Women in travel
Issue Date: Aug 20, 2018

It’s All In The Family at Collette


They’re movers and shakers. Their contributions have changed and continue to change the nature of travel, both in Canada and around the world. In this week’s issue, Canadian Travel Press’ series of profiles on Women in Travel continues with Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, the president of Collette.

Although Jaclyn Leibl-Cote can’t recall the exact moment she knew she’d follow suit in the family business, she says it was always part of her plan.
“People have asked me for the past few days, if I always knew that I’d come into Collette. The answer is absolutely, yes. I always did know, I just don’t know the moment it struck me, but that was always my end goal,” she says. “Maybe it was when I was little and I used to go into the office on Saturdays and type on typewriters – it was always fun. I really liked the travel part of it.”
Leibl-Cote, who was recently appointed as the president of Collette, will eventually take over the reigns as CEO from her father Dan Sullivan Jr., set to become the third generation of the Sullivan family and the first female to occupy the post.
“Jaclyn’s promotion is significant not only to Collette, but to the travel industry as a whole,” says Sullivan Jr. “As a female president, she is one of very few women occupying senior leadership roles in the travel industry and serves as an inspiration to others.”
While she’s been with the tour operator since 2005, moving up the ranks from the mail room to various positions in sales, as a tour manager, tour designer and most recently as the executive vice-president of product and tour management, she’s arguably been part of the business her whole life.
“Being a family member is taking Collette tours throughout my entire childhood, and that’s something that I’ll remember forever. A 10 year old is not the key demographic for who we are going after today, yet I remember taking tour after tour because we were setting up a new tour somewhere and my dad wanted to take us, to see and meet our partners, or have them meet the family,” she recalls. “Family business for me, it’s a deep connection to Collette, that’s in my blood, and it’s a huge part of my upbringing. I saw my dad’s dedication all throughout my childhood.”
Describing working with relatives as “not always easy, but tremendously rewarding,” she says members of her family aren’t afraid to challenge one another.
“We’re competitive and that’s what drives us and really makes us think differently. Each generation in a family business challenges the status quo of what it means to be a family business and have a family business thrive,” she says. “There’s an openness to the discussion and the things that we’re going to do and the places that we’re going to go. A sense of teamwork throughout the organization and the leadership. And that’s really because everyone is a part of the family.”

Innovation in technological times
As Collette is currently celebrating its centennial anniversary, she attributes their success to adapting to change, thinking globally, having an entrepreneurial mindset and being innovative.
“It means trusting what works, reinventing the wheel sometimes, changing the story, pivoting – not being scared to do that, taking risks and listening to new ideas – and anyone that knows me knows I love the craziest of ideas because it helps bring us to where
we are today,” she says. “It means always bringing your imagination to work every single day and be open to the possibilities. And more times than not we’re faced with challenges in the forms of our ever-changing landscape of mobile apps, cellphones, tablets, and smart phones. We might be in the travel business and we might be part of travel companies, but we have to think about technology every single day because that is what is going to drive us and our industry to the future. Every day we try to think about how to think outside the box, to take hotels, meals and experiences, and craft them into moments that can change lives. Because we do have the power to change lives through travel.”
More recently, she says they’ve expanded their corporate social responsibility platform, giving back both locally and globally.
“Travel offers the best opportunity of all, because when you’re out exploring new cultures, experiencing history, bringing it to life, meeting locals and making new friends, our minds race with ideas,” she says. “You’re going to see and hear more about that as we move into our 101 year and it has four pillars you’re going to hear more about – the people, the community, the environment, the product, and making sure what we do as a business is smart across the globe in communities and for children and everyone to follow.”


Memorable moments

Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, the president of Collette, shares a few of her favourite travel memories:
While we were in Peru for a product development meeting in 2007, one of the really neat things that we did was we woke up at 4 a.m. and hiked up Machu Picchu. That was really pretty neat to do, versus just getting on the bus and taking that up. The sunrise didn’t happen that morning, it was raining, but the hike was still worth it.

2) Africa on safari – that’s like National Geographic in your face. The coolest thing I think I’ve ever seen though, is there was a lioness and there was a dead zebra and a vulture was flying around and it kept trying to come down until finally the lioness just picked up the zebra and dragged it into a bush. Just the power and the strength of that. Had we been there five minutes later we wouldn’t have seen it. It’s catching those sweet things that stick with you, those are the stories you remember.

Industry advice

Jaclyn Leibl-Cote shares some tidbits for anyone thinking of joining the travel industry and finding balance as a working mom:
As glamourous as the travel industry may appear to an outsider, for anyone thinking of getting into the field she says it’s important to note that it’s not a vacation.

“To really learn all the destinations and the countries and all the cities and all the small villages, and really be able to bring that to life, that people are going to want to actually buy it, it really is hard work,” she say. “It’s definitely also very rewarding. I have life-long friendships and relationships with people from all over the globe. It’s a great industry to be a part of, so I would never shy anyone away, but it’s definitely hard work.”

Being a working mother of three, another piece of advice is for people to not be so hard on themselves.

“It’s being able to say you’re not going to be perfect at everything, it’s just creating the balance that works for you and always saying make sure you find time for yourself,” she says. “When you’re working, do that your best, and when you need to be home, don’t feel guilty when you feel like you’re giving up on one of those sides. I think that’s important and I know that comes up a lot definitely with women, but just in general with this whole generation of work-life balance. That’s one of the bigger things, to not be so hard on yourself.”