Who Was Your Mentor?

We asked agents: Who in the industry been a role model to you? Who was it, and how did he or she influence your career?

Pat Jeske

James Travelpoints
Boulder, CO

When I started as a European barge specialist 10 years ago, I had the good fortune to work directly with Howard Dougherty, who introduced French barging to the American travel agent community in the 1970s and 1980s," says Pat Jeske, a canal and river cruise specialist for James Travelpoints in Boulder, CO. 

"As a former travel agency owner in Denver, Howard had become the very first European barge specialist. He mentored me every day for six years by sharing his vast and unprecedented barging expertise. He taught me to love working directly with travel agents, educating and training them to be successful in selling barging to their clients. He worked his business with honesty and the highest level of integrity."

In this very different era of Internet travel selling where all the rules have changed, I still prefer to work directly with travel agents, giving them the tools they need to be successful in selling barging to their ever-evolving clientele."

 Chris DeRose

Chris DeRose

First Travel of California
Villa Park, CA

"I was in my low-30s, working as an accountant, when Des Nesbitt of Beverly Hills Travel came into the office delivering airline tickets. Back then, that was how it was done," says Chris DeRose, president of First Travel of California in Villa Park, CA. "Well I've always loved to travel, and right there and then I decided I wanted to be in the travel business." Nesbitt helped DeRose make the transition, even though they didn't work at the same agency. "He was always there for me," she says. "I often had questions about how things were done in the travel world, as opposed to a corporate setting. The travel world was a completely different animal—much less structured, and Des helped me find my way."

Heinke McDade

Heinke McDade

McDade Travel
Roanoke, VA

At the age of 20, Heinke McDade, owner of McDade Travel in Roanoke, VA, emigrated from her native Germany to Canada. Since then, she has lived in Belgium, Kuwait and Paris, so one might say that travel is in her veins. But Heinke says it's her husband Neil, whom she met in Paris, who helps keep that blood flowing.

"He is my mentor," she says. "Today, I don't have a lot of guts. I wouldn't be able to get up and leave my family like I did when I was 20 and he often says to me, 'You're no fun,'" she laughingly adds. "He definitely keeps me going."

Jeannie Lipphard

Cruise Planner
, MD

A cruise specialist who works for the St. Louis-based agency the Cruise Planner from her home in Millersville, MD, Jeannie Lipphard became hooked on cruising as soon as she went on her first cruise in December 1998.

"We did three nights on the Carnival Fantasy, and I absolutely loved it," she says. It was there that Lipphard met an established cruise agent, which led her down the path of becoming an agent.

"I found [the owner of the Cruise Planner] Diane Mason online...and I cruised several more times with her in 1999 and 2000," Lipphard says. "I was talking about cruising all the time, and sending my friends and family to her. One day, she said to me, 'Gee, have you ever thought about selling cruises? You're sending me so much referral business, I can't keep up. Have you considered getting into the business?'"

She decided to try it in September of 2001. With Mason serving as her mentor, Lipphard immersed herself in the industry to learn the many ins and outs. Now, she is a CLIA-accredited Elite Scholar Cruise Counselor with a significant clientele base, with clients in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, the U.K. and Spain, as well as the United States.

Lipphard stresses the need for a strong support network, especially when you're first starting out.

"You need someone who's been in the business and has the experience, and that is what worked out so well for me," she says.

"By working for Diane Mason, who had been in the business for 15 years as a cruise agent, she was there to answer questions and steer me in the right direction."

Thomas Jackson

World Travel
Santa Ana
, CA

Thomas Jackson, a Certified Travel Industry Executive and president of Santa Ana, CA-based World Travel, says that his early travel experiences as a young boy helped lead him to his career path. He cites his father as a mentor.

"My very first trip was when I was eight years old," he says. "I flew with my parents to Mexico City in an ancient DC 3 in 1948. It was a completely new experience, and I've been traveling ever since." Jackson has parlayed that travel experience and the wisdom of his father, who started World Travel, into a successful career in the industry.

As an only child growing up in Santa Ana, Jackson recalls working for his father at a young age. "I started working at age 12, stamping folders, filing stuff, going to the bank," he says. "My father bought this business in 1939 for $100 while he was a college professor. He had taught for 30 years, but had wanderlust; here was an opportunity to combine teaching with traveling. He went full-fledged into the travel business, and we had 16 offices at one time, including our own tour operation from the late '40s to the early '70s, World Travel Tours. When the Middle East wars of the early '70s killed the tour business, we decided to concentrate on the retail aspect." It has turned out to be an excellent decision.

Originally, his father didn't want his son to follow in his footsteps. "As I was approaching graduation, my father said that he wanted me to become a CPA and an attorney," Jackson confides. "I said, 'how boring would that be?'" He remembers thinking, "Travel is addictive, I'm good with business, I communicate well and I understand people—this job was made for me!" He followed his gut instinct and has never looked back.

—Daniel Butcher, David Eisen, Jennifer Merrit, Mark Rogers, Debbie Strong