Women In Business Q&A: Debbie Fiorino, SVP, CruiseOne/Dream Vacations

huffpostHuffingtonPost.com; Article by: Laura Dunn 

Debbie Fiorino serves as Senior Vice President of CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. and Human Resources. As SVP of the CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. brands, she is responsible for continuing to grow the company’s franchisee and independent contractor agency base while providing exceptional support for these agents. In her role as SVP of HR, Debbie oversees Corporate Communications, Public Relations, all Human Resource functions and Talent Development. With more than 25 years of experience in business and leadership, Debbie offers expansive knowledge in driving strategy and plans for growth and success. Since joining the company in 2002, she has served as Benefits Manager, Director of Total Rewards & Corporate HR, and Vice President of Human Resources. Prior to joining World Travel Holdings, she served at companies including KaBloom, Bertucci’s Corporation (NE Restaurant Company) and Medical Diagnostics, Inc. Debbie holds a BS from the University of Massachusetts/Boston.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I can’t pinpoint one specific experience in my life that has led me to the place I am today. I think if you ask my colleagues and mentors what my strongest competencies are they would say passion, transparency, and that I am fair but hold people accountable. I have to say that is how I was raised, in a passionate Italian household. I was told it like it is and we worked hard for everything we had.

How has your previous employment experience in aided your tenure at CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc.?
Prior to running the divisions of CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., my career focus was Human Resources. I believe everything I oversaw in Human Resources including recruiting, training, rewards and recognition, communications, leadership as well as creating and developing relationships prepared me for this opportunity — running a franchise organization.

Many people questioned how a “Human Resources” professional could run a revenue-generating unit. Hopefully all Human Resources professionals are thinking of the business first — understand your company, your profits & losses, the company goals, etc. Before you can truly support an organization, you must be a strong business partner or you will never establish yourself as a valued business person. My business acumen was as strong as my ability to run Human Resources day-to-day.

Ultimately, leadership and business acumen are most important and what I believe have been significant factors in my success.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc.?
Highlights:
The recent launch of a new travel franchise brand, Dream Vacations, is an extremely exciting time for the company and me personally. The announcement at our annual National Conference with close to 900 people in attendance by far was a career highlight as a result of the anticipation, hard work by the team, the ability to keep it a secret, and ultimately the overwhelming support and excitement.

But truly day-to-day, week-to-week, my highlights are when I am at events with my customers, the CruiseOne/Dream Vacations franchisees and Cruises Inc. independent travel professionals. We have several opportunities throughout the year where we interact in-person including our weeklong annual conference, two-day regional trainings, Circle of Excellence reward trip, Spring Advisory Council Meeting and more. Interacting, collaborating and communicating with my customers are some of the most important aspects of my job.

Challenges:
Our company’s mission statement is to “Deliver A Remarkable Experience.” These past two years as SVP of CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. I have been focused on doing just that, especially as it relates to our customer and we have received consistent and positive feedback that we are achieving this goal. Sometimes the most challenging part of a job can be improving upon your past successes.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
The travel industry is amazing! Who doesn’t want to sell Dream Vacations? If this is an industry you are interested in, just like any industry, you need to understand the economics, the challenges, the suppliers and the competition.

In addition, I would encourage women to watch their language. There is research that women in meetings tend to apologize when making a statement especially if they are challenging someone else’s opinion. That apology can be perceived as a weakness or lack of confidence. If you want a career at a senior level in any industry, watch your language, don’t apologize, and make sure your voice is heard.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Fair Is Not Equal – “FINE”

The idea that everyone in business needs to be treated equal gives Human Resources departments a bad name. In every position that I have held, I have pushed for every company to understand the concept that Fair Is Not Equal.

I agree that people need to be treated fairly. However, if two people are not treated equally because they don’t give equal discretionary effort – that is Fair! It’s a fallback for Human Resources and management to say, “I can’t offer this because if I do I would have to give it to everyone” and that is not the case. You have to be fair and that can be more difficult and less clear cut.

I recommend using managerial courage to be fair and not equal. When employees see that you reward the right people you will get improved performance. If everyone is treated equal, you will get a lot of people who say, “Why should I bother? We all get the same rewards and benefits.”

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have come to the realization that there is no perfect balance so I stopped worrying about how to reach it. I understand that choices need to be made to achieve work/life balance, and this may mean sacrificing one for the other. There are only 24 hours in a day and only 7 days in the week. I try to use my time carefully. I schedule calls during my commute so I can leave work earlier or leave the house later so I can get my son on the school bus.

There are many tips to achieving balance; however, there are going to be those times that are out of your control and you are unable to attain balance.

Perhaps you have to spend more time at home because your child is struggling in school and needs your attention or you need to spend more time at work because you are launching a new brand. A solution is to find opportunities to combine business and personal when possible. There have been many company trips that I combined into a personal trip and brought my family with me. Just don’t expect to be balanced all the time – you are setting yourself up for expectations that may not be realistic.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I mentioned earlier that women tend to apologize. When men are assertive it is associated with power; however, when woman are assertive they are seen as difficult. What has helped me is working with and for men who champion women.

It is also important for women to encourage each other and it is equally, if not more so, for the men in your organization to support you in your pursuit of furthering your career. I don’t mean promoting somebody because she is a woman; I mean hearing her voice and championing her efforts.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had many mentors throughout my career, but there are two who have had a profound impact. Both were women who held senior positions within Human Resources and they are phenomenal leaders who have had significant careers in business. Their support and champion of me as a leader is why I am in the position I am in today. I worked directly for both of them in a variety of roles and I have reached out to both of them to get career advice along the way. When I talk about finding champions of women – they are exactly what I am referring to.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
For woman in business one of my top is Oprah Winfrey. My 9-year old son is doing a book report for Black History Month about Oprah. I love that my son is growing up in a world that a woman and an African-American is a role model for what has been traditionally a white, male “job.”

What do you want CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. to accomplish in the next year?
My boss has each of his direct reports create one or more audacious goals each year – he calls them headlines. Something you would see as a headline in the newspaper if you were to achieve it. It doesn’t necessarily need to be quantitative and shouldn’t be what is expected. It is something that is reachable, but also a considerable stretch. I have four goals that my team and I came up with that would be significant wins for the company, the employees and the network (our customers).

Personally my goal this year is to take better care of myself, physically and spiritually. Prioritizing me is on the list of priorities.

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