Hire the human, not the resume. (When possible.) Particularly in the Service & Hospitality industries. I often like to take chances on less-experienced, enthusiastic, eager-to-learn candidates over more qualified competition. I find they’re more adaptable and easy to lead, and express their gratitude for the opportunity in the form of hard work and dedication to the job. Of course, I also understand that this philosophy may not apply to all roles in all industries, but it has yet to fail me in mine.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Cole.
Laura Cole has built her career in luxury travel working for VIPs on superyachts and private jets. Born and raised in a small town with an adventurous spirit and hunger to travel, she found her way to the niche and elusive superyacht industry thanks to a chance encounter with some “yachties” during a college spring break trip to the Caribbean. After breaking into the industry and working her way up to a senior position on a premium charter yacht, Laura shifted directions and decided to pursue the private aviation industry, where she continues to work as a Lead VIP flight attendant to this day.
Recognizing the interest and desirability in her unique career path, and the lack of resources available to those who were interested in a similar vocation, Laura created and developed the world’s premier career guidance platform for VIP service positions on superyachts and private jets: Tides & Tailwinds.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have to credit most of my arrival here to great people and amazing luck. I was raised in a small town, middle class family which valued homelife, comfort and consistency. I’ve always been explorative by nature and hungry for a big, travel-filled life, but wasn’t raised in an environment where this seemed possible. So while my friends were planning their accounting, pharmaceutical, and marketing careers, I struggled to find a direction that would allow me to make a respectable living while still fulfilling my desire to see the world.
As luck would have it, I met and got to know a group of “yachties” (industry nickname for ‘yacht crew’) on a spring break trip to the Caribbean in college. Their lifestyle COMPLETELY fascinated me. Imagine living and working on board a luxurious superyacht and traveling to exotic locations all over the world for a living… it seemed unreal.
Fast forward a few years — after college graduation, some unfulfilling corporate jobs, and a few tumultuous life events, I decided to pursue the superyacht lifestyle that so fascinated me on that trip to the Caribbean. I spent a few years working extremely hard to ensure a move up to high ranking positions on superyachts, cruising my way around exotic ports all over the Caribbean, Bahamas, and New England. In my experience I was able to absorb and master VIP service knowledge and develop an ease and comfort with high echelon clientele. Eventually though, I was hungry for a sense of home and land-life.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the private aviation industry by a good friend and former yacht crew mate. I found the same fascination with the private jet industry as I had when I first learned of the superyacht industry all those years ago. I’d still get to travel the world for a great living, but instead of living on board with guests and catering to them 24/7, most often I get to drop them off, check into lodging, and explore wherever we are until they’re ready to return. I navigated my way through the training and hiring processes of becoming a VIP Flight Attendant and have been working in the industry ever since. I’m incredibly grateful that I’m in a role that still allows me to continue to travel the world for a living, but also have the balance of a homelife and the time to launch and run my career guidance platform Tides & Tailwinds, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I actually have one from just a couple weeks ago. To preface, in my superyacht experience, it wasn’t uncommon for repeat guests to become friendly with the crew and request to follow us on social media platforms. I never had a problem with this, as I don’t post anything overly personal, and it’s always nice to keep connections.
One of these guests, a self-made father of an amazing family I had the pleasure of working for multiple times, reached out to me recently and said that ever since their vacations on our charter yacht, his daughter, (who was in her teens at the time), has wanted to become a yacht stewardess. This seemed a bit ironic to me as her father is worth WELL into the millions, and her aspirations are essentially to be the “help” for families like her own, but she was drawn to our “yachtie” lifestyle and he was supportive and encouraging of her ambitions. He asked if I had any advice for her on getting a job, so I was elated to present the Tides & Tailwinds platform and offer personal career coaching.
I’ve been working with her for the past couple weeks to plan her transition into the industry. While I love any opportunity to offer Tides & Tailwinds for its intended purpose, what I love most about this story is that these careers can be intriguing and desirable for all types of people, even those that come from enough wealth to be the guests we work for. I’m thrilled to be a part of her journey and excited to see how it plays out for her.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Honestly my best stories aren’t necessarily from building Tides & Tailwinds, as much as they are from my experiences as a superyacht stew and private jet flight attendant, and trust me — I have no shortage of anecdotes. In terms of funny mistakes when I was first starting, and lessons I learned from it, I think I’d have to go with the following:
On one of my first Private Jet flights, I was setting up the aircraft waiting to collect a group of passengers from their vacation on a remote Greek Isle. Thirty minutes before they were supposed to board, I received a message from the family assistant asking to have 10 Bloody Mary cocktails waiting for them upon arrival. Unfortunately, the airplane galley (kitchen) wasn’t well stocked with ingredients, and the only two Bloody Mary mix bottles I could find had expired several months prior.
What I DID find, however, were the following items: Campbell’s tomato soup, soy sauce, sriracha, garlic powder, and a nearly empty jar of pickles. I was up for a full-time job with this aircraft, and desperate not to disappoint the owners. So I threw a ‘hail mary’ and tossed all of these ingredients together with some salt pepper and pizza seasoning, and garnished the glasses properly with a lemon and celery stick.
When the passengers boarded, I had my very questionable-tasting but authentic-looking “Bloody Marys” waiting for them on a silver platter… my “Special House Recipe.” I watched terrified as the group toasted and proceeded to take their first sips… only to have them gush about how these were the best Bloodies they ever had and ask for three more rounds for the remainder of the flight.
These are the lessons I learned:
A) Resourcefulness is everything in these industries.
B) Check your stock and expiration dates before every trip, and be prepared for EVERY request.
C) Drink many cocktails in the name of education in case you need to replicate flavors in a pinch.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Tides & Tailwinds stands out because it’s the only resource of its kind. I’ve spent a lot of my career verbally trying to educate curious others as to how I went about getting the niche and exciting jobs that I have working on Superyachts & Private Jets. Realizing there truly was so little information out there about this line of work, but a strong desire for people like me to build a career traveling, I built this platform from scratch to help guide members through my footsteps and set them up for success.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! At the moment we’re putting together a blog series called “industry icons” which is where we team up with strong voices in the superyacht and private jet industries and discuss their background, professional experiences, their journey to their current roles, and advice they’d have for newcomers breaking in. I think these discussions will be invaluable to our members as they get a variety of perspectives and stories from people who’ve already succeeded in their luxury travel careers.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I actually received this piece of advice from a former boss, who is a well-known self made founder & CEO of a very recognizable US company. “The key to success is to surround yourself with employees who are better than you are. …Just don’t let them know it.” I laughed at the time, but with experience, I understand his words a bit more clearly. Your team is your nervous system, and they need to be treated as such. I think particularly as women, we need to heed this advice and practice our intuitive judgement in our hiring processes. Choose not only the people who will add strength with their knowledge and skillset, but who can demonstrate a team-player attitude and respect for our decisions and leadership.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Frankly, I’m not the best person to answer this. In my work as a chief stew and lead flight attendant, teams were rather small and intimate. The Tides & Tailwinds platform is also specifically designed to be a self-sufficient, smaller operation to accommodate unknown travel schedules. But in my experience, I find people respond best to inclusion, words of affirmation, and leading by example. If each individual on the team feels like they’re adding their own value and are appreciated, they become hungry to provide more. If they see their leaders working hard and creating a warm and inclusive workspace, they’ll most often follow by example. Listen to what they have to say, address their concerns, and encourage their growth.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Well Tides & Tailwinds at its core is a collection of very niche expertise from my extremely unique career on superyachts and private jets — both of which are challenging industries to navigate in their own right. I think I owe my greatest gratitude to the people who first took the time to educate me on these jobs, and those who took their chances on me when I came in green. My first Superyacht captain brought me on with absolutely no boating experience and taught me the ins and outs of the job and industry from the ground up. My first freelance Private Jet flight was offered to me by a pilot who simply said “you seem cool and everyone needs their first break.” A few months later my first full time VIP flight attendant job was offered to me by an account who knew I was still a very inexperienced flyer, but who appreciated my hunger to learn. It’s those defining people and those defining moments that I credit to being where I am, and through Tides & Tailwinds I’m doing my best to pay it forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m fully aware that my career has given me a very “selfish” life that I’m incredibly grateful for. I try to express this gratitude with kindness and generosity at every opportunity on a personal level. As a company, we donate quietly to various charities and industry scholarships to offer opportunities that we’ve been been so lucky to have. That said, more can always be done and I and look forward to giving back in many more tangible ways as we grow upward.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Everyone has a unique leadership style, so develop yours using your own strengths. I’m personally not an overly dominant person or great with confrontation. It took me some time to learn that this doesn’t mean I can’t be a strong leader in my own way with interpersonal communication, taking individual interest in the growth of my team members, and setting a strong example through my actions.
- Never stop learning. It seems obvious, but I think too many leaders become complacent because of their rank, position, or knowledgebase. Keep learning, absorbing, and growing no matter what level you’re at, and your team will grow with you.
- Hire the human, not the resume. (When possible.) Particularly in the Service & Hospitality industries. I often like to take chances on less-experienced, enthusiastic, eager-to-learn candidates over more qualified competition. I find they’re more adaptable and easy to lead, and express their gratitude for the opportunity in the form of hard work and dedication to the job. Of course, I also understand that this philosophy may not apply to all roles in all industries, but it has yet to fail me in mine.
- Know your limits and practice effective delegating. This one is always hard for me. I can be a bit of a control freak and genuinely enjoy work, but I dig myself into a lot of holes by taking on too much and realizing only after it’s too late that I could have prevented it with better delegation.
- Involve your team in decision making when possible. I rarely approach a big decision without obtaining a few opinions and perspectives on it first. Not only does this practice open my eyes to angles I perhaps hadn’t considered before, but it boosts team morale as a result when they feel like their opinions are important, heard, and considered.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well first, I think “great influence” feels like quite the overstatement. But to answer your question, I think the most incredible privilege of traveling for a career is a greater understanding of humanity. You realize that you have this humanity in common with every person you meet in the world — no matter their background, race, orientation, or life circumstance. There’s just no room for unwarranted prejudices when you’ve been exposed to and connected with so many other types of humans than yourself. With the influence of recent world events, I suppose my loose idea of a “movement” would be to start creating more travel opportunities for the isolated or underprivileged to foster connection and appreciation between people of diverse cultures. I firmly believe hate can be reduced with exposure, education. understanding, and appreciation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is necessary, then, to cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” — Walter D. Wattles
Walter D. Wattles claimed this as an indisputable, scientific fact. That the more gratitude you have for all aspects of your life, essentially the better your life is guaranteed to become. The start of my career on superyachts was actually the result of a tumultuous life circumstance I needed to break free from in my mid 20’s. After a mourning period of resenting the universe and feeling sorry for myself, I shifted my mindset to practicing gratitude for the new life ahead of me because of it. Within weeks, I noticed a remarkable and undeniable shift in blessings and opportunities entering my life. I realized maybe it wasn’t a coincidence, and this guy Walter might actually be on to something. I continued to practice this gratitude through all of the many ups and downs of my life journey, forever learning, absorbing, and growing more confident that the lows will bring new highs. I love what my life has become and I wonder if I’d be in the same place if I hadn’t practiced this gratitude for every single experience that’s brought me here.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I have to pick just one living human? I’m going to say Reese Witherspoon. But before you roll your eyes at my cliche ‘Hollywood celebrity’ answer, let me explain why. I’m forever in awe with this woman’s talent, entrepreneurial spirit, down-to-earth warmth, time management skills, and humble grace. If you don’t already know, not only is she an Academy Award winning actress, but in the last decade, she founded an extremely successful clothing line, launched an iconic, first-of its kind production company focusing on female writers and stories, practiced tremendous philanthropy for women empowerment through multiple organizations, produced and starred in dozens of critically acclaimed movies and TV productions, maintained an incredible relationship with her fanbase, all while raising three children and becoming a beacon for fellow women entrepreneurs worldwide. Plus, I imagine she’s really fun to have mimosas with, so I’d have to propose a ‘private brunch’ instead.
How can our readers connect with you on social media?
Most of our social media interaction is on Instagram @tidesandtailwinds