Tammy Lucas grew up before the “Lean In” and “equal pay for equal work” movements. She had doubters who told her she had to choose between a career ladder to senior leadership status and being a mom. But she didn’t let this stop her, and lucky for us Tammy isn’t a “pick this or that” type of person. In fact, it’s Tammy, and women just like her, who helped pave the path for the groundswell of change many of us are fortunate to experience today. And it’s a passion she carries with her and aims to impart on both her children and her team at Best Western, where she serves as the Vice President of Marketing.
“I am extremely passionate about inspiring others to reach their professional and personal goals,” Tammy says. “I like that I am able to do that, and it’s something that really fuels me. There’s something about being able to see people exceeding even the goals they didn’t think they could get to.”
In addition to a goal-driven leadership style, Tammy, who has worked with the company for more than 10 years, loves how large the scope of her job is. She likens it to an air traffic controller who tries to keep all the planes in the air at once, while making sure none of them run into one another or come crashing down. While in this role she’s overseen a global rebrand that’s helped to contemporize the brand for today’s traveler. She and her team also helped create 10 more brands under the company’s umbrella. And if you’re a Project Runway super fan, you very well might recognize her from season 15 of the show, where she announced a Best Western inspired challenge.
We wanted to ask Tammy how she proved her early doubters wrong. What tips does she have for women who want to be in senior leadership for a corporate entity? How do those tips translate when you’re also a mom? And how does she make sure she’s available for important moments while also giving her best to a job that requires travel about 75 days a year? She was more than happy to tell us, while she was also en route to the doctor for a visit for her daughter. See, she really does manage to do it all! Here’s how she does it.
What was your first job?
I was the Easter Bunny at a mall—dressed up in that big, white Easter Bunny outfit. I was around 13. My job was to hand out free chocolates from a basket to kids. I didn’t eat chocolate for a very long time after that! [She laughs.]
Many teenagers wouldn’t have wanted to be caught dead in a bunny costume. But here’s what I’ve learned: You’ve got to try anything once. You don’t know what something is like until you try it, and it actually wasn’t too bad. It was fun because I was able to put smiles on little kids’ faces, and that brought joy to me.
What was it about Best Western that caught your eye as a prospective employee? And what is it that helps you maintain this interest more than a decade later?
I was originally from Canada. Best Western Hotels & Resorts had a strong brand presence in Canada. When I moved from Toronto to Phoenix, I literally moved from a “headquarter mecca” to “zero mecca.” [She laughs.] I’ve always loved sales and marketing—how intensive and fast-paced it is. I love dealing with people and putting results on the board. Best Western was one of the few companies headquartered in the Valley. The travel and hospitality space sounded fun. I was in food and beverage before, as well as retail, the car business and homebuilding, so they were all very high-touch people businesses. With travel and hospitality, I thought my skills were very transferable, especially with already being in an executive position.
What keeps me here? The people. They are wonderful to work with—from the ownership groups I’ve worked with for 14 years, to my team and my fellow counterparts. I love to lead teams. I’m extremely passionate about inspiring others to reach their professional and personal goals. I like that I am able to do that, and it’s something that really fuels me. There’s something about being able to see people exceeding even the goals they didn’t think they could get to.
I also love that my scope is really big. I’m a Type-A, driven individual who could get bored easily, but in this role I have challenges that constantly are either being thrown at me, or that I find after seeing that something might be working good, but not great. I like to ask: Is there a better way to do this?
How is your time allocated throughout the day?
Every day looks different, especially if I’m traveling. My days are jam packed with meetings. I see my role as being like an air traffic controller. I’m working with all of the various teams to ensure that the balls are kept in the air, and nothing is crashing into each other or falling down. I make sure to have time for my team members and our one-on-ones. When I’m on the road, I spend a lot of my time either persuasively selling hotel members or building relationships with them. Or, if we’re in partner meetings, it’s the same.
A lot of my thinking time is done during the morning when I’m by myself and working out. It’s my ‘me time.’ I love TED talks. I’m a huge TED talk fan. I love them because they’re generally short, inspiring and they challenge me to think.
Then, during evenings and on weekends I try to get caught up on emails. I, like many other female executives, wish there was more time in the day so I could get more done. It’s crazy if you think about it. We’re plugged in 24/7, so how much more time could we need?
In 2004 when I started at Best Western, the Internet was just starting to get going. As a marketer, the Internet was going to make my job as a marketer so much easier … The opposite happened. Now it’s the epitome of the pitfall of disruption. We haven’t stopped since. The intensity is dialed up every year. The level of change is faster than I’ve ever seen it before.
What do you contribute your growth at the company to?
A strong work ethic, perseverance and putting yourself out there.
My work ethic was instilled in me by my mom. She was a single mother who worked tireless hours to ensure I always had what I needed. Watching her in action developed a strong work ethic in me that is a big part of who I am today. And, it also reminds me that I want to pass this quality along to my kids by serving as a model for them, too.
As for perseverance, throughout my career I didn’t give up. I took a huge step backwards when I first came into Best Western 14 years ago, because at the time, I had already been a vice president of sales and marketing as well as a vice president of operations. But because I was going into a new industry, I knew I had to make a sacrifice. In this case it was my pay and title. I made the decision to do it, and I had confidence that once I got into the company, and showed them what I had, that I would be able to work my way back up again.
In terms of putting myself out there, I try new things. Things can come up that I’m not familiar with or used to, but instead of saying, “I don’t know how to do that,” I had an attitude of curiosity, asking questions and always learning. And I might not have become an expert at all these things, but it showed me that if your mind is open, you can do almost anything.
What was the most surprising aspect of working on the global rebrand for Best Western?
How many different varieties of logos you can look at, and how at the end of looking at thousands of options, you get to the perfect one. And then you’ve also got to create a signage treatment, and then that has its own thousands of variations. They all start looking alike! [She laughs.] I’ve certainly learned a lot about signage, lighting and the impact it makes.
Additionally, it’s one thing to do a rebrand under “Hotels & Resorts” but then we went from one brand to 11 brands, each with a unique style. Throughout this process, we also needed to make sure we stayed true to the testament of this amazing iconic brand that’s been around for so long and is so trusted. The ownership group embraced it, which was tremendously exciting for us. People don’t always like change, and the new rebrand is definitely a drastic change from the old one, so it’s been exciting to see that the adoption has been great.
What was your experience like filming Project Runway? How important is it to you to weave the Best Western brand into pop culture?
As part of continuing to contemporize our brand for today’s traveler, partners like Project Runway and Disney, as well as Google, are important to us. Being on Project Runway was very fun, and also nerve-wracking. I don’t get nerves often, but my goodness! It was fun to meet Tim Gunn. He is as amazing as he seems like he is on the show, and it was fun to get a sneak peek at who that season’s contestants were going to be. It’s crazy to see all that goes into a 40-second shoot. I also oversee the production for our TV spots, so I get it. But, the prep work that went into this gave me a new appreciation for Hollywood and all that they go through.
At Disney they are incredible marketers. They know their audience. They make the experience so much fun for us as brands and for the consumers. All the partners I get to work with, from Disney to Google, have incredible people. And they’ve become not just partners, but friends.
For women who are in a similar position to you, or who desire to be in a similar position to you—juggling work, work travel and a family—what tips do you have?
I haven’t figured out or mastered balance. If anyone has figured that out, let me know! Job number one for me is being a mom, but I’ve always been very career-oriented. I’ve had that fuel in my belly, and I’ve been focused to do it all. I’m fortunate in that I’m a Type-A personality, which allows me to go, go, go! But it’s not for everybody. What it’s taught me is that it’s hard to be great at one thing when you’re doing so many things, but you can be good at a lot of things.
For me, quality time with my kids is far more valuable than the quantity of time. Of course kids want their mom around most of the time, but they’re also being taught that working women can have families too. I’m thankful to have a supportive husband and to have kids who embrace the job that I have and understand that I’ll be there for some things, and maybe not all things. I try to make sure that I’m there for the moments that they need me to be there for. We have open conversation and dialogue about the fact that I do travel, and there are certain events (like birthdays) that I try to make sure I don’t miss. My kids are really supportive.
When it pertains to travel, even though I’m working the majority of the time, I enjoy waking up in the morning, drinking my cup of coffee and watching The Today Show while I put my makeup on. I do get that kind of “me” time on the road, since I’m not helping the kids get ready.
You’ve also got to make time for your girlfriends and date night! Just don’t stress yourself out over it. It’s important that you also give yourself a break, too. Don’t beat yourself up and think that you’re not good enough at work or at home. You have to realize that there is a happy medium. You’re not going to be good to anyone if you can’t figure out what boundaries are important to you. And everybody’s are different. And all this said, I’m still not great at it. There’s no question that there have been multiple times where I’ve felt guilty, but I know I’m doing the best I can.
What advice do you have for fellow women who are aspiring to hold a leadership role at a major company just like you?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. If I had listened to people who told me I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now. I don’t think anybody was malicious about it, but for whatever reason they didn’t think I could have kids and a career like this. They thought I would have to choose. The other thing is you have to make sure that you have a really good support system, because it’s difficult to do on your own. But no matter how difficult, you can’t give up on your goals and you have to keep going and figure out what it looks like for you.
Also, I’m an “always on” learner. I’m always asking questions and looking at things as they pertain to my job and the world in general. Keep your eyes open. It’s important to do this so you can be more of a generalist as opposed to a specialist. Of course in some roles, you have to be a specialist! But I think it’s important to always make sure you are learning. There is always a tidbit of learning in everything that you do. Also, don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid that you’re going to stub your toe in this world. If you do, then that hinders your ability to be all that you can and more.
I’d love to grab coffee with: Sheryl Sandberg.
My favorite saying is: Back to Sheryl Sandberg, I love it when she says to “choose joy.”
A place I want to travel to but haven’t yet been to is: Ireland or New Zealand.
I can’t live without: My Revlon lip gloss, my cell phone and my gum. I have a Mary Poppins purse. And of course, Amazon!
My favorite way to unwind is: With a glass of wine or Tito’s and soda.
I feel my best when: I’ve accomplished something.
“Don’t be afraid that you’re going to stub your toe in this world. If you do, then that hinders your ability to be all that you can and more.”