More and more nowadays, we hear about people who are not simply entrepreneurial leaders, but who are leaders with a social conscience – social entrepreneurs. Leading this vanguard is Bruce Poon Tip, a resident of Toronto who heads up the most successful small-group travel company in the world.
His isn’t a silver-spoon success story; the roots of it go all the way back to Trinidad and Tobago when he was a small boy.
First of all, you have to imagine living in a country with some of the best beaches in the world. You go to those beaches every Sunday with your family, just as all the other families in your town or city have for generations. Then beach by beach, you are barred. Everyone is barred – except the tourists who are visiting the new glitzy resorts built by foreign multi-nationals.
Your family moves. To Calgary. Where you are the only non-white child in school. You are poor. But you’re smart and a hard, hard worker. You get a good education; you move to Toronto. You set up a small-tour travel agency in a garage, and for five years, you work 18-20 hours a day. Eighteen to twenty hours. Really. You work so hard that later on, when you have 1,500 plus staff, when you are operating in more than 100 countries, when your eco-savvy company G Adventures earns National Geographic’s 2012 accolade of Best Travel Adventure Company, when your sales reach the $300 million mark, you can’t retrieve a single memory from the grey haze of those five years.
What isn’t hazy is the burning passion you started out with, which is to make a living by providing travellers with uniquely local experiences. You may be a for-profit business, but you are determined to put power and money back in the hands of the locals in the countries you visit. You hire local tour guides to take travellers to locally-owned and run hotels and restaurants; you help local people sell their wares to your travellers; you help local people start companies that serve your company – for instance: a taxi service in India for female travellers operated by Indian women you’ve taken fifteen months to train. You don’t take away (beaches, for example); you give back. You propose sharing arrangements.
It’s travel with a social conscience and a greater calling. And travellers love it.
In parallel to all of this is your tough leadership style and unconventional business structure. You got rid of your Human Resources department, dumping some HR responsibilities into Finance, and replacing what was left with an internal Talent Agency and Culture Club. You don’t have “a” CEO; you have hundreds. As for tough choices: on a regular basis, the bottom 10% performers in your company are weeded out. Chop-chop. If someone under-performs, if they don’t drink the “eat, sleep, live the company’s values” kool-aid, they are turfed. You make no apologies. You are Bruce Poon Tip; you are an agent of social change, and you are single-mindedly relieving substantial suffering in the world by changing the way people travel.
Looptail is Poon Tip’s 2013 book about how to build a business based on social enterprise and conscience.
It is a fascinating and inspiring book that calls us all to action – to step up and do more than just earn a living; to make a positive difference in the world through our work.