President and owner of Columbus-based Uniglobe Travel Designers, Elizabeth Blount McCormick, spoke with me about the art of approaching business (and life) without fear, why a “no” often leads to a better “yes,” and the importance of adopting a “no fear” attitude.
“Nothing beats a failure but a try. And the worst thing you can hear is a ‘no.’ But the one phrase I live by is ‘a no leads to a better yes’. There are times I’ve been told no, but that means something else was in store.” – Elizabeth Blount McCormick
Uniglobe Travel Designers is a minority, women-owned travel management company with over 40 years of experience in the travel industry.
Elizabeth is a pioneering entrepreneur who has made her mark in multiple industries and the world as a whole. She is the recipient of too many civic and business honors to list here!
Elizabeth is a member of The Wellington School Alumni Board as well as the board of Mansion Day School. She is a member of the Women’s Leadership Council of United Way of Central Ohio, the Columbus Chamber Small Business Council, Women’s President’s Organization and National Association of Women’s Business Owners-Columbus, where she also serves on the board. In addition, she is a member of Women for Economic and Leadership Development and the United Negro College Fund Leadership Council.
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In this episode Michael and Elizabeth talked about:
- What the retailer Gap taught her about business and success
- On working with Bono and Ali Hewson
- Doing business in the time of COVID
- The critical importance of innovation and creativity in entrepreneurship
- And more!
- Elizabeth Blount McCormick on LinkedIn
- Uniglobe Travel Designers
- Uniglobe Travel Designers on Instagram
- Elizabeth Blount McCormick on Instagram
- Michael Redd on Instagram
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: And you know, I know one thing my mom has always said to me is, "Nothing beats a failure but a try," and the worst thing you can hear it no. Right? But oftentimes, Michael, the one phrase I live by is, "A no leads to a better yes." There have been times that I've been told no, but that means something else was in store. Right? There's another plan for me.
Michael Redd: Hey, everybody. This is Michael Redd, and welcome to the Betting on Yourself podcast, where I interview successful entrepreneurs, athletes and other top performers who rose to the top, took success into their own hands, and bet on themselves.
Michael Redd: My guest today is Elizabeth Blount McCormick, CEO of Columbus based, minority and women-owned travel management company Uniglobe Travel Designers. She is also the recipient of too many civic and business honors to list here. A very dear friend of my family for over 20 years, it is a true pleasure to have her on the show today and introduce her and her incredible story to all of you.
Michael Redd: In this episode, we discussed the art of approaching business and life without fear, why a no often leads to a better yes, the importance of adopting a no fear attitude, how her family fostered her entrepreneurial spirit, the core tenets of business, good relationships, be genuine, what the retailer gap taught her about business and success, working with Bono and Ali Hewson, doing business in the time of COVID, and the critical importance of innovation and creativity in entrepreneurship.
Michael Redd: Elizabeth is a true entrepreneur, one who has and continues to make her mark in multiple industries and on the world as a whole. Here's my conversation with Elizabeth Blount McCormick.
Michael Redd: Hey, everybody. Welcome Betting on Yourself with Michael Redd. I am here with one of my dearest friends, Elizabeth Blount McCormick, who is the CEO of Uniglobe Travel Designers, which is a travel management company. I've known Liz for almost 20 plus years, 21 years, 22 years.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Right.
Michael Redd: And she's a dear friend of our family and we love her and Lee. I'm so glad you're on the podcast today.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Well I really appreciate it, just being here with you. Like you said, we've been friends for a really long time and just have been through some different things. Right? As friends, as family. So just appreciate having a moment and time just to chat with you.
Michael Redd: A little known fact. You taught me how to play Spades.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I didn't realize that. That's hilarious. You've been playing Spades during quarantine as well.
Michael Redd: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I remember we were in Miami, and you taught me how to play.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Oh really? I remember. Were we partners, Michael?
Michael Redd: We were. We were, we were, we were. We had some other friends with us, and we had a great time. So me and you go way back-
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: We do.
Michael Redd: ... and so proud of what you've been able to accomplish in business, obviously as a woman, but a person of business and what you've done with the company. We can get to all of that and your family legacy.
Michael Redd: But I got to start with this question that I always start with all my guests. What is betting on yourself and what has that meant for you?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I think it's approaching business and life and personal, really without fear. And you know, I know one thing my mom has always said to me is, "Nothing beats a failure but a try," and the worst thing you can hear it no. Right? But oftentimes, Michael, the one phrase I live by is, "A no leads to a better yes." There have been times that I've been told no, but that means something else was in store. Right? There's another plan for me that I didn't have control over, but I had to have faith that hey, there's something else that's better.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: So it's really just having the no fear attitude. I do some things that people would think are a little insane, but I have to try it. I've got to trust myself enough to have the grit and the drive to try and make things happen.
Michael Redd: See I know you personally, and for those who know Liz, I'll say Elizabeth for the sake of the podcast. But you're tenacious. You have an incredible amount of drive. You're competitive because you hate to lose.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I do.
Michael Redd: So was there a moment where you were even a teenager or a child where you were like, "Hey I'm a risk taker. I have no fear,"?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Yeah, I mean I think it was ... I played tennis. And actually, Michael, just a side note. I started training with my coach again, so we'll have to get back on that court.
Michael Redd: Oh, is that a challenge? Is that a ... There it is.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: There it is. There's a challenge. But I think just playing tennis, right? And you know, this it's really a mindset sport, and you really have to just speak to yourself and listen to your inner voice. I think with playing tennis, and I've played in a lot of tournaments, and my senior year, we made it to districts and I was proud of that. At least we made it there.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: But I really think, and with you playing sports in the NBA, that sports background, it's something that just really, I think, developed a lot of my drive and my grit and really just going above and beyond. And that translates over, obviously, into business. No is not going to work for me, so it's finding out different ways to be successful. And in business, of course, there are barriers, but they're not blockages. Does that make sense? So it's like there's a barrier but I can find another way to get to the end goal and to get to where I want to be.
Michael Redd: Is it safe to say that your family fostered that mentality, growing up in that household and then obviously later on going to Spelman?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Yes.
Michael Redd: And we can talk about that experience, but your family is entrepreneurial.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Right, right. My father, he was an epistemologist here in Columbus, had his own practice, and my mom really worked with him side by side and [inaudible 00:06:17] to help him grow his practice. And then with this business, the travel business that we owned together, my mom, sister and I, she bought business really as a hobby. She was a really strategic person and really a savvy businesswoman, and so to your point, I really saw entrepreneurship throughout my life and with my dad's practice and my mom bought this business and saw the way that she was able to grow organically and understood the importance of relationships and being genuine.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I think that's the key thing. You've got to be comfortable in your own skin and who you are, and when you are, people are receptive to that. Because as we know, Michael, people like to do business with those they know, trust and like. But being genuine and being confident and self-assured is really a characteristic that I learned from my parents and just how driven they were. And that success, it takes hard work. But you put in the hard work, then you'll reap the benefits later.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: That's really what I saw growing up, and so being an entrepreneur was just something that I knew I wanted to do.
Michael Redd: How did going to a HBCU prepare you for what you're doing now?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: A couple of things. The thing is, being at Spelman College, which is a black women's college in Atlanta, it was a situation where race wasn't the center of my focus. Meaning I went to a private school here in town, and there were a handful of black students, but of course, race would come up. But it was nice to be in an environment where we empowered. Kind of our mantra is, "A choice to change the world."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: We were constantly supported and encouraged to be the best. With that experience, it was nice not to have to think about race for a while. It didn't come up. We weren't so hyper focused on that. But in addition, we all wanted each other to be successful and I see that my network from going to Spelman and Morehouse, which is a black male college right across the street from Spelman, it's incredible how I can just see things, and if I have a question or I need something or someone needs something from me, in a heartbeat, we'll help each other.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: That kind of support is just what has been just incredible for me. And then you look at what recently happened with Vice President Elect Kamala Harris. Black woman, HBCU grad, Howard University. We're in the same sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. All those things are so empowering for HBCU grads. I mean honestly growing up, I grew up in Bexley and then went to Wellington School, and people honestly thought that going to an HBCU was less than. So now what's encouraging is that well if it's less than, I don't even know how you can say that because we've got the first vice president elect who's a black woman, who went to an HBCU.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Then you look at [inaudible 00:09:20] and all the phenomenal work Stacey Abrahams did in Georgia and the movement that she made. She went to an HBCU as well. So what I'm really thrilled about is HBCUs are being put on the map now. People are seeing like wow, these people. Because we were all taught and really entrenched in this environment where we were self-assured, where we could accomplish, we just have to work hard for it. But where we deserved to be there. And I think that's apparent in what we've seen now. There's so much talk now, Michael, about HBCUs, and you see people like Deion Sanders who's coaching at an HBCU now. It's incredible just seeing how there's such a movement.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Black colleges and universities were necessary because back in time, we weren't able to go to predominately white institutions. So, it's just, I'm so proud and obviously you know that about me. I love Spelman College. I'm so proud that I had that experience, and that really shaped me to be the woman I am today.
Michael Redd: You're the first person that I knew from Columbus that went to an HBCU.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Really?
Michael Redd: I know there's others. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was still the big universities and things of that natures. HBCUs have certainly produced some of the biggest and brightest stars and brains that the world has ever seen. And you're one of them, and so-
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: [inaudible 00:10:44]
Michael Redd: Yes, yes, yes. How was inspiring was it to see your mom be entrepreneurial? I mean, a woman leading the show. A black woman at that leading the show. How inspiring was that growing up?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Well it definitely was because the thing is and that I liked to see. My mom at first was a stay at home. She and my dad, they had us later in life and she wanted to make sure she was present when we were growing up, like in our elementary school years. But at the same time though she also made sure to do things that were important to her.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: So she was on different boards and when my dad had practiced at Grant Medical Hospital, I think it's Grant Medical Center now. But the thing is we were able to see this woman who was a mother but who was also on boards and running her own business. And the thing that was really encouraging to me is that she also had our dad's support, the way you support team. So it's like you can co-exist but you can also have the things that are important to you and you can be successful in those. So it was great to see my mom supported and successful as a mother, as a wife, but also as an entrepreneur, and watching her grow the business.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: When she was growing the company, she grew organically, so she really didn't make. That was interesting. She didn't have to. People knew her. I mean at the time, it was the 90s, so social media wasn't really there. But when I first moved back home in 2006, she was like, "What do you mean? Why do we need to do this?" Because she didn't have to. You know what I mean?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: So it was kind of interesting how it was really more about ... That wasn't necessary, whereas now, you need both. You've got to have those strong relationships, you have to be genuine, but then you also obviously have to have a presence on social media. It needs to be a positive one. You have to positive reviews. It's all those different things. You have to have people that will refer you and endorse you.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: But it was just interesting just to watch her grow this business. She was the first black vendor to have the Ohio State University, to have the entire account, to provide travel management services. And probably, honestly, we're probably one of the few black companies that have honestly had a contract with Ohio State. We had it for a very long time. So just looking at that was super inspiring because [inaudible 00:13:02] if we can do the Ohio State University, then we can do anybody.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I mean seriously, when you're in Columbus, you look at that and then realize there's so many opportunities out there and that's just a stepping stone to get to the future and to take the next steps and really to expand business and go farther than you ever probably imagined.
Michael Redd: You have an incredible family legacy, and it's been amazing to watch and know. People see Elizabeth now and they see all the awards that you've won. The list is too long to list, which is a credit to you and your leadership. But it all began actually with retail.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: That's right.
Michael Redd: You were at Gap and you lived all over the country. Talk about that experience. You didn't necessarily have being the CEO of the family business as a plan initially.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: That's right. That's exactly right. So Gap had a program called the Retail Management Training Program, so I went to San Francisco after I graduated from Spelman College, and then I moved to Miami, Florida. Gap had a corporate office there at the time, and then after that, I moved up to New Jersey and commuted to New York City to work for Bono, the head singer of U2. He has a clothing line called Edun that's sold in like Bergdorf's and Barney's and Neiman Marcus.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I was a business traveler for my last stint in retail where I was living in Jersey and working in New York City. I would travel to New Delhi, India, I've been there about five times, Tunisia, Portugal and Peru. I remember when I was doing that, retail is really a hard business to be in. I don't know if people realize that. It's very stressful. The travel was pretty intense and can really wear on you.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I remember that I was having a conversation with my mother and my sister. We were on a weekly conference call. And my mom said, "I'm going to sell this business. Your dad and I, we're going to travel the world. It's time. He sold his practice. We've just been wanting to do that." And so my sister and I said, "Don't do that. We want to move home. We want to try our hands at entrepreneurship."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: And so that's kind of how things fell into place. Then I obviously stayed in Columbus. I've been back here since 2006, and my sister, she's obtained two Master's degree from Georgia Tech and Georgetown. Now she's working in diversity, equity and inclusion. But with the business though, I just decided I wanted to figure out what is this travel game about, how can we be successful, how can we make money, and where do we need to be. And so I merged myself in the Columbus culture and community and business community, and there's a lot of support for women entrepreneurs here in town. Really, I looked at some people that I admired and respected and wanted to understand what their paths were and how they got there, and then mirrored some of my behavior and actions following there.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: At the same time, I was keeping a pulse on what's happening in the travel world and began relationships, and I had two acquisitions since I became president, CEO of the business. One is outside of Atlanta, so I spent a lot of time there, and then here in Columbus, I bought another [inaudible 00:16:15].
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: So I think it was just that when I moved home and was working side by side with my mother, I thought, "I like this entrepreneurship situation. I like being able to control the culture. I like to be able to hire people based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin." We don't discriminate. I like having the choices, if we need an attorney or a photographer or whatever we need, to give people a chance. Maybe find people that look us, Michael, maybe wouldn't get an opportunity but I'd love to give them one and then see if I can help them grow their businesses. So just found a lot of gratitude and being grateful that I have that opportunity, and as you know, being an entrepreneur is stressful but the good points outweigh the bad. Sorry, I'm talking a lot, Michael.
Michael Redd: No, this is good. This is great. You said something that was so casual though, right? "I worked with Bono, and I worked with Bono's wife." Right? How was that experience working with Bono's wife?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Okay so she ... I think at the time, Bono was on his North American tour-
Michael Redd: He's the lead singer for U2. Let's be clear with that, yes.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Yes, that's right. And he was on the road. Ali Hewston, his wife, she wanted to start something that was impactful. The whole premise of the brand was to create socioeconomic sustainability like in underserved regions and really economically challenged areas. So India, we worked with smaller factories. Our unit orders could be like 50 or 30, so it wasn't like working with the Gap where we were manufacturing a half million pairs of denim jeans for women. So it was a smaller, kind of boutique brand.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: With that, we got [inaudible 00:18:04] special and one of a kind. I remember when we were working with the designers, we had like a few samples that we could never make again that a lot of us kept because they were just so unique and they were these gems of things that we did. Working with her, she was great. She was encouraging. I know that the thing that was interesting was when she met me, she flew in from Ireland to meet with our team and we were again a small team, but our office was in SoHo. She was surprised, I think, about how young I was. I think she was surprised that I was a young black woman and that I was handling things and running to the Garment District to buy buttons and things we needed. Remember it was a smaller line and so there were things we could get and we could just get those things done in house.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: So she was definitely just a cool woman who was finding her voice, I think this was something that was really important to her, and they traveled a lot to the different facilities and vendors just to make sure that people were being treated fairly, so it was a good experience. It really was.
Michael Redd: That's so cool. That's so cool. I'm sure along with making this big bet on yourself to become CEO you took a lot of the experiences that you had with corporate, and particularly with all the travel around the world, and you probably had to say to yourself, "Hey, I could implement some of these experiences with Uniglobe."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Right. You're absolutely right. And also as a business traveler, I realized what I didn't like. Does that make sense?
Michael Redd: Yeah, one hundred percent.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: For the smaller brand ... So I was working for Bono's company Edun. We didn't have a travel management company and so I would just call here and I would book my travel through the office, through my mom's business at the time. And there were certain things I wanted to know. Where's my seat assignment? Is a car picking me up? Because in India, I would fly over from Newark or from JFK, I would arrive like 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. You want to have a car service there. You want to have someone who is driving you around even when you're there. It's just different things like that. I realized, "Well the way I'm traveling right now is what I'd want and I know what customers want as well."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Because that was a business travel. You want to be able to have someone you can call and talk to if there's a problem because with travel things come up. And clearly, COVID-19, this pandemic has definitely been a wake up call for a number of people to realize having an expert and having someone who's your advocate on the travel side is key and necessary because thing come up and it's nice to have someone that will advocate for you and that will tell you what's happening.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: When this whole thing first happened, I remember we would receive or 40 or 50 emails a day from airlines about all the changes, how long does your credit last, when can you ... It's just things like that. It was a lot for I think the general public to keep track of. But I think understand why oh just have someone take care of that. I say to people, "You have experts in so many different things. Personal trainers, Pilates instructors. So why not have somebody who's an expert that can utilize their relationships?" So we utilize our relationships and connections in the travel space. You don't have to think about it, but you know it will be taken care of.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: From just being a business traveler when I was working for Bono, I was traveling like crazy. There were things that I was just like, "I want this to be easier. It needs to be seamless. I need to be able to talk to someone if I need something when I'm traveling. I need to have somebody re accommodate me if I'm not happy and not comfortable." So those kind of things definitely came up and I understand when I'm talking to people about their travel needs and the pain points and the frustrations and how to flip those and try to make it a situation you feel positive about.
Michael Redd: Yeah, you're the middle person for the client.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: There you go.
Michael Redd: [inaudible 00:21:52] and you're terrific at it because I know firsthand how many times I've called you at 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock in the morning and say, "Liz, I'm stuck here in Australia," or wherever I am in the world.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Right.
Michael Redd: So you've been terrific in that regard and it's amazing that you guys provided. We'll get to that in a moment but I want to deal with something that is really intriguing to me. Taking the big bet to work with family in business, being the CEO of a family owned business. Talk about that dynamic.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Okay, sure. So again, my mom, she just turned 80 last June. So when I joined her in the business, she had done things a certain way and also she wasn't looking at the business to make money but just a hobby. So that's an important point to make because when Jacquelyn and I first moved home, we were like, "We've got to figure this thing out. We need to have a presence on social media." Just all these different enhancements. We needed to make sure that our reviews were done properly, our handbook needed to be updated, our procedures, our evaluations, quarterly evaluations. Like what are the goals we have? We needed to just put some checks and balances in place to run more like a corporation instead of a mom and pop.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I think sometimes with family owned businesses, there's a fine line between there's a way to blend both of those worlds. So my-
Michael Redd: Right?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: ... major corporation, right? Then bought a smaller company. So I brought all of those into this situation. But I will say that my mom, even though she is 80 years old, she is super open and really and truly trusts me to make decisions. She doesn't hold me back. I think that in some cases, the generational differences can cause challenges but I've been fortunate enough where that hasn't been the case.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I'll tell you, first marketing and social media. She's like, "What is this?" But she sees the power in it. And she'll see the power in how many viewers may get for a certain post or just different interviews and things that come from just being on social media. So that has been great.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Now of course, we're a family and we're close, so we've had conflicts and moments where we didn't see eye to eye, but the mutual respect is there. I think that is the thing that keeps ... And I know a lot of people can't work with family, but we just figure out how to do it. And again, it's the respect. We ebb and flow. We understand what the strengths are. Someone's weakness is my strength. Right? And one of my weaknesses is her strength.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: But just again understanding the greater good is what we're focused on. Taking care of our employees, making sure they're happy, they're being fulfilled and obviously taking care of our clients. So it worked out well.
Michael Redd: It has. It has, and it can be really tricky working with family.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Right.
Michael Redd: But you said something about customer service. There's a quote that you say all the time, that the customer is always right no matter what.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: That's right.
Michael Redd: I think that is something, if anything, Uniglobe can hang its hat on, is customer service.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Agreed, and that is true. The customer is always right regardless. It's like things happen. Travel is stressful and our whole job is take care of the customer. And there have been so many times where things have come up and I've said to my team, "Don't say no. We need to try."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: So for example, we had a client, a lawyer here in town in Columbus, had booked a trip and then there was some kind of mix up with American Airlines and the client called American Airlines and they kept telling him, "We can't refund these tickets." It was like $10,000 or $12,000 worth of tickets to Europe. So I said to my team member, "Look why don't you reach out to our rep." And just from saying that, we were able to get his tickets refunded. So my point is ... The customer is upset. He's like, "Look we had to cancel this amazing trip we planned to Europe because of COVID-19. We don't know when we're going to be able to travel there and we want to get our money back."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: And I agreed with that. The customer is right. Even though the customer was told by American they couldn't do it, even though one of my team members called American and they were told the same thing, I said, "Let's just take it a step further." And that's what our job is. It really is. To advocate for our clients and to not take no for an answer. Because oftentimes we're able to make miracles of things happen that just the general public couldn't do.
Michael Redd: Makes total sense. And you've done that in an incredible way. From my perspective, you didn't just come to this company to maintain it. You came to grow it.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Right.
Michael Redd: Talk about that within your DNA, that risk taking DNA that you have. You implemented that into the business. And talk about how important innovation is and creativity.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Okay, yeah. So a couple of things. I don't know if we've talked about this, Michael, but when we've been on corporate business, sometimes we have to respond with an RFP, which is really like a business bid But I've been on one. I forget how many years ago. It was 2014. We bid on it in 2013, didn't win. I sat down with the decision makers at a company here in town, and it was a really tough conversation, because it was kind of like, "Why am I even doing this? Why am I even talking to you?"
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: But I bring this up because at the end of the conversation, he said to me, "Do you want to grow your business?" And I said, "I do," and he gave me a little Post-It, and he said, "Write this name down and go on LinkedIn and find her and tell her I sent you."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: And just from that conversation, I reached out to this woman who is a senior VP of this company called Vizient. It's a multi-billion dollar healthcare organization. And with that, I was able to get a contract with Vizient within six months. It typically takes three years. I mention that because that really was the game changer for me. Just like having the conversation was a tough one, but obviously he saw something in me. He saw that I was there, I was present, I was engaged. But additionally, he knew that I wanted to grow my company. The thing that has been incredible just about this relationship with Vizient is that number one, I'm the only travel management company that has a contract. Number two, they have sales people selling my contract constantly, so we have clients in 30 states now.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: And the game changer, though, is when we've bid on Children's Hospital of Los Angeles' business and we won that. And I knew if we could service a client in California, we could service clients anywhere. That's really when I think I flipped the switch and realized I'm not landlocked right here in Ohio. There's so much opportunity out there. Just from that relationship, I have a contract with another consortium, so I realized, I'm like, what is this about? And I need to really study this and understand what the opportunity is.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Then obviously just developing those relationships. And Michael, you'll probably remember this. I was in Tucson a couple years ago, and I was sleep deprived and I text you and Achea and I said, "I really want to grow this celebrity athlete [inaudible 00:28:58]," and you guys were like, "Okay." I said, "I just got to figure out to do it."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Then from that, things happened where there was a relationship from Spelman, from one of my classmates in Spelman where I was able to get my first entertainment client for lack of a better term. But then that led to other things. But it's just about you say something, you focus on it, and you can make happen.
Michael Redd: I remember that conversation.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Remember that?
Michael Redd: Of course I do.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I know you do. I know you do.
Michael Redd: Absolutely.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Yep.
Michael Redd: I think that has served you well. If you had to compare the crisis of 2009, how did that prepare you for what we're dealing with as far as this pandemic in 2021?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: That's a really good question. The one thing is that when the crisis erupted in 2009, I decided that we weren't going to be at the mercy of one particular client. And so I spent time really diversifying our client base. So with that account, I was just talking to you about the healthcare account. The hospitals are still traveling, right? Not to the significance of what they were doing in 2019, but we're still booking hospital systems that are working on the vaccines. They're still participating in trials. Like healthcare still has to continue.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: So I just decided not to ... And 2009 was a very tough time as you mentioned. But I just decided that I wasn't going to be at the mercy of any one particular client, and I really spent the time diversifying my client base. So despite the fact that COVID erupted in 2020, and it took a huge toll on the business, but still, we have clients. We continue to bring on new business. Even though some of them were not traveling, they still saw the value in having a travel partner. We're looking forward to getting to the other side.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: So the thing is too is also just see opportunity in so many different places, and one thing that we did, we would have lunch and learns and happy hours in the evenings. This was probably towards the end of March all the way through the fall, where we would highlight different supplies all over the world because we want people to continue to dream about travel because we know travel is something that we all love to do. It's the only thing you can do that makes you richer. Right? The experiences and the memories that you create.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: And then with that, I want to be the complement people think about when it's time to do that again. Again, we also partnered with a number of our suppliers that we worked with to have Zoom calls where we would give an opportunity to our clients to ask us questions. What is travel going to look like? What are the hotels saying? What about the airlines? That kind of stuff.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Really, we spent a lot of time being informed and really being the experts in the travel space. But it's not getting down. It's looking at the opportunity and you have to keep going. That's one thing that I really learned from 2009 timeframe and how stuff that was.
Michael Redd: Resiliency. Right? Which is a huge word. Have you found it ... I'll make a statement more than a question. I feel like there's been a ton of pressure to lead in this moment of time. Talk about that nuance of leading in a pandemic, leading a company. There's a new reality among us. So with that comes a new adjustment, new pivots. Talk about leading in this time.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Okay. Well I think the one thing in being an entrepreneur is you have to, when you're a leader, you have to become. We've all had moments but people are looking to us to be calm, to lead the organization, to take care of the hard stuff. And I think with that, there's a great responsibility that's there. But it's also making sure there are a number of options. And so I think with that ... And really communicate. When this first erupted, I was having conversations with my team like every day via Zoom just to let them know, "Hey we're going to get through this. We'll be fine."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I was very transparent and upfront. We had to furlough some people just because the business just wasn't there. But it's being honest and letting people know, "This is what I'm doing." And that hey [inaudible 00:33:30] people are unemployed but I'm working my butt off so you don't have to be. And it really is being upfront and communicative. I just knew that's one thing I wanted to continue to do, was just communicate and let the team know what was happening and the actions that I was taking.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: People are grateful for that. I received so many thank yous and that they appreciate what I've done and what I'll continue to do, and that just makes me want to continue to lead and continue to grow this business.
Michael Redd: Well travel taking the hit that it has taken over the last year, how important has it been for you to continue to educate clients on travel and quite frankly continue dreaming about vacations?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Right. I mean I think that's been critical because as you know, a lot of people just have pandemic and COVID fatigue. They're just exhausted. I mean, think about this. We could just leave any time we wanted to. For you in particular you'd have golf trips and family trips and you and Achea getting away. So it's all these different things that we have not been able to do.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: But the thing that has been critical is to make sure that we are knowledgeable about what's happening with all of the suppliers and vendors that we work with, that we know what's happening even on the end of travel insurance, what's happening with the different destinations you can travel to. All of that stuff, we are well versed in all those conversations where we can really advise people if you want to go some place, this is where I would go.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Like for example, with the Caribbean. The Caribbean, honestly, brought down COVID-19. There was time that Jamaica, Aruba, the Bahamas, Antigua, they just really took COVID seriously and their cases were minimal. And even Mexico. Now Mexico has recently had a significant outbreak but prior to that, when people would ask me where they should go, I would just suggest Mexico or an island in the Caribbean because they really locked down COVID.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: But again, that's my job. Right? To understand what's out there, to look at the COVID cases, what are the positivity rates in the different places you want to go. I mean at that point, during the summer, it was actually safer to leave the U.S. than it was to travel around here. We had people that were interested in ... And I think we even talked about renting an RV and taking a road trip. It was a little scary at the time because the cases were just all over the places and we didn't have any news about the vaccine. Now that the vaccine news has come out, I think that people are more encouraged. I am. I can see that people are like, "Okay, we're going to get a handle on this thing and we'll be able to get back to [crosstalk 00:36:18] and seeing the world."
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I think too, Michael, people are realizing that trip ... It's not even ... People are saying, "Bucket list. Don't use that term anymore. Using living list." I think people are creating their living lists and will take advantage and really create those memories and see parts of the world they never thought they could see. I think the pandemic has really reminded people, again, we've gotten more centered about what's important. And [inaudible 00:36:48] also even more focused about what we want to do once we can travel again and see our families ago.
Michael Redd: How important have testimonials been for Uniglobe in this time?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: That's the thing. That's the bread and butter. Right? People want to understand that this is true. She's not just talking, that they really do walk the walk, that they practice what they preach, they actually deliver. That has been critical for us because people want to have someone to talk to. They want to have a human voice that they can relate to and ask those questions and find out about our service, so that has been critical for us and for our success.
Michael Redd: What advice do you have for leaders and entrepreneurs in 2021?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I think you can't have tunnel vision, and really, if there's something that you've thought about doing and there was a voice in the back of your mind that was telling you not to do it, I would say take the risk or lose the chance. This is a great time. I think people are looking for relationships. They're looking for partners. They're looking for ... They could have been missing something from a product standpoint or from a service standpoint, because only the strong are going to survive this thing.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I know in my space, a lot of travel businesses have gone out of business because maybe they just had a small niche they focused on and everyone had to cancel all their trips so they have no income coming in. So it's about really seeing is there a piece of business I haven't thought of? Is this a facet or just a unit that I could think about so that I can develop my company? And that's what I would suggest entrepreneurs do.
Michael Redd: That's powerful. That's really powerful. Last couple questions. You love to give back. Talk about how important that is for you and your legacy as far as giving back and trailblazing for other women behind you.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Okay. So a couple of things. We have the Vitamin D Program that's set up within our company, and so for every vacation that's booked, we give a portion of our profit back to charity. I think it's important to do that, to really contribute and to give back to the communities that we serve.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Then in addition, I love talking to entrepreneurs that maybe are solo-preneurs or just beginning their entrepreneurial journey to share with them the things that worked for me, the things that maybe didn't. I think it's important for us to share with young people our success stories and success looks different in so many different ways. But there are steps that you can take to get there. Right? And so I love talking to entrepreneurs and really to women and then obviously black men and women that are entrepreneurs or thinking about getting into this field and want to start a business, just to share with them some of my best practices and some of the things I wish I would have done differently to hopefully help them not make those same mistakes but maybe get further ahead in a quicker manner.
Michael Redd: If you had any advice for your 16-year-old self, going back in time, what advice would you have for yourself?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Don't burn bridges.
Michael Redd: Mm. Mm.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I think that's one thing. I've always been a person that can get along with anybody, so meaning that I was just able to be cool with a lot of different people, and that has served me well as an adult. And also, Michael, like that time in high school is such a small part of your life. And so understanding what it is. It's small but it's not your whole world. Right? Make the most of it, but just don't burn any bridges because you just never know how people can kind of come back into your life and when you'll need to interact with them or when you may need something or they may need something from you.
Michael Redd: So we went back in the past. Let's talk about the future. What's next for you?
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Wow. Well I want to have clients in all 50 states. I'd like to be the travel management company of record for a number of entertainers and athletes because there's been a commitment to work with black owned businesses, and I'm the only black and women owned travel management company in the U.S. So I want to continue to get the word out there.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Eventually, I think we'd have an office probably on the east coast and on the west coast, so you know, California and then east. And that's it for right now. I'm not sure after that. That's a lot of different things. Right?
Michael Redd: Wow. Just full of vision. That's who you are.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Yeah.
Michael Redd: I am so proud to call you a friend, and just me and Achea both are honored to call you our sister. You are amazing, young lady, and thank you for being on this podcast. It's been quite a joy.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: I appreciate you, Michael, and everything that you're doing and just having the opportunity to catch up with you. Thank you so much.
Michael Redd: We owe each other lunch at some point.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: We do. When we can, yes.
Michael Redd: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, you've heard from Elizabeth Blount McCormick, and the secret to your success is betting on you. Thank you for listening.
Michael Redd: To me, Elizabeth is the definition of no fear living. When it comes to business, life, you'd be hard pressed to find a more inspiring story than hers. Her blend of guts, intelligence, grace and empathy shine through in everything that she does, and she has never shied away from betting on herself. You can follow Elizabeth on LinkedIn, @elizabethbloutmcormick and follow her company story on Instagram, @uniglobetd. Thanks for listening. Until next time. I'm Michael Redd, and remember, you are the secret to your success.
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