Approaching International Women’s Day (March 8) this year, Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of the Signature Travel Network, realized that most of his leadership team was composed of women; incredibly successful and innovative women who have been a major part of the network’s success.

“These women inspire me,” Sharpe told us. “Combined, they have over 100 years with Signature and, in that time, they have each been integral in shaping our technology, training and marketing (our three pillars) as well as managing our member engagement, sales and our partner portfolio. Michelle Morgan left an incredible legacy with these women and I’m proud we have added more to the mix, leading so many of our important departments and passing on their insight to their coworkers.”

Inspired, Luxury Travel Advisor asked each member of the leadership team for their advice on how to move ahead in their careers and to share any bits of wisdom they could for those who are up and coming in the travel industry.

We learned a lot and are sharing the great tips they provided, which actually work quite well for anyone, at any state of their travel careers.

Karryn Christopher, EVP,  Marketing & Preferred Partnerships

Tenure at Signature: 22 years

Studies and Career Path: Environmental Studies; prior to Signature I worked at Green America, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.

What do you wish you had known starting out? I wish I knew earlier in my career how empowering it is for everyone to simply say “I don’t know” and then to make sure those who have the answers have the opportunity to answer the questions that are being asked.

Best piece of advice along the way? Always be yourself. It seems obvious, but it wasn’t until somebody casually mentioned I didn’t seem comfortable in a situation that I realized I wasn’t serving anybody by trying to emulate other people that I admired so much.

Words of wisdom for those just starting out? Focus your time and energy on the people who recognize and appreciate your talent and effort. Life is precious, and we all invest so much of ourselves in our work, so always following the path of meaningful work and surrounding ourselves with people who are as passionate about that work as we are, is the only way to live (in my humble opinion).

Christine Conklin, VP of Marketing

Tenure at Signature: 18 years

Studies and career path: While studying business and marketing in college, I had the privilege of working for Carolee Friedlander, CEO and founder of Carolee Jewelry, in her Signature boutique on Greenwich Avenue in CT. She was bold, ambitious, and fiercely determined. Upon graduating, I was hired by News America Marketing who moved me from Connecticut to Los Angeles to pursue a career in advertising sales, only to find I missed the creative side of marketing and the intimate small business environment over the corporate world. This led me to Signature. The similarities between Michelle Morgan, Signature’s president at the time, and Carolee were undeniable and I knew I was home.

What do you wish you knew early on? The importance of giving yourself grace and the ability to make mistakes or fail, knowing you will get right back up again and be better off for it.

Best piece of advice along the way? Trust yourself and know your worth. Don’t accept anything less.

Words of wisdom for those starting out? This industry is all about building and fostering relationships and networking; seek out and surround yourself with good mentors and coaches. Take every opportunity to travel — experience new cultures, build new relationships and reinvest in yourself.

Kimberly Waters, VP Member Acquisition and Engagement

Tenure at Signature: Nine years

Studies and career path: With dual degrees in Marketing and Accounting, I transitioned from buying for a retail department chain to a 35-year career in the travel industry, starting as a corporate travel agent in Atlanta, GA. I held various roles on the agency side, including director of operations and later moved into sales and business development with Passport Online and two cruise lines before joining Signature in 2013.

What do you wish you had known early on? Learn all that you can and don’t pay attention to your job description. If you are learning new things, you are always moving forward.

Best advice along the way? Don’t be afraid to fail! Even though mistakes can be painful, we learn more from trying something new even if it doesn’t work out. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to work on all sides of this wonderful business and it creates a wonderful perspective.

Words of wisdom for those starting out? Jump in and share this beautiful world with your clients. If you are an advisor, find your niche and learn all you can. It is difficult to be an expert at everything so hone your knowledge and skills in the area that you are passionate about.

Gina Weyer, Vice President, Training

Tenure at Signature: 28 years

Studies and career path: I studied Hospitality Business Management in college. Prior to Signature, I worked for Princess Cruises as well as a travel advisor specializing in cruises.

What do you wish you had known early on? Embrace your mistakes as opportunities for growth and improvement.

Best advice along the way? The most effective managers and leaders leverage coaching skills to build strong teams.

Words of advice to those starting out? To become a successful advisor, find a specialty that interests you, become an expert in that market and never stop learning or traveling. You’ve joined an exciting industry where your job is to make people’s travel dreams come true — that’s a career you can be passionate about!

Karen Yeates, EVP, Information Technologies

Tenure at Signature: 28 years

Studies and Career Path: Studied psychology at BYU (which is a very weird path to technology, but it’s been great as a basis for understanding what motivates people and managing different style of personalities). My first real job was with Leisure Tours, Inc. (which is now Signature).

What do you wish you had known starting out? Honestly, I really have no regrets. I didn’t know anything and that worked to my advantage. I came in without any prejudice and zero travel industry experience. I was hungry to grow and learn and had a voracious appetite for hard work. I was frustrated by the lack of tools to help make our jobs easier on the leisure side, so I pushed and pushed to build solutions, even with very limited resources. I feel very lucky to have worked with different board of director members over the years, all of them being very progressive and open to investment in the area of technology.

Best piece of advice along the way? It’s been more about the incredible examples that I’ve had over the years. I had a wonderful mentor in Michelle Morgan, who was passionate about the leisure travel industry and the entrepreneurs who drove the agency side of the business. She was humble, but she was a tough businesswoman who fought hard for our company and our members.

Alex Sharpe has also been an incredible mentor. He is humble, with a great sense of humor and impressive leadership skills. He never lets me sit back and enjoy the spoils of past work, and continuously pushes me to stretch and grow and be a better version of myself. Both of my mentors are driven professionals, with a service-first mentality and who taught me a lot, but also allowed me the room to become a leader myself, with my own style.

Words of wisdom for those just starting out? Don’t be afraid to push. Don’t be afraid to try something no one else has tried before. Don’t let the past dictate the future. Don’t let anyone stop you from reaching your goals simply because they can’t see possibilities based on past limitations.

Be a spitfire and be tough, but be fair. Support and lift everyone around you, because it lifts all of you to your highest potential. Open your mind to new ideas and to the fact that change may be needed. Don’t let your ego get in your way. Don’t worry about what others may say about you and being a tough, strong, driven businesswoman. Set goals and go for it!

Related Articles

Luxury Travel Roundtable: Will “Authentic” Replace “Exclusive?”

Virtuoso Names Top Travel Destinations for 2023

Signature EVP Ignacio Maza Shares His Must-Visit Destinations

Editor's Letter: Five Things to Know in 2023