At the Helm: Dan Mahar
A few minutes with the CEO of Tauck Inc., Wilton, Conn.
By Patricia Olsen
Generation of family ownership: Third.
About the company: We have more than 150 land, river and sea [travel] programs across 70 countries, on all seven continents.
Number of employees: 600.
First job at this company: Manager of market planning. I married Kiki Tauck—daughter of Arthur Tauck Jr., our chairman, who was then the second-generation CEO—a year after she and I graduated from college. I was in the technology field. While doing succession planning, the company realized there was a gap in marketing, so they offered me the job.
At what age? 30. Two years later, in 1998, I became vice president of sales and marketing.
Most memorable thing I learned from my father-in-law: Have a great product and always do the right thing. It’s a simple maxim, but that philosophy is critical to our business, which is delivering enriching experiences. If we take great care of customers and try to do everything right, they’ll go home feeling joy and satisfaction and come back. Each year 80% of our customers are referrals or repeats.
Best thing about this job: Having the opportunity to work with an amazing team of people who share a selfless purpose to enhance the lives of our guests.
Best advice I ever got: Seek first to understand and then to be understood. A family business consultant shared that with me. It’s a quote from Stephen Covey, who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You’ve got to listen and try to understand people, and then communicate your perspective to them.
Quote from our company’s mission statement: We are a leader in the creation of enriching travel experiences that enhance people’s lives by broadening their knowledge and fulfilling their dreams.
On my wall: A photo of the Grand Tetons. It’s a reminder of the climb I did with my daughter Ellie, who was 14 at the time. I always wanted to do it, and I wanted to give her an experience that would inspire and motivate her as she entered high school. It had exactly the result I had hoped for.
One of my greatest accomplishments: Forming a partnership with Scylla, a family business in Europe, to create our river cruise line. Prior to that, we only offered land tours and small ship tours. Tauck River Cruises has been voted the world’s best cruise line several times. Together with Scylla, we’ve built nine riverboats that operate across Europe.
Best thing about working in a family business: As a family, we can all be aligned on the goals and what’s important for the business over the long term. At Tauck, we are aligned around our focus on the guest experience and satisfaction as well as our company culture and the engagement of our team to pursue our mission and priorities.
Worst thing about working in a family business: There are sometimes different ideas about how to get there.
Advice for other family business leaders: Focus on your culture, your beliefs and your clarified behaviors—how you want employees to conduct themselves as they work together. Those are the essential elements of creating an environment to thrive over time. Products may change, but your culture can become timeless.
Philanthropic causes our family supports: We primarily support destinations our customers travel to, through preservation and volunteerism. We work with national parks, monuments and historical sites. We also have a family foundation, which is focused on youth development of inner-city kids near Bridgeport, Conn.
I realized I had emerged from the previous generation’s shadow when… we gathered at Lake Louise, Canada, in 2015 for our 90th anniversary for a week of celebrations and workshops, and imagining the future. That’s when I really felt I had emerged from my father-in-law’s shadow.
Future succession plans: We have strong organizational development both internally and within the family. It’s a dual approach; we focus on non-family leaders within the company, as well as developing family members who aren’t in the company and who are required to work somewhere else five years after college.
Words I live by: Promise what you can deliver and deliver more than you promise. Also, don’t try to be the best; be the only ones who do what you do.
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