The dreaded conference call – what some view as a miracle of modern technology, others view as the bane of their work existence. All etiquette seems to go out the door. Some people start zoning out, while others forget to hit mute, transporting you to a world full of fingers clattering across keyboards, children screaming, and myriad other background noises. And yet, the conference call was one of the essential elements leading to the success of this year’s winning GBTA Ladders team, Team Erin and Andrew.
Led by co-mentors Erin Wilk and Andrew Miller, the team consisted of five passionate leaders representing the airline, hospitality and ground transportation industries: Norman Gregory III, Kate King, Luther Shoultz, Christopher Thomas and Katharine Williams. The group had one main objective: prepare a presentation on an issue pertaining to the business travel industry for the chance to present at a GBTA Convention education session.
But let’s take a step back and delve into the program’s history. GBTA Ladders was founded in 2013 and to date, there have been hundreds of participants during the program’s four-year lifespan. The idea was to create a unique team mentor program that connects corporate travel leaders with industry newcomers to facilitate collaboration and mentorship. In addition to expanding their professional development within the industry and gaining skills to succeed in the modern business travel industry, members have the opportunity to walk away with life-long friends, like in the case of the winning team.
“Before Ladders the corporate travel industry did not have a mentorship program that spread across all verticals… I wanted to build a program that essentially allowed everyone in the industry regardless of their role the opportunity to build their network and develop their talent in the way that I have.” – Caitlin Gomez, founder of GBTA Ladders
Prior to the team’s formation, the two aspiring mentors (and former program mentees) had some convincing to do. Due to recent transitions into new roles and exceptionally demanding work schedules, Erin and Andrew feared they would be unable to make the Ladders experience worthwhile as individual mentors.
“The co-mentor idea was one we hatched up and presented to the Ladders leadership as a creative opportunity for us both to serve as mentors (versus not serving at all) and also an opportunity to test a new model.” – Erin Wilk, co-mentor
The program’s leaders took a risk when they agreed to the idea of having co-mentors, not knowing what the outcome would be. Needless to say, the new model far surpassed anyone’s expectations. The co-mentors and mentees succeeded in working together across different time zones and countries to support each other and achieve their project milestones.
“Finding a network of individuals who support and inspire is priceless.” – Christopher Thomas, mentee
Andrew also attributed their success as co-mentors to communication, emphasizing that they both made a conscious effort to over-communicate and make sure they were on the same page before relaying any information to the mentees.
When it came down to choosing a topic for the presentation, Erin and Andrew gave the mentees complete freedom and control. The only limitation was that their topic had to tie into the annual theme, which differs year-to-year based on industry trends. This year’s theme was centered around traveler centricity and the next evolution of travel management, and the winning team chose to focus their presentation on the promise of big data.
“[Traveler centricity] touches all aspects of the travel industry, whether you’re on the airline side, the hotel side or the technology side. All major companies, in whatever sub-segment of the industry you’re in, are putting this renewed focus on making sure that the data that is taken into consideration hones back in on making the traveler first.” – Norman Gregory III, mentee
The idea behind big data analytics and traveler centricity is simple – determine what your travelers’ needs and wants are from a technology, policy and supplier perspective, and ensure your company’s travel program meets those desires. The quality of the business travel experience ultimately impacts overall job satisfaction and employee retention, among other factors. Tying into the idea of traveler centricity, a recent GBTA study revealed efforts to improve traveler well-being and satisfaction may also increase policy compliance. It goes without saying that embracing the traveler centricity trend benefits travelers and their organizations alike.
Team Erin and Andrew only met in person once a year. Instead, they set aside the first Friday of every month to hop on a conference call, ensuring they communicated on a monthly basis. Kate explained, “Our mentors helped by establishing a consistent format where everyone had a chance to speak on every topic on our calls.” As an added benefit, the mentees had the opportunity to interact with various senior executives throughout the industry and gain additional insights into the ever-changing business travel landscape.
“[Our mentors] took the bull by the horn and made sure that even though we couldn’t see each other, we would definitely interact in a way that would make us be comfortable with each other. We actually still meet now, even though the mentee program ended.” – Luther Shoultz, mentee
In addition to the monthly conference call, there were countless one-off calls and emails to further discuss specific aspects of the project. Following months of diligent work, it was finally time to showcase their presentation, albeit in webinar form. A total of 20 teams delivered presentations through a series of webinars, after which the Task Force Leadership team selected four finalists to present at the annual GBTA Ladders Conference in May.
In San Francisco, the team presented once more among the three other finalists. Shortly after, conference attendees were given the chance to vote for the final winner, awarding Team Erin and Andrew the ultimate opportunity to present at a GBTA Convention education session.
If there is a common thread among the team members, it is their genuine enthusiasm and passion for both the business travel industry and their involvement in the Ladders program. Paired with fervent dedication, countless hours of hard work and expertise from all sides of the industry, the end result is an unstoppable team.
“The connections between the teams that I had both this year and last are connections I’ve maintained and I can see maintaining for the foreseeable future… It’s been really neat to meet so many like-minded, driven, talented young professionals.” – Katharine Williams, mentee