Mr. January: Stuart Greif, EVP, Forbes Travel Guide
New this year, “Male Ally of the Month,” a column that focuses on the men going out of their way to support women in the hospitality industry. While we all know they don’t have to help, these guys want to help, and this new column will take the time to find out how and why they are determined to help us reach gender equality.
Our first "Ally of the Month," Stuart Greif, is Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy, Innovation & Operating Officer at Forbes Travel Guide, and has had an impressive career as a Global Travel & Hospitality C-Suite Executive, Board Member, Advisor, Speaker, Mentor, and Investor. An “advocate for female, D&I, and traditionally underrepresented founders,” in his LinkedIn bio, he also describes himself as a “passionate connector of people, ideas, and opportunities.” Here’s the thing, a lot of people make big claims on LinkedIn, but few actually follow through.
A little back-story about how I met Stuart. Randomly, I saw him give an online presentation on “social commerce” for the Travel Innovation Club on LinkedIn. It was terrific and filled with great research and observations. I commented that I loved it and planned to share it in our hertelier round-up. He thanked me, we connected, and he then suggested having a call to learn more about hertelier, so we set it up.
Franky, I had no expectations. I wanted to learn more about Forbes Travel Guides and from what I read on LinkedIn, it looked like he had a big job…and he does! Yet, he took a half hour to have a real conversation with me about his career, Forbes Travel Guides, but mostly Stuart asked a lot of questions about me and hertelier.
At the end of our time together, he offered to connect me with some women he thought might be helpful for hertelier. Again, I said thanks with little expectation.
Well, the next day he sent the most thoughtful email intros I have ever seen. He not only wrote a very complimentary blurb about me with links to the hertelier site and LinkedIn page, but he also did the same for whomever he was introducing me to, along with more links about them! All the work was done for both connections to get to know one another. Who does that????
I’m delighted to now introduce you to Stuart Greif, master networker.
Stuart, you are such a great connector…is it instinctive or something you learned?
Maybe a bit of both, but not the way you might think. It’s funny because I am one of those people who eschewed “networking for networking’s sake” and found it hard to muster the energy to do it out of a sense of “it’s good for me,” even as intellectually I recognized that I should do it. We are all so busy with our jobs, personal lives, etc. that it seemed overwhelming to have another “to-do”...why would someone I have no connection with want to connect when they’re busy, too?
Simply asking someone what they thought of a speaker, news story, or what they do and being curious to learn about them is really powerful.
What I discovered, however, is that when I pursued areas of passion and interest to me and where I brought some knowledge, expertise, and curiosity—for example, social commerce as you noted, it became natural to engage with others and exchange perspective where there’s a mutual interest, even if it was just raising questions and seeking to gain their point of view. Simply asking someone what they thought of a speaker, news story, or what they do and being curious to learn about them is really powerful. When I served as a senior executive for Microsoft’s Travel & Hospitality group, I loved the great advice Satya Nadella, CEO, shared, “Don’t be a know-it-all. Be a learn-it-all.”
“Don’t be a know-it-all. Be a learn-it-all.”
In learning about others, their priorities, and interests, I found that naturally sparked touchpoints and ideas where I could help connect dots to other people and companies. I started investing a little extra time to follow up where it made sense to connect folks to one another. I love helping people and our industry and it’s really rewarding for me and helps me learn and stay current. Now, it is part of my weekly schedule, some weeks more or less than others.
What would be a first step for those hoping to up their networking game?
The easiest way to start is by connecting folks you already know, speak with, and who are in your network today. Then expand that as you meet new folks where and when it arises as just a natural part of conversations. At events, if you’ve met two people you think should meet one another, help connect them in person and provide some basic context when doing the intro as to where there may be mutual interests.
The easiest way to start is by connecting folks you already know, speak with, and who are in your network today.
Great tips, thank you! On to allyship…what makes you so passionate about helping women and other underrepresented groups?
The deep and abiding view that women are every part my equal, the recognition that they are systemically underrepresented, and the recognition that I have an opportunity and responsibility to help.
I grew up in a household with strong female role models. My mother was a special education teacher who pursued real estate and other jobs during the summers and became a successful craft jeweler later in life. I have two sisters whom I always saw and internalized as my equals, albeit hand-me-down clothes didn’t work out so well for me! Growing up, I saw their strengths and experienced vicariously the additional challenges they faced in spite of them being just as smart, talented, hard-working, and capable as anyone else.
My father played a key role as well- my favorite bedtime story as a child he read to me was, “The Lorax,” who spoke for the trees, for the trees had no tongues. Speaking up for and advocating for others was instilled in me at an early age and reinforced in my life experiences later.
Living overseas in Asia, and attending a diverse school, Wesleyan University, all broadened my horizons and ultimately expanded my lens on the world. In my personal life, I always looked at women as every bit my partner and equal in relationships, and in my single days, dated women from diverse backgrounds and cultures which helped me better understand their experiences. My wife, Jennifer, attended the women's university, Smith College, which has a strong tradition and commitment to furthering women, diversity, and equality.
How do you think women can best advocate for themselves?
While no one should have to advocate for themselves, the reality is too often those who don’t (women and men), wind up not getting what they’ve already earned and deserve, even with good management intentions and enlightened leaders. You have to speak up to raise awareness and be willing to make the case for yourself just as strongly as you would for a business idea you’re championing.
You have to speak up to raise awareness and be willing to make the case for yourself just as strongly as you would for a business idea you’re championing.
I love the advice that Melissa Maher, former CMO, Expedia, shares in this interview with DEI Advisors. She says to not be afraid or hold back in asking for what you want, deserve, and are worth. The perspective of trailblazers like Melissa who have lived and tackled these challenges first-hand is far more valuable than mine!
Where have you seen women miss the mark…or have they?
Respectfully, I think that’s a false framing because women, people of color, and professionals from diverse backgrounds are still caught between assimilating and adapting to a work culture that doesn’t fully embrace them and their needs while bearing the additional burden of overcoming those often unintentional, hidden hurdles and constraints.
On the contrary, it’s because women have been hitting the mark that things have changed over the years, albeit not nearly as fast as we’d like. The challenge is not women’s aim or effort, but systemic, societal, and generational changes that take time and persistence.
How can other men be more supportive of women?
Men need to actively serve as advocates and allies to accelerate and make change happen. That means championing career opportunities, promotions, compensation, recognition, mentoring, coaching, and especially when women are not (yet) at the proverbial table or part of a given conversation. It means making changes to the environment so that it is inclusive of the needs of everyone, not the subset of us that historically defined work and work culture that advantages us in ways we often aren’t even aware. It also means ensuring there is an equal time and voice across the board––in conversations, meetings, decision-making, etc. and actively ensuring all voices, not just the most vocal or male ones are heard.
I am proud that at the executive level of Forbes Travel Guide, the management team is 50% women and even greater below the SVP level. Since joining, I am also proud that I identified, advocated, and successfully made the case for promotions, salary increases, and recognition for women at all levels of our organization. At board and executive meetings, it is important to recognize those who have led and made meaningful contributions and in particular, ensure female leaders are recognized if or when they are not called out as they should be.
What do you think it will truly take to reach gender equality, and when?
I wish I could answer that as if it were already in the past tense from CEO and C-Suite representation to flexible policies that account for women’s needs and enable them to pursue their careers equally. I do see hospitality and travel leadership trending increasingly female––there are waves of women leaders at almost every level, coming up and hopefully, at the highest levels soon across our industry.
No doubt the future of Hospitality and Travel is female.
No doubt the future of Hospitality and Travel is female. I also am optimistic that there’s a larger cultural shift happening generationally in attitudes and you see it broadly in achievement- e.g., college graduation rates of women exceeding those of men in the U.S. That doesn’t obviate the importance and continuing need for men to also support and advance change that women are driving and clear the path.
I am humbled, honored, and proud to be considered someone who is helping in a positive way. I love hertelier's use of the term “Ally,” because it is about being an advocate, supporter, friend, and resource while keeping the spotlight and focus on where it should be––on her!
Thank you, Stuart. We appreciate your support!