Interview with John Williams

1. How has your career path changed up until now?
I started my company 21 years ago. When I first started my career, I was a college admissions counselor and became assistant director of that department at a place called Saint Joseph University, Philadelphia. I did that for a number of years then I moved into somewhat of a hybrid, helping college or high school athletes put together portfolios for themselves so they could be discovered academically and athletically. It was in the .com times, so as a precursor to all the great websites out there now. Then, I got into the world and changed directions of industries completely and got into hospitality where I started an outsourced concierge company for hotels so that hotels could employ and hire us as the concierge. That evolved then we got into FIT (Free Independent Travel) and into groups and incentives, today I manage the company doing corporate experiences and events incentives throughout the United States.

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?
I unfortunately never really had a mentor. I had somebody in my earlier days when I was at the university, somebody I worked with but never really had a mentor in my career. I do work with my father, we own a company together, so he’s been my mentor. I would say I learned a couple of things. As tough as everything gets, it's not life and death. All the things that we do in hospitality is all about experience. It's all about memories. You want to leave a lasting positive one, but it's not earth shattering if something doesn't go exactly the way it should. We just need to listen and we need to empathize, but not overcompensate, that's one. And then second, a lot of people in the industry know each other and know people who know people in any industry. “What is for thy ears is not for thy tongue”, which means what I hear, I shall not repeat.

3. What advice would you give to those pursuing their first business venture?
Try to surround yourself with as many people as you can that may be familiar with the industry, people who have that entrepreneurial experience and knowledge. If you're looking to get into opening your own insurance company and they own a bagel shop, it doesn't matter. Business is still business, so really surround yourself with people who understand best practices, things they’ve learned, so that they can hopefully help you limit the number of hurdles. However, you have to go through some challenges on your own and you have to make mistakes. Second, you have a blueprint which you expect to follow on the first day. On the second day, it's thrown out the window and it changes; you have to follow what the clients tell you and what your gut tells you. You have this dream and this vision, but it has to evolve. If you don't evolve, your business will close down.

4. How do you overcome risk when it comes to making business decisions?
Try to really take your experiences and never overcommit or commit to something until somebody's done it with you. You have to always just take some experiences and knowledge and what your gut tells you to do. Make mistakes. We've all done it, but put together procedures in place and checks and balances, contracts, agreements, deposits and things, to help minimize or mitigate any exposure. We've done that as best we can, but things still happen to any business. It just happened to FTX, a major crypto, billions of dollars company, just went under in two weeks, so nobody's secure, but you do the best you can with what you’ve got.

5. Why did you decide to become a mentor/ investor for the Hospitality Innovation Hub Incubator?
Because I've never had one besides my father, if I had some entrepreneurial access, people with some of that experience in whatever form, be it accounting or finance or marketing, I think all those things can be invaluable to somebody. I'm always looking to give back; I find it a valuable thing and you sometimes forget how much information you have. You sometimes forget how valuable you are to others. I do a lot of in person presentations and networking events, so I'm always looking to give back.

6. What book are you currently reading?
The Maze, by Nelson DeMille

7. What is your favorite vacation destination?
One that includes my family. It really doesn't matter where I am, I was just in London for four days and we had a great time. It could be a city escape, it could be a beach, it could be skiing, as long as the family is there and you can share the experience, it doesn't matter to me.

8. What is your favorite movie?
I've got a few, but the first on the top of my mind is Shawshank Redemption. Another one of my favorites is the Green Book.

9. Any last words you would like to share....
Ask questions. When in doubt, ask. If you have to follow up, ask. Your mentor is going to be happy that you're interested. Show interest, do your follow up, whether it is in person, e-mail, or phone call. Ask and learn and research before you even ask so you can learn a little bit more about the topic, the people and whatnot, so you become more appreciated by that person. Do your research. Ask questions. Ask your follow up questions.

John Williams