Linda Schuller Sets a High Standard

When Linda Schuller decided to go back to work in 1978, she couldn't have predicted that starting a travel agency business would lead her to the success she has achieved 29 years later. With two young children in school in the late '70s, Schuller met an outside commission agent who lived in her home town of Livingston, NJ. Though she didn't know anything about the travel industry, Schuller agreed to go into a partnership, as she was well traveled and knew how to manage an office environment. That was the beginning of The Great Escape. "I was thrown into the business and learned it by being totally hands on," she says. "We started trying to do our friends' business, and I learned who to call." Linda Schuller

After separating from her business partner in 1982, Schuller went out on her own and opened Travel in Style in Livingston. She headed to Dallas to familiarize herself with Sabre and dove into the world of fam trips. Prior to starting her agency, though, Schuller had traveled extensively, which she said helped her tremendously.

As for the employees who helped get Travel in Style off the ground, Schuller says many are still with her today. "Aside from taking care of your clients, in this business, when you're the boss, it's all about the personnel and handling your employees. If you can't do that, no one will want to work for you."

It wasn't until Schuller turned 60 and became a grandmother that she contemplated selling the business. "I met Priscilla Alexander and we talked for about a year and a half," she says. "I was reluctant to give up what I had built, but I decided I wanted to work less."

So after selling the business to Protravel in 2001, Schuller retained a contract as managing director. "I don't see myself quitting, because I'm having a good time. I am still selling travel, but I now have more flexibility and freedom."

While Schuller primarily sells upscale travel, one rule of thumb she has is to never turn business away. "One of the most important things I've realized is that you never know what the client of today is going to turn into. Years ago, I had an older lady come into my office in a housedress wearing little tied shoes with a heel. She wanted to go to California with her husband, but didn't want to spend a lot of money. So I sent them to California, and it turns out her husband was the president of a pharmaceutical company. They didn't take the very best, but they traveled extensively. You name it, they went there. You never know how people are going to spend their money."

Though Schuller herself primarily sells leisure travel, with a strong focus on Europe, South Africa and Asia, Protravel has helped her garner more corporate business. Her current mix is now about 65 percent leisure, 35 percent corporate.

Today, Schuller says she looks for employees who are intelligent, detail oriented, computer savvy and speak well on the phone. New employees—who start out as assistants and sell all properties—learn about the hotels and take lessons on the computer. "They don't have to have experience if they want to learn."

Schuller is still traveling the world, whether she's taking a group of agents to Tahiti to visit new hotels or attending the Virtuoso Travel Mart, of which she's been a member for 12 years. Australia, New Zealand and Israel top her list of destinations she still has not visited.

As for Schuller's favorite travel memories, she recalls a "beyond memorable" dinner at the Great Wall when she was on the advisory board of The Luxury Collection. "Traveling with my children has also been wonderful. I took them to East Africa when they were in their early teens. Seeing travel through the eyes of your children is great experience."