Iris Serbanescu, Manager, Trade Development

Iris is the Manager of Trade Development at Bannikin, a consultancy firm focused on helping niche tourism grow. 

What is your morning routine?

The first thing I do when I wake up (after I’ve snoozed my alarm clock a sufficient amount of times) is a meditative full-body “scan”: while I’m still lying in bed, I consciously draw my mental attention to every part of my body in sequence, spending about 10 seconds on each area, really checking in and paying attention to it. It’s the best minute I spend all day. I get out of bed feeling grounded, present and tuned in to the experience of life.

Once I’m out of bed, I sip a cappuccino while glancing at my emails (but without responding to anything — that’s for later), pull up my calendar to see what’s on the docket for the day and the evening, then carve out a couple of 15 minute “technology-free” blocks. These blocks, for me, are essential to feeling productive and calm the rest of the day. As a bonafide Type A individual, if I want to stick to anything — be it a workout or “me” time — I just schedule it in my iCal like an appointment.

Tell us about your career path.

Immediately after earning my BBA from Laurier in 2009, I was offered a position as a Junior Broker at a world-leading corporate insurance brokerage on its “Fast-Track to Management” program. Despite being surrounded by wonderful mentors, I knew the industry wasn’t for me. I wanted to pour my heart and soul into something that evoked memories of my most deeply-felt moments: being outside of my comfort zone in the pursuit of travel.

I jumped off the deep end by quitting a “successful” but unfulfilling job, moving back home with my parents at 23, and enrolling in Humber College’s Tourism Management diploma program. I really knew virtually nothing about what opportunities there were in this industry. I just knew I wanted to work in a strategic role to consult, work with clients and make a difference in the tourism industry — and I believed I could get it.

After a summer internship at the Four Seasons in Prague, and an amazing introduction to the travel industry working in preferred supplier relationships and marketing at a luxury travel agency, I found my calling — Trade Development at Bannikin, a consultancy firm focused on helping niche tourism businesses grow through sales support, marketing and public relations.

In Trade Development, we work with our clients — small businesses or government bodies — to create relationships and new sales channels using our network of North American and European outbound travel companies. Starting out as Account Manager, and now in my current role as Manager, I have the opportunity to attract new clients in Chile, Scotland, Ireland, Ecuador, Colombia, and even New Brunswick. The role has helped me cultivate my analytical and strategic thinking skills, my understanding of how to build a sales pipeline, and to realize how crucial relationship-building is to success. Not to mention I get to truly travel the world.

What challenges do you or women face in your industry?

As a gay woman who openly identifies as such, I’m faced with constantly coming out to people I meet for the first time, or even to peers I’ve known for a while. Adventure travel, a niche segment of the industry where my work is mostly focused, tends to be more male-dominated than other segments of the travel industry. Though I’m out at work and to everyone in my life, sometimes the implicit assumption that I’m heterosexual can be an edge in a male-dominated environment — and not correcting people when they ask if I have a boyfriend can leave me with a knot in my stomach, both knowing that I’m hiding something to “fit in” and that hiding it means I could more easily reach my career goals.

Working for a global business means working in and with exotic countries and across different cultures, which means witnessing the varying perceptions of women’s worth, value and respectability. I’ve been genuinely both moved and disgusted by the stories of the women I meet around the world about what it’s like to have their opinions and value denied. I see it in meetings, and I even experience it firsthand, whether on the road or in the boardroom. It’s so subtle, but it’s so there. Working cross-culturally can be both a blessing and curse in this way — sometimes ignorance is bliss, you know?

What advice would you give to young girls who want to be the NEXT you?

Don’t limit your career ideas to what currently exists. When I was in school for my second career, the company I work for now didn’t exist, and that was only five years ago. I had no idea where I was going with that diploma, but I still believed business consulting was the best application of my unique blend of skills. Figure out your unique blend and keep it top of mind when job hunting. It makes you desirable to potential employers because then they know what value you bring. For me at least, the key to happiness at work has been making sure my role uses all my strengths to their maximum potential.

Embrace the side of you that you might question as “too feminine'” or “not dominant enough” in the workplace. You’ll find that’s what sets you apart, builds trust and keeps you genuine. Finally, surround yourself with hard workers and people you feel you can learn from. My mentor once told me, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

How do you separate work life from your personal life?

When you work in a field born out of your passion that most people consider “leisure,” it’s hard not to intertwine your job with the rest of your life. I caught myself on vacation in Nicaragua last year picturing what it would be like to consult with the tourism board on how to develop infrastructure for active, culinary or cultural niche markets. At trade conferences, I’m surrounded by people I respect and admire, and we often make such strong connections as colleagues that we frequently give each other life updates or plan trips together. I love that I get to blend business with leisure, and I actually strive to have a work life that I don’t feel I really need to separate from my personal life. Working for a company that emphasizes personal life over work also takes some pressure off.

What inspires you?

My leadership at work: my directors Shannon and Jillian. As two young women who started a business five years ago, they have built and grown one of the few companies of its kind in the industry. Aside from the big picture things — the company’s commitment to ethics, their constant questioning of the status quo — I am inspired by their ability to approach everything with a sense of calm and a critical, savvy mindset.

Watching a small business grow because of the chemistry between a group of people has been so rewarding. My colleagues, who care so much about our clients and their success, and our clients themselves, who are almost all owner-operated small travel businesses or extremely passionate government/tourism board professionals, are what keep my ideas flowing, my spirits high, and my desire for excellence strong.

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