Bringing people together: a story by Barbara Yarar

April 8, 2020 Barbara Yarar

Barbara Yarar, Vice President - Operations, Travel and TransportIntegration. You hear about it all the time. Bringing people together. Developing process improvements. Answering questions. Combating uncertainties.

It was all ahead for me.

As I arrived in the UK on Monday, March 2, I was embarking on a new adventure as Travel and Transport completed our integration with our UK office from an operations standpoint. I was scheduled to immerse myself in the office for three weeks to get to know the team, embrace cultural nuances and work in a collaborative effort to develop new processes for efficiency and excellence for our clients.

I was graciously welcomed by Mervyn Williamson, managing director of our UK office, and his team. Operations Manager Jayne Flatman immediately took me under her wing and allowed me to engage and participate with her amazing team from minute one! I was comforted by being 80% familiar and 20% knowing I was given an opportunity to expand and enhance my experiences and knowledge. Respecting the latter, while embracing collaboration into all areas, allowed us to create healthy synergies on key projects and solutions to problems borne out of “real-time” situations and day-to-day business demands.

As we worked through our meeting plans, something was lurking that had all intentions to disrupt our agenda. Something that would result in unexpected opportunities for harnessing our teams’ collective experience. COVID-19.

By March 4, our team was in full COVID-19 crisis planning mode. We knew it was time to come together as one integrated team and immediately work through situations that our industry has never seen before.

The needs of our customers were coming in at a fast pace, and our employees jumped into action in many ways. The immediate slowdown in business due to COVID-19 allowed us to rotate shifts/schedules with our UK daytime travel advisors. Remaining focused on the need for cost containment, we covered the full spectrum of out-of-hours shifts without adding to headcount, which immediately elevated the service levels for our customers. Work-from-home setup for our office workers occurred overnight through the support of many internal departments who all pulled together to support one another and move rapidly, as time was not on our side.

All of these specific initiatives and so many others were on our roadmap for 2020-21 but were incredibly escalated due to this worldwide pandemic.  

The collaboration and flexibility of the operations leadership and the travel advisor teams working at all levels to make this a reality was beyond impressive. The level of care and commitment to the customer that I was seeing was palpable among the UK team, and it was impressive beyond measure to see how quickly everyone stepped up. Integration did indeed occur.

My trip was cut short by a week due to the travel bans. My journey back to New York was a stark and rude awakening to our new reality as I boarded the last United flight from Heathrow to New York. I was stunned at how very alone I felt as I made my journey home. 

As I settled into my seat feeling a great sense of sadness for our industry and the world, I reflected on my past two weeks with my new team. A team unsure of what integration could look like but who jumped in to effect incredible change for our clients and our company.

What had transpired in a week left me in awe. I’ve always felt tremendously fortunate and proud to belong to and work alongside my Travel and Transport family. Overnight my family expanded, and I cherish every moment I spent with our UK Travel and Transport family. They are brilliant, passionate, intelligent, engaged and, most importantly, a perfect cultural fit. We are one, and together we will weather this storm.  

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