None of the giants being inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame would have been a shoo-in for “most likely to succeed” in high school. Robert Stevens went to Slippery Rock University, the only college that accepted him based on his grades. Joseph E. Robert Jr. was kicked out of Mount St. Mary’s and never graduated—though the school later awarded him an honorary doctorate. When Gloria Bohan was teaching remedial reading and English in one of New York City’s worst neighborhoods, nobody would have pegged her as a future travel tycoon. This year’s laureates prove it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.
Twenty-three years ago, The Washingtonian, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and Junior Achievement of Greater Washington created the Washington Business Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame dinner and awards ceremony benefits Junior Achievement and its programs that teach financial literacy and entrepreneurship to area students. In 2011, JA sent more than 3,000 volunteers into schools to help 47,000-plus students. At Junior Achievement Finance Park, more than 14,000 Washington-area middle-schoolers are getting hands-on lessons in money management. For information about the November 29 Hall of Fame dinner at the Marriott Wardman Park, contact Junior Achievement at 202-777-4473.
Cruising to the top of the travel industry
Schoolteacher Gloria Bohan was on her honeymoon cruise in 1971 when she noticed that others onboard were getting special treatment. They were travel agents, she discovered.
Bohan had moved from New York to Washington because her new husband was planning to go into real estate in Fredericksburg. Back on dry land, the honeymooners learned that a small travel agency in Woodbridge was for sale. Bohan decided to buy it. Forty years later, Omega World Travel has more than 100 offices and more than $1 billion in annual revenue.
Omega is the largest travel agency founded, operated, and majority-owned by a woman as well as one of the top 500 women-owned businesses in the United States.
The travel industry was very different when Bohan started. Profits came mainly from commissions paid by airlines. When airlines stopped paying commissions, Bohan realized she had to change. She diversified into business and government as well as leisure travel. She embraced the Internet early and set up on-site travel offices in corporations and government agencies. She supplied 24-hour customer service. Omega now offers technology consulting for other travel companies and even started a venture for space tourism.
Bohan was inspired by her love of cruising to create her own search-and-booking engine for cruise travel. “I realized that the Internet was impersonal, so I put my agents’ pictures on the site,” she says. “We immediately had 260 e-mails from people waiting to take a cruise. We got back to each and every one of them.”
Bohan’s husband and partner, Daniel, died last year after an illness that included a traumatic brain injury. She has established the Gloria and Daniel Bohan Foundation, which focuses on brain research. Bohan herself is still focused on travel, the enterprise she created, and the people at Omega whose careers she made possible.
Her advice to young entrepreneurs: “Tap into what excites you. If you can find that passion and nurture it—turn your feelings into something tangible and creative—you’ll do good things for yourself and others.”
Next: Alan Meltzer