Q&A 4Her – Jena Gardner

Woman business owner Jena Gardner says she’s been involved in the travel industry for nearly her entire adult life but she didn’t fully understand the enormous reach her company could have on the industry when she first started it. Now armed with this understanding, Jena has turned her company, Global Group by JG, into a world-leader within the industry.

This understanding of her industry and audience has even allowed the entrepreneur to branch off into different areas of business. Global Group by JG now includes a network of brands dealing in sales and marketing, public relations and retail.

Jena shared some interesting insight with MyCity4Her.com on starting her business, her idea of success and gave sound advice to other women in business and entrepreneurs. Take a look at what Jena had to say in her Q&A 4Her interview:

Did you ever imagine yourself achieving what you have?

I think as an entrepreneur you try to strategize and plan and imagine what your company will become. Visualizing those goals is the first step towards achieving them. But in business, as in life, things move in unexpected ways and it’s been my experience that the greatest successes for my team and I have come from opportunities we had never planned for. In that sense, I could have never imagined where I am today and what Global Group by JG has evolved to become.

What in hindsight would you say you underestimated about your industry or business and why?

I’ve been involved in travel nearly all of my adult life and yet I didn’t fully appreciate how my business fit into the broader landscape of that industry. Travel and tourism is the third largest global industry. The sector represents roughly 10% of global GDP, employs 1 in 12 workers worldwide, and sustains well over 150 national economies. Taking the time to fully appreciate the depth and scale of our industry’s influence made clear in my mind the impact we could have as a company. I realized that I was part of a massive global industry that touched millions, if not billions, of lives. And that understanding inspired me to think even bigger for how my company could grow and what we could achieve.

What is the best business related advice you have ever been given?

I think it’s very important as a business owner to learn from successful entrepreneurs, whether in your industry or not, and I dedicate time to network with other business owners and to get involved in organizations focused on business leaders, like Women Presidents’ Organization, National Association of Women Business Owners, UnitedSucces, Women’s Forum of NY and Enterprising Women. Of everything I’ve learned over the past decade, the best advice has been to embrace change.

Every entrepreneur will at some point be forced to choose between comfortable stagnation and unfamiliar change. With change comes risk, something every entrepreneur finds daunting. Change is especially difficult when things seem to be going well. But no matter how comfortable you are now or how much control you think you have over your business, the ground beneath you is bound to shift. New trends, new technologies, and new competition will force you and your business to adapt. Preempt those changes by creating a fearless, flexible organization that can quickly respond to new opportunities and new challenges.

In the midst of the economic crisis, Global Group by JG took a big risk towards growth. We expanded into new markets, opening offices in Europe and South America. We built a public relations division that has since grown to become its own company. And we launched The Traveler’s Collection, a retail website featuring clothing, accessories and home décor from artisans around the world. None of that would have been possible if we had resisted change and kept our focus centered only on the tasks we had right in front of us.

What do you love most about what you do and why?

Like many entrepreneurs, my business grew out of a passion I had, in my case for travel. I caught the travel bug early and after what ultimately was a life-changing African safari in my mid-twenties, I made the decision to focus my career on travel. So having the opportunity to work in the travel and tourism industry is truly a gift.

My love of what I do goes beyond my own personal enjoyment of experiencing new places and new people though. I believe that travel makes the world a better place, breaking down economic, geographic and cultural boundaries to make people more tolerant, informed and caring. That is a powerful and lasting force for change in the world. And helping inspire and facilitate that experience is central to our company’s mission.

What if you knew then what you know now – would you do anything differently and why?

I am thankful that I don’t have many regrets from a decade spent building my company. But if I could go back, I know I would be willing to act quickly to make the difficult decisions that are required to assure a positive and united community.

As my company has grown, it has been very difficult to see team members leave. But they knew as did I that we could disagree on strategies and tactics but at the end of the day we all had to believe in the mission and values of the company in order for it to prosper. I’ve learned that it does no one any good to pretend that fundamental differences in goals, priorities and principles do not exist. The individuals you start an organization with are not always the best fit as your company evolves. Being willing to make the tough calls has enabled me to get the right people “on the bus” to move Global Group by JG forward.

When you’re not working how do you like to spend your time?

Obviously I love to travel, but since I am on the road so much for work, it is a pleasure to spend my free time outdoors – running, biking, horseback riding, skiing, swimming and walking. I also love reading, art, dinner with friends, my pets (two Siamese cats, Reggie and Zoe) and vacationing at my home in Montana.

How do you define success?

As a business owner, I am able to measure success by the company’s overall performance and by the goals we achieve. And as a growth-minded entrepreneur, that view of success continually evolves. I’m not satisfied with the status quo and reaching one milestone inspires me to set new goals and to work with my team to continue to move forward. I see limitless potential for Global Group by JG and my vision of our success constantly grows.

As an entrepreneur, my personal success is closely tied to my company. That’s one of the great joys of being a business owner- you can align your organization with the goals you want to achieve. And you can prioritize those things that are important to you and your team, like work-life balance, career development and personal enrichment. In this way, I am able to also define success by my happiness and that of my team.

If you had to share one final thought with our audience of thousands of women in business – what would it be?

Take the time to define the core values of your company.

When you start your company you tend to assume that everyone understands why they’re there and what the organization’s purpose is because they know you personally. And as you grow, finding the time to hold a formal meeting to discuss what you believe in and what your common vision for the future is seems like a luxury – you’re too busy doing what you have to to stay afloat. But as time goes on and your organization grows, the values of your company are shaped not just by you and your vision but by the daily interactions your staff has with clients, partners, vendors and each other.

Many companies – including my own – run on the assumption that when you hire qualified, hard-working people, you’re all working under the same set of values. But it’s dangerous to assume that the work ethic of individuals is enough for a company to rely on as it grows. People may be moving forward, but in their own direction, which may not align with the company’s core values and purpose.

That’s why taking the time to define what your company stands for is not a nicety but a necessity. Your core values will define what your company stands for and where you’re going. And they will be the vital foundation upon which you can build an organization that is committed, purposeful, accountable and ultimately, successful.

About Jena Gardner

Entrepreneur and travel industry veteran, Jena Gardner turned a lifelong passion for travel into a thriving enterprise. Her company, Global Group by JG, is a world-leader within the travel and travel lifestyle industries. Its portfolio of distinctive brands is active across three different sectors: sales and marketing, public relations and retail.

Her innovative approach to business has made Ms. Gardner a sought-after industry consultant and speaker. Named one of the Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing by HSMAI, Ms. Gardner has been invited to speak at such prestigious events as the Global Women’s Forum, the Global Eco Conference, the Fortune Luxury Summit, the Luxury Marketing Council and the Luxury Portfolio SUMMIT. She is also a contributing writer for Enterprising Women magazine.

Ms. Gardner founded JG Black Book of Travel in 2002 and has since built it into a highly successful consulting firm that provides expert sales, marketing and distribution services to the world’s finest travel experiences. The firm has been named by Inc. magazine as one of the country’s fastest growing privately-held companies for the past three years. Ms. Gardner is also President and CEO of JG Group PR, a New York-based public relations agency and in 2009 she launched The Traveler’s Collection, a retail website showcasing exclusive and unique home décor, apparel and accessory items from artisans around the globe.

Knowing the depth and scale of the travel industry’s influence, Ms. Gardner continues to work to promote philanthropy, economic development and environmental sustainability through tourism. She is co-founder and president of The Bodhi Tree Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to mobilizing travelers and the tourism industry to promote environmental and humanitarian efforts across the globe.

A proud Montana native, Ms. Gardner graduated with honors from the University of Montana’s School of Business Administration.