“One cold, rainy Monday morning, I got a call out of the blue,” recalls Pete Docherty, head of Docherty Incentives in Minneapolis. “The man introduced himself as Fred Bigony, co-owner of Harvey Industries, a building-supply business in Waltham, Mass.”
In his usual style, Bigony didn't beat around the bush. “I might be looking for a new incentive provider,” he told Docherty. “You've been highly recommended by one of your clients, who happens to be my supplier. But I have to move on this quickly. If you're interested, I'd like you to fly to Miami on Thursday so we can talk.
“It's not a sure thing,” he immediately added, briskly and to the point. “You might not get the business.”
Docherty was willing to take the risk. He flew to Miami with three proposals and made his presentation. Bigony was impressed and asked him how quickly he could arrange an inspection trip.
The following Tuesday, the two were on a plane headed to one of the recommended destinations: Madeira, an island off the west coast of Africa that at the time wasn't being used as an incentive destination. “If I like it, you'll get the business,” Docherty was told.
22 Years Later
Docherty got the business, and an extraordinary 22 years later, still counts Harvey Industries as one of his clients. For the first six years, he worked with Bigony, who then slowly began giving more planning responsibility to Glen Frederick, senior vice president. By 1988, Frederick was in charge of the company's incentive program.
Perhaps because Doherty and Frederick grew up with the program, they're amazingly in sync. “In a partnership like ours, you have to have complete trust in each other — and we do,” says Frederick. “For instance, if something's going to cost money and Peter can't get in touch with me, he goes ahead with it. He knows I'll back him up.”
Frederick speaks almost with awe about Docherty's expertise. “One of the things Peter brings to the business is an enormous network,” he says. “Wherever we travel, he bumps into people he knows. He's familiar with more destinations than anyone I've ever met. In fact, other travel companies — his rivals — call him for destinations, and he's happy to help them out.”
On the Same Track
Docherty and Frederick are able to express their differences without conflict. “I don't think we've ever had a serious disagreement,” says Frederick. “Of course, we work on thousands of details, and sometimes Peter would do it one way and I another — but those things are minor. That's what having that depth of relationship is all about: You can disagree, but it's never serious. Our ultimate objectives are always the same.”
“Peter and I probably touch base 10 to 20 times a day on a trip,” he adds. “I want to know what's going on with everybody, and I can trust Peter to be on top of that. Either he or one of his staff is always at the hospitality desk. He's also the first one up in the morning, the last one to bed at night, and he runs a very tight ship with his staff. Those people are totally prepared.”
And when it comes to the bottom line, the two men see eye to eye: They're both always looking for the best deal. “We work together on program costs,” says Frederick. “We negotiate the best prices for hotels, ground agents, whatever.” And, he jokes, “Peter's a Scotsman, so there isn't a nickel of our money that he can't account for.”
Two Unusual Companies
In these times, when people rarely spend their career with a single company, both Docherty Incentives and Harvey Industries consider themselves to be exceptions. People who come to work there tend to say.
For Frederick, it's important that Docherty and his staff establish connections with Harvey's customers. “Since Peter always goes on the trips and usually takes the same people, they get to know most of the clients who travel with us because a lot of them are repeats,” Frederick points out. “He's developed great relationships with our customers.”
The pair works together as an in-house staff would, holding an annual planning meeting every November. Part of the session is devoted to nailing down the details of upcoming trips. “Peter and I fine-tune everything, including every activity and every menu,” says Frederick. They also spend time brainstorming about future programs. “We make recommendations, and Glen and his assistant, Betty Jewett, also throw out suggestions,” says Docherty. “If they've heard that so-and-so is a good place, they'll ask what we think of it.”
“We're a company that likes to try the unusual,” says Frederick, “and Peter's willing to suggest the unusual.” He estimates that Harvey goes with about 90 percent of the destinations that Docherty recommends.
Not always at first, though — some places are a hard sell. But Docherty is persistent. “If Glen isn't familiar with a destination, he might tell me it would be difficult to promote it to customers because it's not well-known,” he says. “Yet after hammering away at him, as I inexorably do, he'll often decide to take a look.” As one example, Frederick was hesitant initially about going to the Galapagos Islands. Finally, he said yes, and the trip turned to be one of the best that Harvey has ever had.
In Good Times and Bad
In 22 years, the pair has also faced its share of crises. Like the trip scheduled for St. Thomas in early 1997. “About four months before the trip, a hurricane wiped out part of the hotel and damaged the island badly,” Frederick recalls. “We had to come up with a substitute program for about 400 people in short order.” Docherty suggested the Kapalua Bay Hotel in Maui, and in no time flat, he'd nailed down a reservation.
Docherty's networking skills were put to the test for that one, says Frederick. “In situations like finding a replacement for St. Thomas, that knowledge is critical. You don't go to a travel book — you go to your contacts.”
The period since September 11 has been difficult. Although they like to work two to three years in advance, the downturn in the travel industry has made that problematic. “There's a lot of instability,” says Frederick. “Several of our suppliers have gone out of business, with our money in their bank accounts.”
Also, the World Trade Center attacks have made many customers reluctant to fly long distances — or to get in a plane at all, which has changed the way the pair looks at potential destinations. “We lost between 150 and 200 people in our January/February Hawaii program,” Frederick says, “but our program to Key West doubled in size. I think people are just more comfortable being closer to home.” For now, the two are focusing more on domestic destinations.
After so many years of working with the same incentive house, does Frederick ever feel that it's time to move on? Not even close.
“I get calls all the time from people who want a quote on our business,” he says. “I tell them we don't put our business out for bid. Docherty is such an integral part of our program, so vital to what it's about, that I just can't see it working without him.”
Margery Stein has been a contributing editor for CMI for eight years. She is based in New York City.