Throughout the process of planning our 40th-anniversary celebration, I traveled down memory lane, recalling some of the other parties we’ve hosted through the years. Oh, how times have changed!
In 1982, I’d been with Creative Travel Planners for just over a year. It was a great little company and we operated like a well-oiled machine. I had never been happier.
In October of that year, the founder, Herb Medrow, threw a 5th-anniversary party at the Summer House Restaurant in Woodland Hills. I found the menu in the archives, typewritten and copied onto a sheet of off-white linen paper. Notice the comment, “With friends and business associates like you, we’re certain we’ll be here again in 1987 for our 10th Anniversary!”
Three years later it was time for another party. The invitation for that event read:
“You and your guest are cordially invited to our ‘Appreciation Night’ to honor our friends in the industry who have helped make 1985 a successful year.”
Not many people knew that Herb had sold the company to me in May of 1985 so that he was free to go fishing for Northern Pike whenever he wanted. I had been content and happy working for Herb. Best job ever! Now I was terrified. I didn’t want to own a company. I didn’t know how to run a business. It was a man’s world, and I wasn’t “man” enough. But I agreed to his generous offer and promise to mentor me through it. “You can do this,” he said. I trusted him. Nevertheless, I bought a navy blue suit with big shoulder pads and soldiered my way through the first six months without any disastrous mistakes.
We hadn’t made a public announcement because I was afraid all our clients would bail. Creative Travel Planners had been a successful little business under his stewardship. Now it was owned by a reluctant, insecure young woman who had no entrepreneurial experience. The party was Herb’s idea. He had promised to guide me through the transition, and I figured that his ideas were the best ideas. Besides, this was probably our last celebration. There was little question in my mind that I was going to screw this up and CTP would wither away into oblivion.
In spring of 2002, we were still cooking. CTP was turning 25 and I decided we should celebrate. I had owned the company for 17 years and, to my great surprise, had not gone belly up! I was still fearful and hadn’t yet exhaled, and still had not gotten the hang of technology. (They kept changing it!)
I wanted to honor and recognize our founder, Herb Medrow. I reserved a banquet room at Braemar Country Club in Woodland Hills and booked a favorite musician, Andrew Johns, to entertain.
I wanted my guests to know the story of how I ended up owning the business – but didn’t want to make a speech. So I asked a professional writer, Bruce Gelfand, if he would write something to fit on a tent card at the place settings, explaining the unlikely story of how the business came to be mine. “No, I won’t do that,” he said, “but I’ll help you write it.”
“Okay, I’ll try,” I answered.
“Write anything about your life that relates to travel,” he instructed.
I started with my early years lying in the grass in my backyard looking up at the vapor trails of airplanes slicing across the Saginaw sky – wondering where they were going and wondering if I would ever fly in one of those things. I wrote about our family camping vacations and how, as a 7-year-old in Washington, D.C., I told my dad, “I want to go to the airport.” I wrote about my solo travel adventure through Southeast Asia and about the most challenging journey of all – business ownership.
With the party date looming, I met Bruce at his shabby little office on Main Street in Santa Monica for six consecutive Saturdays to share what I had written during that week. He found the golden thread that ran through all the disparate stories and experiences and connected them into a coherent storyline. What resulted was a little book called, “My Book of Dreams” – a story of how my love of travel revealed itself throughout my life.
Somewhere toward the end of that process, it finally occurred to me: “I am successful!”
Herb had owned the business for only 7 years before turning it over to me. And for the next 17 years, I had slogged through the challenges of business ownership, learning things I didn’t think I was capable of comprehending: sales, marketing, management, finance, HR, public speaking, technology . . . and I was still in business! We had loyal customers and a great reputation with trusted suppliers. We made payroll and paid the bills every month. We had survived recessions and deregulation. We were doing many more creative and interesting programs to international destinations. I had married, divorced, and remarried. Despite the fact that I still hadn’t mastered technology – we were still in business.
Ultimately, the party wasn’t so much about honoring the founder as it was a celebration of how far I had come.
We made it to 30 years! Time for another celebration. Once again, we reserved a banquet room in a local country club and booked Andrew Johns to entertain. Our invitations were sent out in a little wooden trunk, adorned with travel stickers. Inside were the details of the party, on the back of miniature travel posters.
New business was coming from referrals, and existing clients loved us. My long-dreamed-of leisure division, The WOW! Travel Club, had been launched and I’d completed two spectacular programs – to India and Peru. Southern Africa – Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe – was next.
Employees were still the most challenging part of business ownership. Years before, a long-time employee had left in a huff, telling me I was, “too nice.” Another tried to sue me because she sometimes helped with technology issues and thought I should pay her the same hourly rate that my IT guy charged me. But Gabriel was firmly established as my VP, and we were raising the bar with each and every program.
Technology? Still a challenge for me.
Thirty-five years! This time, since everything about the business had become more personal, I hosted the party in my backyard in Thousand Oaks. Customers and suppliers – now friends, helped us celebrate. No boring dinner – this time we rented the legendary Kogi food truck, serving Korean barbecue tacos which had started a street food revolution. And Andrew Johns was once again on the keyboard.
A few years before, we had survived the big recession which had hit our industry especially hard, when it had become politically incorrect for companies to offer extravagant travel programs when some people were losing their homes. WOW was going to Kenya, where I had included a philanthropic component – visiting the Kibera Girl’s Scool in the slums of Nairobi. This kind of meaningful person-to-person exchange was to become an integral part of our travel programs whenever possible.
During this period, I’d been approached by a friendly competitor who suggested that we merge our two boutique companies and become a bigger player. I was seduced by the prospect of handling high-profile accounts like Toyota. It proved to be a disastrous decision – but we survived.
I had also survived a second divorce and had finally met the man I deserved. Scott and I were married on 08-08-08.
Technology? Well . . . some things never got much better!
Our 40th? There’s too much to share about that experience in this blog. Stay tuned for next week’s installment with details and photos from our recent 40th anniversary party. But here’s one photo that provides a clue of how far we’ve come in four decades of creating memories . . .