Tzell is a Home Away From Home

This fall marks two special occasions in the life of Barry Liben, president and CEO of Tzell Travel Group in New York City. September brings both his 30th wedding anniversary with his wife Sindy, and the 30th anniversary of his career at Tzell.

Clearly, 1977 was a big year for Liben. "I got married in September, came back from my honeymoon and started at Tzell the very next day," recalls Liben. As a teen, Liben dropped out of high school as a sophomore and entered the working world. By age 25, he had worked his way up to director of a Jewish children's summer camp in Brooklyn, which was next door to a travel agency. Liben had gotten to know his neighbors well, and when he learned that one of the partners was about to sell his share of the small travel business, Liben was extremely interested. Coincidentally, an uncle had just passed away and had left him a large sum of money, and he decided to use $20,000 of this windfall to purchase a part of the travel agency.

"Who knows?" he says jokingly of his accidental introduction into the travel industry. "If my neighbors had been in the plumbing business, I might be selling faucets these days."

It's clear, though, that Liben had a knack for travel from almost the very beginning of his time at Tzell. He has grown the company from a tiny agency with three employees who mainly sold trips to Israel to a 700-employee company with dozens of branch offices in nine states: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois and Tennessee. His Midtown Manhattan headquarters alone contains three floors with 300 employees. A leader in corporate and leisure travel, Tzell Travel Group does more than $700 million in annual sales.

Liben says his company also handles the travel of several big names in the entertainment industry—Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Billy Joel, to name a few. And Tzell is always expanding; they recently acquired All Star, a large prestigious travel entertainment company in California.

Liben doesn't believe his lack of formal education has negatively affected his chances for success. "Some of it is luck; you've got to have luck. But I have a passion for dealing with people. I've always believed in treating people fairly and with respect. I gave them a voice in their own future," he says.

"And we make it fun here. People spend a great deal of their time at work, and we recognize that. We've made this office a home away from home." A tour of the office proves this is true: Tzell's headquarters have a gym with showers and a rooftop sundeck, where employees gather for occasional barbecues during the summer. Liben also describes having company-wide games of bingo over the intercom system, as well as theme days where the staff can bring their kids in to visit the office.

Work Hard, Play Hard

"I believe in working hard, but you can still have fun," he says. Indeed, Liben is often first to arrive at the office every day, normally arriving by around 6:30 a.m. and never leaving before 7 p.m. He describes a busy staff of employees that arrive for weekly early-morning meetings and regularly stay at work well into the evening to get things done.

The rewards for the hard work are rich: Liben also takes dozens of his employees on a trip each year to celebrate his birthday. The 30-year anniversary celebration of Tzell will include taking his employees on a vacation to somewhere sunny. Also along for the trip will be his Livingston, NJ-based wife and three children Daniella, Michael and Rebecca. To Liben, that's a dream vacation come true.

"My dream trip is to go anywhere in the world, as long as I have my family with me. That's what's important."