Lake Interviews with Female Entrepreneurs
In this monthly series Rashmi Biswas of Lake and Associates Canada Inc. interviews female entrepreneurs.
Owner & Publisher Cruise & Travel Lifestyles Magazine. President & CEO Cruise Strategies Ltd. And recently Godmother of the Avalon Vista, christened by Vanessa (pictured) in Amsterdam, May 2012.
- Website: http://www.cruiseandtravellifestyles.com/public/Default.aspx
At what point in your career did you make the decision to become self-employed?
When I was in my mid to late thirties I knew it was time to work for myself and create my own company. Ironically I have always considered myself to be something of a late bloomer and at the age of 38 I co-founded Encore Cruises. We turned Encore into an industry leader and I ran it successfully and profitably for 15 years. Today, publishing several cruise and travel magazines and managing a consulting business for the luxury and niche cruise market I again have had the opportunity to create and grow a new company.
What was the driving force behind that decision?
I reached a point in my career where I knew I absolutely could not work for anyone else. I have never been comfortable within a large corporate structure and found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the multiple layers of process and decision-making. I needed the flexibility and freedom of self-employment and I had the confidence and the knowledge to go out there and do it. As an entrepreneur I love being able to take ideas and implement them quickly.
Describe the greatest challenges you faced when making the transition.
Sacrifices are inevitable when you make a bold move and venture into new territory, and I was ready for the usual challenges of starting a new business. I took with me the confidence in my own skills and felt comfortable that I could draw upon my experience and expertise to make thoughtful, viable decisions. As a highly motivated entrepreneur I am extremely driven and focused but learning to listen to others was important for me and I know my leadership style has been described by some as that of “Benevolent Dictator!” I’m okay with that description, I’ve always cared about the people I work with and at the same time I know that sometimes I have to just follow my gut. After some 35 years in this business I know I can trust my instincts.
Which skills did you need to develop in order to become effective in your role as an entrepreneur?
Balance. As an entrepreneur I often work 7 days a week. It doesn’t always feel like work as I love this industry and what I do. So, if I take a phone call from an industry partner on a Saturday night then that is just doing my job. I find I can work pretty much anywhere, which is a huge advantage for anyone who travels as much as I do. I even take my laptop to the salon. I am always working, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I still have so much to do.
Which networking groups do you belong to?
SKAL which is a networking group for the travel and tourism industry. I am not really much of a club person and have never been a joiner. I don’t seek out women only networking groups as I attended an all-girls school and learned from an early age that kind of segregation just isn’t practical. Business is not conducted in that way. I have mentored, and continue to mentor, many women, and men, and am passionate about sharing my ideas and time with others to help them develop. I am delighted to see past mentees of mine reach great heights within their chosen areas of the travel business. As a true networker I have created new ways to represent the cruise industry and increasingly find myself becoming an ambassador for the industry. At heart I am a natural facilitator and solution provider so much of my work involves connecting people, ideas and possibilities.
What is the best business book you have ever read?
“Boom, Bust & Echo” by David Foot. In fact reading this book for the first time in 1996 helped me to crystallize the vision I had for Encore Cruises. There are over 10 million boomers in Canada many of whom have yet to cruise. Recognizing the opportunity and being open to the vision helped me develop strategies for identifying and marketing to the needs of the cruise client.
With that in mind another of my favourite reads is “Selling to the Affluent” by Thomas Stanley as my work with Cruise Strategies focuses exclusively on the luxury brands.
What does the future hold for your industry?
The sun is shining on the cruise industry. Billions of dollars are spent within the cruise industry each year and some of the newer ships are costing almost a billion dollars each to build. The creativity and innovation that has come out of the cruise industry in the last few years can be rivaled only by the advancements in technology. We are seeing cruise ships with ice-rinks, zip-lines, and levels of luxury that are unmatched with land based options. Cruise ships are global, mobile and responsive. Hotels in certain parts of the world sit empty as international politics negatively impact their economy. Cruise ships simply relocate to a different part of the world and reinvent themselves to keep pace with the global changes.
How do you feel about the current status of women in the workforce in Canada?
Women are still getting a raw deal, there is a glass ceiling and there is still an old boys network. I have always hired based on skills and finding the right person for the job. However I do feel women can do more to support each other in business in a variety of ways. We can teach each other to “power up and power through” without fear of being labeled negatively. No one needs to pound their balls on the table! We can create and find our own support systems within industries and across sectors. I would dearly love to see a successful woman Prime Minister in Canada in my lifetime.
When you are featured on the cover of Time magazine, what will be the headline?
Vanessa Lee 1952 – 2044
SHE REALLY DID MAKE A DIFFERENCE