Thursday, September 27, 2018

Atlanta's Becky Lamb Travel Celebrates 25 Years of Exceptional Global Travel Experiences

Like so many, as a child Becky Farmer dreamed of traveling the world. Yet she did not know how she might go about doing that.

She was a good student growing up in the north suburbs of Atlanta, active as a cheerleader and in a myriad of extracurricular activities. 

Becky ventured to Centre College in Kentucky to earn a degree. She followed that with 10 years of successful radio sales jobs in Lexington and Atlanta.

Along the way she married Martin Lamb, her high school sweetheart. She took a few years off to have a son and daughter.

Soon thereafter Becky Lamb found her life's calling.

With only her gift for sales, passion for travel and zero business ownership experience, she hung out her shingle. 

Becky Lamb Travel was born.

A quarter of a century later, thousands of world travelers are thankful for that birth.

Becky Lamb Travel started in her home. Her primary tools were a magnetic personality, an extensive Rolodex and a telephone. The first two have blossomed and grown. The third thankfully got smaller and smarter. An obscure invention called the internet also helped.

Never intending to "do travel agency like everyone else", Becky took a different approach from day one. She did not aspire to 
specialize in one certain region or mode of travel.

Instead, she asked customers what kind of travel memories they
wanted to create. Whether it was an undiscovered destination or new extreme experience, Becky then suggested options limited only by a world atlas. She applies that same approach today.

In the decades since, Becky has led groups and sent voyagers to all seven continents. Six, if you go by certain expert opinions that Europe and Asia are one. Becky does not split hairs over such details. She prefers to simply exceed expectations.

"My philosophy has always been that travel should not be a passive experience. Those words do not really even make sense together. Yet some travel is rather dumbed down to only 'going along for the ride'. I have always encouraged clients to learn and grow."

As one would expect, Becky Lamb Travel has grown its staff of travel experts. Some advisors indeed specialize in cruises, wine tours, cuisine or certain destinations. Yet each bears their own magnetic personality and shares Becky's standards of excellence.

As a Viruoso Member, Becky Lamb Travel is recognized as one of the top agencies in the world. Virtuoso is the world's leading travel consortium, giving member agencies access to resources available to no one else.

Becky cites just one of many examples: 

"We regularly save our clients thousands on business class & first class air travel. We have access to unpublished fares that clients can't get without our help. Before someone books a premium ticket they should give us a call. Not calling could cost them thousands."

Becky summarizes what she and her staff offer as best she can:

"A vacation is about beautiful experiences, bonding and relaxation. When you choose us as your travel advisor, all of the details and stresses of traveling are erased.

A driver will pick you and your fellow vacationers up at the airport, a private guide can show you all the hidden treasures of your location, and you can focus only on leisure pleasures.

We have researched and curated thousands of resorts and destinations to ensure that our clients are only provided with the 
most elite set of experiences the world has to offer."

Nothing confirms excellence better than the words of customers who enjoy the Becky Farmer Travel experience.

Discover for yourself the pleasure that thousands of customers before you have known for 25 years. 

Contact Becky Lamb Travel today to begin planning your next memories of a lifetime.


Becky Lamb Travel

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Anatomy of an IT Pioneer

In the early 1980's Brad Sloan was a recent University of Georgia grad trying to make a living in sales. He repped for a German manufacturer offering technology essential to production of US military aircraft.

A specialty of Sloan's German employer was operating efficiency. On an early sales call to a major defense contractor, one of the Germans with Sloan said to another, "This company is operating in the Stone Age. How do they stay in business?"

Little did the German know that a defense contractor staffer understood his language. After a brief pow wow one of the Americans called Sloan aside. "Get those (expletive) foreigners out of our building, and do not bring them back."

Sloan and his colleagues departed as ordered. Sloan later returned, with the comment. "They meant no harm. Efficiency is what they know best. What if we could show you how to eliminate several steps in your production process without sacrificing quality?"

That got the contractor's attention. Sloan followed up with different Germans in tow and presented solutions that in fact pared down productions steps as promised.

An IT pioneer was born.

Fast forward to 2006. Brad Sloan was selling operating efficiency for a different employer, calling on a different tech customer.

Sloan's customer had just been awarded a $600 million government contract to perform a time sensitive mission.

Sloan asked his senior level client contact, "How many engineers will you need to hire to execute this project?"

The client replied, "Hundreds."

"How long does it take you to recruit and hire a single qualified engineer?"

"About 9 weeks."

"If you multiply those 9 weeks by hundreds of engineers, doesn't the hiring process become lengthier and more complex? What if I showed you how to shorten that hiring process to 10 days?"

Sloan's contact pondered for a moment and got her CEO on the phone. She asked a couple of questions, and the CEO immediately called Sloan and her to his office.

Sloan asked a few more strategic questions. Soon the CEO's office was filled with every C-Level executive in the corporation.

Sloan continued to ask questions no one else had asked, let alone answered. Weeks later, armed with correct answers, Sloan proposed the strategy and tactics to hire hundreds of qualified engineers in under three weeks.

Brad Sloan studied management sciences in college. His grandfather and father were efficiency engineers, though certainly not by those titles. Sloan had the rare combination of MS training and sales instincts when he began his professional career.

Though he now holds over a dozen industry certifications and specialist designations, Sloan hardly calls himself an IT pioneer.

"What is an IT pioneer anyway? I am just a guy who got some training to think logically and ask the right questions. I guess I also benefit from having no fear of knocking on the right doors and posing those questions to C-Level executives."

"When I got started in this business no one called what we did IT. We spoke in terms of business process performance improvement. We understood that what got measured got done. So we learned how to measure stuff no one else measured. Then we figured out how to eliminate wasteful activities at many levels."

Sloan has impacted for more than production efficiency. At one employer he shortened a complex sales cycle from 30 months to one year. Sales efficiency begets production efficiency, distribution efficiency and more. The picture becomes clear.

"I often went in to client calls with a bag phone and early laptops almost the size and weight of a microwave oven. They were indeed clunky tools, but they offered technology few others had available."

"Even today we start by collecting data. We then do what I long ago dubbed S.O.A.R. Analyze the situation, identify opportunity, recommend action and measure results."

"In virtually every process we can enhance throughput. The result is not only significant financial savings, but also geeky bragging rights. My clients and I enjoy both almost equally."

More often than not, Sloan has presented solutions that profoundly impact his customers' performance across a broad array of measurable standards.

And at age 62, Sloan has just begun.

"I will work as long as I am able. What I do is immense fun. I never tire of a new challenge. Young wizards may have the latest academic training, but that can not match the depth and breadth of experience I bring to the table. That is not a boast. It is just fact."

Indeed. One would do well to trust the wisdom and experience of Brad Sloan.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Cloud Changes Our World in Many Ways ~ A Concrete Example

The basic premise is easy enough to understand.

Whether you have a desktop computer with a central processing unit - or a data center with acres of mainframes, "the cloud" is your new alternative.

The cloud is sometimes called, derisively and otherwise, "someone else's computer". This is correct in a way, and it is the subject for a different conversation some other time.

The gist of the cloud is you can scrap that desktop CPU or acres of mainframes and put all the stuff you have there on someone else's computer.

Image result for large computers

This leads you to the question:

On whose computer do you want to put your stuff?

Options abound. The desktop owner will certainly have less to worry about than the owner of mainframes. 

The owner of mainframes has much to consider. 

  • Do we move all of our stuff or only some? 
  • Do we move our stuff all at once or in stages?
  • How will we know no one else can see our stuff?

The questions only begin there. And we shall not attempt to provide the answers here.

Image result for cloud computing

Suffice it to say that companies like Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon Web Services are all competing to dominate the cloud.

Let's say you have evaluated your cloud needs, selected the right cloud vendor and moved all of your stuff to the cloud. 

Let's say you are in the concrete business. In a big way. You have major projects in progress around the globe. Major clients want to know when you have poured your concrete, because other major contractors are waiting to do what they must do after your concrete is poured.

Image result for rebar concrete

Not so long ago you would have to rely on field engineers and on-site personnel to report when they started to pour concrete. They had to relay that information in a manual or semi-automated manner to people who needed to know. 

Many along the way may have doubted the veracity of such information. Field personnel have been known to exaggerate or just plain lie to save themselves or their employer's hide. After all, millions of dollars are at stake, perhaps in performance incentives, future projects - or survival of the company itself.

Consider this very real alternative using cloud based technology. Before you pour the first drop of concrete, you affix sensors to underlying rebar. Those sensors communicate to the cloud the instant they are dampened by concrete.

Image result for rebar concrete

Within moments the entire population who needs to know knows. With certainty. There is no denying it. No delayed communications. No questionable field reports. You have done what you committed to do when you said you would do it.

Imagine then what that means to the client or clients who hired you to pour concrete. They just saved precious time and dollars. They may now turn to the next contractors and hold their hands to the fire to perform on time. 

Heaven forbid those next contractors do not have cloud based accountability built into their processes. Your client and theirs will not want to hear that fields reports are delayed or unreliable.  

You have spoiled your clients. You saved them untold hours and dollars. You made them look like rock stars to their clients.

You are a Concrete Rock Star!!!

All of this is possible today. It is not news to some, but it may come as a surprise to many.

Yet a company can not facilitate this capability in an instant. It begins with deciding what to do with all that stuff on your mainframes. It is a good idea to get started now.

Image result for get started now

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Atlanta ASHRAE Show ~ No Tools Required, Deflating Giant Logos & Previously Unspoken Hijinks

Long ago I was a Chicago account executive for a global producer of trade show exhibits. Among my clients was a global producer of air conditioning equipment with a frugal marketing budget headquartered in a Lutheran intensive state north of Illinois.

My challenge was to produce for this client a massive exhibit at 1/2 the cost of a typical project that size. The company wanted to make a big cheap splash at ASHRAE, the HVAC industry's annual convention. That year ASHRAE was at Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center.

Enter the legendary Frank Vavpotic, director of the design staff at my 'shop'. Frank conceived an inexpensive solution that was brilliant on several fronts.

The exhibit backwall consisted of a new NTR system. NTR stood for No Tools Required, mass produced panels that connected via built in cleats. This would stymie even the most creative convention center union shop steward, who would be unable to prevent an exhibitor from assembling their own display.

The client wanted their logo to be prominently featured as frequently and frugally as possible. Frank again came up with the perfect means to achieve that - gimongo inflatables. Think Santa Fe Balloon Festival, only a little smaller, inflated by continuous fans instead of hot air and no passengers.

The hard to please Lutheran clientele were thrilled with Frank's work and could not wait to put their megabudget ASHRAE competitors to exhibit hall shame.

I worked with two ladies of Scandinavian lineage in day to day communications, Astrid and Inga. Their boss was Ole, a conservative man also of Scandinavian lineage. Think Prairie Home Companion's Pastor Ingqvist, only not ordained to my knowledge.

Those are not their real names. But they are Scandinavian names.

These are not Astrid or Inga, who were only slightly older yet just as blonde. However, I am confident these two are Scandinavian.

As ASHRAE approached Inga phoned with some questions.

"You are from Atlanta. I am working on an after hours guide for staff working the show. What restaurants do you recommend?"

I tried to beg out, "But I left Atlanta 10 years ago. A lot has changed."

Inga replied, "Give it your best shot."

She clearly wanted me to be her Yelp before there was a Yelp. Her company was too miserly to spring for a Fodor's guide. I was a bought and paid for commissioned salesperson who lacked the imagination to figure out how to charge for my city guide services.

I reeled off a list of Atlanta dining institutions I was pretty sure had not closed. It was not a large list, as 
in those days the city rolled up downtown sidewalks precisely at 5:01 PM. I threw in The Varsity without warning, suggesting their CEO host only top national accounts there to celebrate prosperity and thank them for loyal patronage. 

Inga continued, "What about gentlemen's clubs?"

"Uh, excuse me?"

"You heard me. What about gentlemen's clubs? Our staff will want to know about all of Atlanta's famous landmarks."

"Okay, I know people who once attended bachelor parties at a few of those. In descending order of cost and talent, they are The Gold Club, Cheetah 3 and Tattletale (tie), Classy Cat following as a close number 4 ... on down to Clermont Lounge. Sorry, only the names of those 17 come to mind. From what I'm told."

Inga and I had apparently completed her questionnaire, so we ended the call.

Weeks later Inga, Astrid, Ole and I were in Atlanta to set up ASHRAE. Their frugal marketing budget did not allow for a rental car, so I was their uncompensated commissioned salesperson chauffeur.

At the World Congress Center all went beautifully. Though Georgia is a right to work state, show labor guys were more than a little ticked off by the NTR panels even Scandinavian females could install without breaking a sweat or hiring show labor guys.

Then came the time to inflate Frank's half dozen gimongo logo balloons. We had time to test only one in Chicago, so I prayed all would hold air and there would be no Hindenburg experience. At least not before I left town.

I know, the Hindenburg was a dirigible, not a balloon. Do not confuse me with facts.

One by one each logo balloon inflated beautifully, their humming fans creating a soothing white noise. The results looked fluffy and inviting. As all on the show floor took notice, Inga, Astrid, Ole and I chuckled with smug yet relieved satisfaction.

This is not Ole, who was considerably older and not blonde. But I know this guy is Scandinavian.

I then reminded all of Frank's recommendation. "You need to tether those balloons to the ceiling in case of a power failure."

Astrid replied, "We remember. Nah. Too expensive, and we've never seen an exhibit hall power failure."

This what tethering equipment would have looked like. Surprisingly the operator is not on union break.

I had seen show hall power failures, but I could earn no commission off of a rigger tethering balloons, so I held my tongue.

On the eve of ASHRAE opening day the four of us dined at some downtown restaurant that managed to not go out of business. As I was driving them to their hotel, either Astrid or Inga asked, "So where is the nearest gentlemen's club?"

I replied, "Good question. If my Motorola bag phone battery was not toast I would call some friend who has been to one and might know."

"Shut up except to answer the question Pete. Where is the nearest gentlemen's club? Today is Ole's birthday."

I began to perspire and hope the red light would turn green real fast. It did not.

"Okay, if I remember correctly from what my friends have told me, The Gold Club is 3 blocks east and one block north. Cheetah 3 is 2 blocks west and 2/3s of a block south. For Tattletail I would have to make a U-turn. Clermont is closest but it scares me. I mean what friends have said about it scares me. Don't we have an early morning and big day tomorrow? Boy am I beat!"

Said Astrid, "You can take a nap on the plane tomorrow. It is Ole's birthday. Take us to the Cheetah 3."

I felt the urgent need to ask Ole about this and tell him it could be dangerous. I might have described the image below.

As usual stoic Ole was not speaking up. Astrid and Inga were in charge that night. The light finally turned green, and I hung a left.

In the parking lot Astrid pulled me aside and instructed, "Give Ole dollar bills tonight. No way we can spend company money or our own at a place like this."

The thought occurred to me that a little heads up would have been nice. I didn't necessarily leave the hotel that AM with a wad of singles. I checked my wallet and was relieved to find I had enough to get by unless Inga and Astrid intended for us to pull an all nighter.

We entered, I put the cover charge on my AmEx and we were seated stageside. Astrid and Inga drew stares from the mostly male audience, who likely hoped it was amateur night. Their presence also drew the attention of dancing talent on stage. Whenever a dancer approached, as they did nonstop, Inga would explain with a straight face, "It's that guy's birthday. He's our boss. Entertain him."

Dancers hovered around birthday boy Ole for a couple of hours. I shoved dollars into his hand under the table, and he stuffed them in garters. Astrid and Inga sat by and nursed their two drink minimums with subdued but bemused grins. I kept hoping they might decide it was amateur night, but the outcome of that probably would not have been conducive to that company's longevity as my client.

We departed, and I drove the threesome to their hotel in pregnant silence. I returned to my hotel for a blissful 3 hours of sleep.

The next morning we all arrived at the Congress Center as refreshed as possible for ASHRAE opening day. My clients graciously agreed to cab it, sparing me the 1 hour round trip rush hour 1/2 mile drive had I again been expected to be their cab driver.

ASHRAE opened with great fanfare. All was well, my job was done and I bid good luck and farewell before departing for the airport.

Back in Chicago t
he next morning, I arrived at the office to find a note on my desk. It was a phone message from Astrid. There indeed had been a Hindenburg experience.

Ten minutes after I left ASHRAE the balloon fans apparently overloaded a circuit, power blew out, and six logos concurrently wilted, coming to rest atop No Tools Required panels below. It was two hours before electricians could run enough additional juice to attempt safe and reliable logo reinflation.

I was not certain if Astrid called to place blame or confess they should have heeded our balloon tethering suggestions. Had she blamed me I intended to blame Frank Vavpotic.

I had not yet had nearly enough coffee and grabbed a double o
n the way to Frank's office. I sat down and shared with him this high profile corporate event experience for the ages that neither of us could talk about for at least a decade.

Last week Frank and I reconnected. Over the years he set aside his design skills and went on to become a successful sales exec and CEO at major trade show companies. While on the phone there was too little time for me to recount the ASHRAE saga. Thus the inspiration to recount it here.

Frank, I dedicate this memory to you.