VENTFLASH #305: Victor Emanuel Steps Away as CEO of VENT
December 11, 2023
This edition of VENTFLASH is unlike any I’ve written. On this occasion, I am sharing news of a very important development at Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. After forty-seven years at the helm of the company I started, I have made the decision to step away from my role as Chief Executive Officer. I am pleased to announce that Barry Lyon, VENT’s Chief Operating Officer, has been appointed VENT’s new CEO.
As you may have heard, in late February I suffered a serious fall in which I sustained injury to my back. Fortunately, I made a full recovery, but the road back to good health was long and difficult. It was in that period that I knew the time was right for me to relinquish the day-to-day responsibility of leading this organization. With that in mind, I want to reassure our travelers that I am not retiring. I fully intend to stay active and engaged with VENT on a daily basis for as long as I can or want to do so. My title at VENT will now be Executive Chairman.
When I founded Victor Emanuel Nature Tours in 1976, the industry of birding-based nature tourism was still in its infancy. In those early years, those of us with our nascent organizations were doing things that had not been tried before. We were figuring out the business side of birding along the way. However, I had a vision for both my young company and for the fledgling industry of which we were at the forefront. Even then I could see that in order for VENT to succeed for the long haul, to be a company built to last, it needed to offer a reliable means for people who worked here to enjoy job security and job satisfaction—key ingredients to one’s leading a professionally and emotionally successful life. Therefore, my guiding principles in the creation of this company were: 1) Do everything we can to take care of our customers; 2) Take care of our employees; and 3) Take care of the environment. In some ways, these concepts are easy to understand, yet even after almost five decades in business, I note that many companies still fail to grasp these essential tenets. VENT has never wavered in its commitment to these principles. Over these forty-seven years, we have reached unprecedented levels of success, blazing a path of our own and setting examples that others have strived to emulate. We have also faced many challenges, from smaller-scale economic events, such as occasional downturns in the global economy, to major shocks such as the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the Great Recession of 2008–2009, and the global pandemic of 2020–2021. Through it all, our adherence to these principles was a critical element of our ability to survive and thrive, through thick and thin.
As CEO, I feel extremely lucky to have worked with many of the best tour leaders this industry has ever produced. To be a tour leader at Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, a guide must possess good “people skills,” good communication skills, superior field skills, and excellent organizational skills. The majority of people who have led tours for VENT fit this mold. Many of our tour leaders have served the company for more than thirty years. A few have worked for forty years, while many others have been with VENT for ten, twenty, and twenty-five years. A number of these tour leaders have long been recognized as world authorities in bird study. Some left their mark with groundbreaking field guides. Others have described new species to science. Regardless of their personal achievements, all of these tour leaders share a common trait—a passion for birds and nature and a desire to share that passion with those who travel with them. It is these qualities that enabled many VENT tour leaders to cultivate lasting followings among our travelers. I cannot overstate the pride I have felt in witnessing the talent and skill sets of our tour leaders, and knowing that these talents and skills, brought to bear professionally, were hugely important in the development of VENT, from the company I started in my living room long ago into the mature, established organization that it is today. With new faces and fresh talent infusing the company periodically, it is clear that the high quality of our guides is a primary reason VENT remains strong today.
Our tour leaders are only one-half of our total team. And here I recognize the commitment and dedication of our office staff over so many years. Over most of my career, I co-led a great many VENT tours. I was on the road much of the time. My extended periods of absence from the office were possible only because of the outstanding people who comprised our staff; I knew I could trust them to do their jobs at a high level and always provide the high level of customer service that our clients have come to expect. As with our tour leaders, many of our office staff have served for decades, some more than thirty years. I could not have derived greater pleasure from working with such a wonderful and trustworthy group of people, day in and day out.
My thoughts and comments regarding this time of transition would be wholly incomplete without acknowledging our customers, those of you who for decades have trusted VENT with your hard-earned dollars to provide travel experiences of the highest caliber. While our tour leaders and office staff form the company we are, we would not be anything without the support of our travelers. With the competition steep—and ever steeper—we are keenly aware that you have options with whom to travel for your birding and natural history-based vacations, and for your choosing to travel with VENT, I convey my deepest appreciation for your loyalty and support. Many of our customers have taken one or two VENT tours, others have participated on forty or more, while most fall somewhere in-between. It isn’t just birding that draws people to our tours, but the opportunity to travel with others who share a passion for birds and other wonders of the natural world. In so doing, our travelers build relationships with one another and with our tour leaders, sometimes resulting in friendships that last for years. To all of the people who have taken VENT tours through the years, I offer my profoundest “Thank you!”
As my successor, Barry Lyon is the right person for the job. Barry’s roots here run deep. As a teenager in the late 1980s, he attended three VENT youth birding camps. After college, he joined VENT as a part-time tour leader in 1995. He elevated to full-time status in 1997 and led tours in that capacity into 2004. By this time, Barry had developed a keen interest in business and management, and in early 2004 he joined the office staff as my business assistant. With a command of the field side of our profession, Barry, in the ensuing years, developed a full understanding of the business and operational side of the company. In 2014 Barry was named Chief Operating Officer, and over the ensuing nine years has worked as my right-hand man. Barry possesses the skills, knowledge, and drive to lead our company in the coming years and to ensure VENT operates at an elite level. You will be hearing more from Barry soon.
In closing, I understand that this transition in the company’s leadership may elicit questions or concerns within the VENT community. To this, I reiterate that I am not going anywhere. I will still be closely engaged with the business; I will still be in the office on most days; and I will work closely with Barry in the oversight of VENT and our relations with our customers and employees. You should always know that you can contact me at any time (firstname.lastname@example.org).
My years of sharing birds and nature with so many fine people have given me a wonderful life.
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours | 2525 Wallingwood Drive, Suite 1003 | Austin, TX 78746
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