T 4 p.m. on the day Linda Bourbonnie fully expected to be laid off-Friday the 13th, no less-she got called into the office of the president ofand told that she wasn't going anywhere.
For months, she'd been making a case for the value of Travel Partners Group (TPG), the in-house travel and meeting planning company she heads, and now she was hearing that she'd won.
The deck had been stacked against her: When new management took over Denver-based Life Partners Group (LPG), the insurance holding company for which Bourbonnie and TPG handled 150 to 200 meetings a year, the newcomers' opinion of her department was made clear right away.
"They said, 'We don't need an in-house travel company. We'll outsource it,'" she says.
But Bourbonnie knew that Travel Partners Group would save money for LPG, and she knew that once the company's new CEO and new president experienced the level of service she and her staff provided, they would reconsider their early pronouncements. "I was just going for it," she says. "I thought, 'I'm not going out without a fight.'"
Her considerable relief and excitement at winning that fight were to be short-lived. Last March, LPG was purchased by Conseco, a huge conglomerate based in Carmel, IN. "I just threw my hands up," Bourbonnie says. "I thought, 'I can't go through this again.'"
She didn't have to. This time she faced a different-though perhaps no less dramatic-change. Far from ditching her department, Conseco wanted to expand it. And the company wanted Bourbonnie, TPG's vice president, to continue to head up the operation-in Carmel.
Single mom and longtime Denver resident Bourbonnie went home to talk it over with her daughters, ages 19 and 22. The family's decision: "It seemed too great an opportunity for me to say no," she says.
Still living out of a hotel room in November and flying back to her Denver apartment on weekends, the 45-year-old Bourbonnie is settling into the move. "It's hard because of my family, but it was also too good to be true. We were almost dissolved, and now this huge company says, 'We really like what you're doing,'" she says. There were practical considerations to making the move as well. "Part of it is that I have to make a living. I've got two kids in college!"
How She Did It In making a case for the survival of her department after LPG's management change, Bourbonnie focused on two things: cost and service.
She spent months gathering data from friends in the hotel industry, from the travel industry, and, in fact, from incentive houses. She asked questions and created comparisons. And she delivered one key piece of evidence without realizing it. She was asked to develop a cost estimate for an upcoming cruise incentive-a trip on which, unbeknownst to Bourbonnie, an incentive house was also bidding. TPG's bid came in lower.
But in addition to the cost advantages of using TPG, Bourbonnie pushed the service issue hard. "I said, 'With all this turmoil going on, why are you concerning yourselves with the travel department? We have two large conventions to do. They should not be outsourced at this point.'"
When the new management agreed, Bourbonnie and TPG had won the chance to show their stuff. It worked. "There wasn't anyone who did not have good things to say" about the 600-person convention TPG pulled off in Aruba. "And we were able to show a definite increase in production."
Working for weeks and months without knowing whether or not she was planning her last convention was emotionally and physically draining for Bourbonnie. But she does have some experience gearing up for the long haul that she might have called upon during her toughest moments.
Before her career in meeting planning flourished, Bourbonnie racked up five years as a successful marathon runner. She began competing in the early 1980s. "It's a discipline," she says. "It provides an almost spiritual grounding for me." The years of serious running also provided her with some income to complement what she made as a travel agent. In the end, though, it was the people-intensive travel and meetings industry that drew her energy, rather than the solitary achievement of running marathons.
"As many times as I tried to get out of [travel], I always went back to 'people' things," Bourbonnie says. "This job is the best way for me to touch people's lives-to make a difference. Like any meeting planner, when I've put something together that goes off without a hitch, it's very gratifying."
But she hasn't given up running-just competing. In fact, the sport recently gave her a way to spend a lot of intensive, quality time with one of her daughters. "When she was a senior in high school, my daughter said she wanted to do a marathon. So I had a professional trainer write a program for us," Bourbonnie says. They followed that program for six months before running the Washington, DC marathon last year.
"It's a great sense of achievement," she says. "Marathoners are real success stories." So, too, are meeting planners who look downsizing in the face and emerge with jobs intact.