Skip to main content

The Journey to Midlife Awakening with Sue Hollis

If you’ve ever wondered if this is all there is, then you need to listen to this week’s podcast with Sue Hollis, the 60 year old who, having built the multi million dollar company TravelEdge, stepped down as CEO when she had a ‘midlife awakening’, and rode a motorbike around North America for 4 months.
Sue is not just an inspirational leader and adventurepreneur, she’s an example to us all that when you think you’ve achieved all there is to achieve, you can still strike out in a new direction. Let her be your motivator and guide and empower you on your own journey.

When Dom spoke to Sue it was 4am in Washington state and she was about to go and race superbikes around the Ridge in Seattle. That might be where she is now, but she started out in a very different place – as a corporate heavy hitter with British Airways and Qantas, before braving the wild world of entrepreneurship and starting her own business, TravelEdge. 

And it’s TravelEdge that Sue talks about today and how it led her to explore a different kind of life – the one she’s living currently.

On today’s podcast:

  • What drove Sue to step away from her highly successful career in the corporate world
  • The highs and lows of her entrepreneurship journey
  • Why she places such high impetus on values
  • How to build a company culture through your hiring process
  • Invest in your people and get the most out of them whilst they work for you 
  • Leadership can be knowing when to step aside as CEO
  • Don’t work with organisations that don’t fit your values

Links:

Imagine if you were a high flyer in the corporate world but you weren’t content, so you quit to start your own business, which you then grew to become a multi million dollar travel company – would you walk away from that too, to find out what really makes you happy? Because that is just what this week’s guest, Sue Hollis, did. In fact, she didn’t just step away from the business and take a sabbatical, she stood down as CEO. 

“I kind of woke up one morning and I realised that I loved my company, I loved my people, but I didn’t like my job. I didn’t like being CEO. And you know, I think CEOs also reach a point sometimes where they need to get out of the way.”

And so she did. 

She ditched the suits and heels of the office, and donned leathers and a helmet, and spent four months motorcycling around North America, documenting her journey in a book – “Riding Raw – the journey from empty to full

Taking the first step

Sue was, by her own admission, a hard hitter in the corporate world. A high flyer in British Airways and Qantas, but when she realised that she couldn’t affect any change in the corporate environment, she knew that didn’t fit with her personal values, and she knew that her values were more important to her than the next promotion. 

“For me, the answer was I wanted to create something that would make a difference – where I could really live my values and where I could build an environment of great culture, great people, great service delivery”.

Invest in your people

There can be a reluctance in some industries to invest in the people because they might leave the company and take the skills with them. But for Sue, that was never a concern. She witnessed early on in her career an environment where the belief was that people should be lucky to work for such a renowned company, therefore investment in employees’ growth and development was minimal.

This approach didn’t sit well with Sue. 

“People say, I don’t want to invest in my staff, because they might leave. And it’s like, God forbid, God forbid that you don’t invest in them and they stay!”

The importance of company culture

Sue and her business partner worked together at Qantas and knew that they wanted to be in business together. They didn’t know what they wanted to do, so spent time working out what their vehicle would be. They knew they had incredible talents between them and that they wanted to create a values based business. 

Having come from a culture that was tough, they wanted to create an environment where people could be encouraged to be the very best that they could, in whatever it was they were doing, both personally and professionally. As well as creating a great company culture, they wanted to create something that added amazing value to clients, and hopefully make some money.

Which is how they found themselves in corporate travel – “that’s where we could do the least damage. So that’s kind of where we started”.

The importance of values

One thing that Sue is particularly proud of creating is a business that delivered from a values perspective. They were very clear on their values from the off and the people they hired established those values. In fact, the values built the company from the ground up. 

“So our values have been, and still are, the absolute key drivers of our business. We hire and fire on them. We hold the belief that we can teach most of the required skills, but if people don’t come into our business with the right values and aren’t prepared to live them, then we don’t want them in our business”.

Book recommendations 

    Want to scale up? Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter and join a community of more than 6,000 ambitious leaders.

    Sign up today and get your copy of F**K PLAN B: How to scale your technology business faster and achieve Plan A, by Dominic Monkhouse.