Growing up in a small town of 5,000 people, the idea of travel was a glamorous pipe dream to Christy Prescott, CEO of Corporate Travel Planners. At the age of 7, her grandmother, Prescott's first mentor, taught her to earn spending money by selling pincushions and potholders door to door. Her first entrepreneurial experience would set the stage for her future success.
To what does she attribute her success? "I have never been afraid to ask questions," says Prescott. "Some people get to a point in their career where they feel like they know it all, and quit looking around to figure out what else they can do differently and better. I have made it a point to meet with thought leaders in other industries and identify what they are doing that I could incorporate into my own business model."
Prescott intimately knows the importance of word of mouth and an unwavering commitment to excellence: "I am a firm believer in supporting other businesses both in and out of my field. It was never beneath me to pound the pavement both literally and figuratively, learning at a young age the value of client referrals and customer satisfaction."
After graduating from college and working for someone else for several years, Prescott still had a vision to work in a travel-related field. At the age of 28, she opened a bank account with $300, and $700 more from an investor.
She quickly learned the value of hard work and perseverance, over the years growing her company into one of the largest corporate travel agencies in the country.
Here are Prescott's four tips for building a $154 million business:
1. Create a team that understands the vision
Prescott is quick to point out that her success in business is greatly attributed to a strong team. At one point in her career, she supported 200 full-time employees and all the expenses that go along with maintaining a significant work force.
Always striving to "work smart," in recent years she has reduced her employees by half, with 40 percent working virtually and living in 14 different states. Her employees can work anywhere in the country, and it's as if they are sitting at a desk in the next cubicle.
She has a full-time staff employee dedicated to fostering a positive experience for those working in-office. The sole job description is to create a calendar year of theme-based experiences that are team building and motivational.
Prescott also offers an employee website where peers, as well as managers, can recognize one another and leave comments. Points are accrued and can be redeemed for gifts ranging from gift cards to trips. "I strongly believe in investing in my team," says Prescott, "and as a result, people don't leave." The majority of the company's leadership has been promoted from within.
2. Embrace change
Prescott says there is no room in her company for complacency. Always on a quest to find a more efficient way to get things done, she believes in investing heavily in technology to assist staff in working more proficiently.
Updating her operations system has allowed her employees to work faster, book more clients, become higher producers, and ultimately, and most important, interact more positively with clients. Previously, the agents would book tickets, make reservations, create client profiles, make calls, and perform all other duties manually.
At the start of her business, Prescott had no choice but to wear many hats. As her company expanded, she let go of several of the day-to-day responsibilities in order to dedicate more time to what she enjoys most: a continuous mission to develop new and existing relationships. She is quick to say she has consciously built a team of leaders that make her job easy and enjoyable.
4. Get rid of guilt
Prescott has taken 56 round-trip flights this year and could easily fall prey to a guilt complex of leaving her family behind as she regularly conducts business from the seat of an airplane. She credits her husband for the support she needs to keep up with her rigorous schedule, along with raising four kids.
"When people say, 'You need balance,' I have to laugh," she says. "During 9/11, I couldn't cut loose early to take my daughter to dance class when my industry was overloaded with issues related to such an incredibly difficult time."
At the risk of sounding clichéd, she emphasizes quality over quantity: "Spending time away from my family is not always the easiest choice, but somehow we've all managed quite well."
She calls her employees her "other family" whom she cares about deeply. Balance? "Not at all," she says, but definitely a great sense of overall satisfaction!