Interview with Greeley Koch

1. How has your career path changed up until now?
The first chapter I started in my early 20s, actually, in politics, working for the governor of the state of Illinois, and it gave me exposure to all sorts of things. I was working on personnel matters, legislative matters, testifying in front of committees, attending political fundraisers, and doing all these things around the governor's elections. Back in those early days, it really taught me the art of the deal and how to make things happen, how to bring things together. Back then things were bipartisan, we had Republicans and Democrats. To make things happen, we had to figure out how to work together. From there I transitioned into the corporate world, that's how I got started to get involved in hospitality. I started seeing travel, meetings, corporate jets, dining rooms, I had all these emotional things that people cared about. It was emotional stuff. Again, the skill set that I learned there was just about how you can roll out programs globally across the corporation, and how you build consensus. From there, I flipped to the supplier side within the hospitality industry, and learned all sorts of different things, cultivating our role ahead at the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. It was a nonprofit trade association for corporate travel, and we had events around the world. With that, I was constantly outside the US more than I was inside, and it gave me perspective on what is taking place around the world. I saw how things translate around the world with not just languages, but alternate business processes, technology, service, delivery, and how my team and I were putting on these events in collaboration. It was also really a chance to sit down with people in different parts of the world and say, What's on your mind? What's working? What's not working for you? That led me to today where I'm doing consulting in the corporate travel industry, as well as teaching a class at Tisch, as an adjunct professor.

2. Did you have a mentor who helped you get to where you are now? If so, what would you say is the most important thing you learned from your mentor?
Yeah, it was probably the manager I had when I was at Bank of America. He had several units, and several people reporting to him. There were, again, all these highly emotional highly visible service units within the bank. He taught me that it's about hearts and minds. He would say, If you've grabbed the heart the mind will come along. Especially if you think about hospitality, what we're really about is people’s wants and needs. With that it was always important for me to focus on the heart of my team, your people will carry it forward to your customers. The other one he taught me was that if you are the one running your business, you will run it. He was never gonna get in your hair all the time about what you were doing, he just needed to know what the goals were and would say “Now go make it happen.” He was really great because he wasn't a micromanager, and yet, he was always there. Whenever I needed assistance or counsel, or had a question, or even if I stubbed my toe or did something silly, he would always say “Let's learn from it and move on.” He was probably the best manager I've ever had.

3. What advice would you give to those pursuing their first business venture?
I would say that you need to be ready to eat, sleep, and breathe your business and the dedication and focus for that because it's going to consume your life. If you really want to focus on it, and if you really want it to be successful, you really need to do that. I was on an incubator board, one time, and we were reviewing some candidates that we wanted to come in and be a part of this early stage. One gentleman who was pitching an idea said, “Here's my idea, it's a really good idea.” We said, okay, and asked what he needed to run it. He goes, “Oh, no, I'm not gonna run it. I need you to give me a CEO, I just want to have the idea.” Because he had a paycheck coming in, and a family to take care of he was comfortable. He was somebody who was never going to do what it took to get his business up and running. He wanted other people to do that, and so I think those are just some of the lessons I've learned with entrepreneurs. People that get involved in a startup, need to eat, breathe, and live it every day. And you also need to be aware of what needs to happen for pivoting, or just as quickly as you can, respond to what the market is saying about your product

4. How do you overcome risk when it comes to making business decisions?
I think it depends on what type of risk. There could be financial risk, maybe they went out and got money from friends and family. No one wants to lose their family or friends' money or suffer the embarrassment of all that. So there's always going to be a risk, but what you have to do is figure out how to minimize those risks and move forward. That's why give that advice, you gotta go all in and you gotta be ready to pivot. You have to be able to see if the market is responding to what you're doing. Ask yourself how you can recognize this risk, and take care of this risk before it becomes all-consuming and takes over the company.

5. Why did you decide to become a mentor/ investor for the Hospitality Innovation Hub Incubator?
I think it's just being able to pass on the lessons that I've learned and do it in a way that isn't telling somebody how to run their company. I've talked to a lot of entrepreneurs who have a lot of opinions and sometimes those opinions are conflicting with each other. So what I try to do and the reason I wanted to get involved, is, to help people sort through what's going to work for their company. It's not necessarily what I think they should do. I want to give them the skills on how to run a business, how to look at these things, how to take all the opinions that you're getting, and sort through them and figure out which one of those you want to listen to or not listen to. One lady I worked with had a great group of advisors on board, but they all had different ideas about the way that the company should do business. But when I was talking to her, I recognized that what she's trying to do isn't necessarily suited for big companies, but for smaller companies.  I then gave her some advice that was geared toward smaller companies, and now, the team has really responded. She goes, “You know, that's what I've been trying to figure out.” The issue there was something as central as identity, but fixable with focus, so I think that's why I've gotten involved. I think there are so many good ideas out there, yet, people struggle with how to bring that idea to reality.

Greeley Koch