Leadership in Practice: A Conversation with Christine Duffy, CEO, Maritz Travel Company
Q: Can you give me a quick synopsis of how you got to Maritz?
A: I started with a company called McGettigan back in 1982, which was a travel business in Philadelphia. I was a project manager working with customers and managing programs in a small group that started with 5 people that focused on the group travel business. I started on the front-line, and we grew that business to 500 people over 20 years. We had offices around the country and about $250 million in revenue. In 2001, when McGettigan was acquired by Maritz, I was president and chief operating officer. My plan was to stay for three years to do the integration and at the end of three years Steve Maritz asked me to come to be president and CEO of Maritz Travel Company.
Q: How has your style changed over the years from when you first started managing people to today?
A: The opportunity to start from the ground up has given me a different perspective about leading the business. Having started the way I did where you do all of the jobs, my style tended to be much more hands on. As you grow as a leader and you take on more responsibility and broader scope, you quickly figure out that you can no longer be the expert. Your job is really to surround yourself with the right people and then support and empower them to do their job. That actually allows you to handle a much greater scope of work and responsibility.
Q: What have you found to be the best way to identify the right people with whom to surround yourself
A: For me it has been surrounding myself with people that have different strengths than I do. There is always a tendency to put people in positions that are like you. I believe there are different leaders needed for different times I believe in the idea of surrounding yourself with people who compliment each other’s skills, respect the differences, and creating an environment as a leader where people are comfortable saying what they believe and being willing to step out there and have a different opinion than even the leader.
Q: How has leading Maritz Travel through this difficult economic period affected your leadership?
A: It has been difficult because our business is our people. When you go through downturns like this, we have had pay cuts, we have had furloughs. It is very difficult to implement those kinds of decisions. We have needed to be extremely transparent, honest, and open, communicating the good, the bad, and the ugly. Building that sense of trust, even though it is painful for people, has served us well. We have been able to keep our people engaged, we have had kept our customer satisfaction scores as high or higher even though we have got fewer people doing more work.
Q: Have you had any mentors who have had an impact on you?
A: The leader that I had at McGettigan, John Pino, was my primary mentor. He is very much an entrepreneur and visionary leader. He empowered me and gave me a lot of rope to make decisions and take on new assignments. Knowing that your leader trusts you meant it was always so important never to let him down.
Q: So what role does mentoring play in your leadership style?
A: I am a woman running a business the size of Maritz Travel. I have a sense of purpose and responsibility that how I show up and what I do and what I say is watched by many. I think I have been able to do something during my career that have helped people believe that they, too, can rise to whatever level of leadership that they aspire to.
Q: How would you describe the leadership culture you are trying to create with your team?
A: We want to make sure we have people with different backgrounds and different skill sets and create an environment where it is okay to speak your mind. To not have a political environment where it is more about who you are connected to and who you have access to, and for all of our leaders to be very approachable.
Q: How does that culture impact your business?
A: I think a big deal is how do you keep people engaged when you are asking them to do more with less. You are asking people to make personal sacrifice. You are asking people to believe in a future that they can’t always see. For me the most valuable thing as the leader of our business is that people trust that my intent is always to do the right thing for the business and for our people. We will make mistakes. We will take chances or make bets that may not work out. We have external factors that have impact on our business that can be negative or positive to our people, but the idea that people have trust in leadership to me is the most important aspect.
Q: What are you doing to develop the next generation then of leaders? How do you prepare for the future?
A: I actually believe the next generation of leaders will be or look quite different than the past. I really believe that there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way organizations lead and manage the work force because the work force is going to look very different. We see it in our business. I see it in other companies. There will be so much more movement for people into different jobs based on the kind of work they want to do. Success won’t just be measured by climbing up a ladder, but by looking at opportunities across. The people will be much better equipped and prepared for the next opportunity. I think part of the responsibility of companies in the future should be around preparing and helping people be equipped for their own futures.
Q: Is there anything else you want to say about leadership?
A: People tend to look at the president or the leader of their organization and think somehow that these people either think they should have all the answers; the reality is developing as a leader is an ongoing journey that I don’t think ever ends. I think it is something that good leaders are always looking for feedback and how do I do it better.