review, Mr. Connelly gives me glowing reviews for my exemplary performance – and a 3% salary increase.
“But Mr, Connelly,” I protest, “I need more than a 3% increase. Inflation is almost 14% these days. I’ve done a really great job . . .”
“Company policy,” he says, interrupting my appeal. “Nobody gets more than 3% – not even you.”
Since my ‘incentive’ company offers me no reward for hard work and loyalty, I have no incentive to stay. It’s time to see what else is out there. And now I have some real-world experience to put on a resume.
Debi Dunn is my best buddy at EFM. Like me, she is disenchanted and looking for a new position. It’s a competition between us. We each send unsolicited resumes to travel companies we’ve never heard of – hoping to land a similar job with a more appreciative employer. Which of us will get out first?
One Thursday night in February 1981, Herb is working late on a proposal, struggling to put the pieces together. Frustrated and hungry, he decides to call it a night, but not before emptying his inbox. He scans a cover letter and resume which are stapled to the carbon copy of the standard rejection letter that Doris asked him to sign earlier in the afternoon. Standing up and stretching, he tucks the resume in his briefcase and flicks off the lights in his office. Passing Doris’ desk on his way out, he notices the light blue CTP envelope in her outbox. The correspondence is addressed to Marilyn Murphy, 126 Irving Ave., Apt. B, Dayton, Ohio 45409.
He stuffs the envelope in his briefcase, turns off the light, and locks the door.
To be continued . . .