Travel industry leaders voted the best by Premier Traveler readers


NEW YORK, New York – Personal stories are always intriguing, so this year Premier Traveler Features Editor Janet Forman asked this select group to turn back the clock and tell us “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

Read on and you may be surprised, amused, even amazed at the diverse backgrounds of this year’s visionary travel professionals.

The lure of a startup
Kim Soo Cheon, President & CEO
Asiana Airlines: Best Transpacific Business-Class Service, Best Economy-Class Service in the World, Best Flight Attendants in the World, Best In-Flight Services in the World, Best Overall Airline in the World

I joined Asiana Airlines as a founding member when the company was established in 1988. Working in the airline industry seemed attractive, but working in a startup where you could make something out of nothing attracted me as well. Having the vision that Asiana could grow as a world-class airline, I did my best in each position I was given and I am grateful and honored to be here. Now my goal is to manage Asiana to be a sustainable company that wins continuous trust of customers by providing the best safety and services.

In another life: I like reading and reflecting on it, and I am interested in humanities, especially in history. I probably would have been a scholar in Korean or Asian history if I had not been with Asiana. However, I am now satisfied with my work and I will continue to do my best so that Asiana can make its mark in the history of the airline industry in the future.

Flight Attendant Extraordinaire
Stephen Knowles, Managing Director, Inflight Service
Air Canada: Best North American Airline for Business-Class Service, Best Airline Website, Best North American Airline for International Travel, Best Flight Attendants in North America (4th Consecutive Year)

I had always wanted to join the airlines and did so as a flight attendant, flying full time for 15 years before entering management. My career fulfilled a wonderful dream of being part of a service industry that has allure, excitement, and daily interactions with customers, all of whom have a story. As Air Canada’s Managing Director of In-Flight Service, I am proud to lead and work alongside almost 6,800 professional and caring flight attendants whom I sincerely admire, and will champion their efforts at every opportunity.

With heartfelt thanks
Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO
Ethiopian Airlines: Best Airline to Africa (2nd Consecutive Year), Best Airline in Africa

First and foremost I would like to thank the management and staff of Premier Traveler magazine for the recognition and the award. We also thank our valued customers for the strong vote of confidence in our global award-winning ground and on-board services. The credit goes to the more than 9,000 strong men and women of the Ethiopian Airlines family working from all corners of the world, day and night, to keep our beloved airline shining high in the skies. I am very proud of our team. This award will energize all of us at Ethiopian to do more in our customer services, as there is always room for improvement.

Customer Centric
Martin Drew, Senior Vice President Americas
Etihad Airways: Best Airline in the Middle East (4th Consecutive Year), Best Airline to India

Most of my family is involved with the airline and travel industry; so from an early age, I knew this would be the path for me. I have a real passion for anything related to aviation and have been fortunate to work in many areas of the industry for the last 20 years, holding senior roles in sales, operations, and fleet and network planning. I have a background in cargo, and my switch to the travel business was fairly recent. Whilst there are some differences, the two areas also have a lot of similarities: both are dynamic, customer centric, close-knit, and friendly businesses.

In another life: If I hadn’t opted for a career in aviation, I would have likely gone into property development, as I also have a passion for taking tired properties and restoring them.

Obsessed with the Airport
Hideki Takarada, Vice President Passenger Marketing – The Americas
Japan Airlines: Best Airline to Asia, Best Premium Economy-Class Service in the World

When I was young, I was thrilled every time I had a chance to go to the airport. I just loved the atmosphere and the feeling of excitement that I experienced from the moment that I walked into the terminal. From that time onward, I wanted to work at the airport, but ironically, I have never had the opportunity to work at an actual airport since joining Japan Airlines upon graduating from university.

In another life: I also wanted to be a chef. I love cooking, and I still believe I may do this someday.

Born in the Clouds
Steven Haro, Director, 777 / 777X Marketing
The Boeing Company Boeing 777: Best Aircraft Type (4th Consecutive Year)

I was fortunate enough to be exposed to the world beyond my hometown in Northern California as a young adult, through the U.S. Navy. By the time I was 21 I had circled the world a few times and visited more than 20 countries. Seeing the world from a different perspective drove me to want a career at Boeing, a company which is all about making the world a smaller place and making air travel possible to millions. Playing a role in bridging cultures around the world is one of life’s highest callings and in my opinion one of the most important contributors to a more peaceful world.

In another life: One day in the future I’d like to start a company whose purpose will be to enable people to not just dream big about travel but to manage it all the way through to basking in the afterglow of the perfect adventure.

The “Career Boarding Pass”
Michael Blunt, Vice-President Corporate Communications
oneworld Alliance: Best Airline Alliance (3rd Consecutive Year)

Travelling is in the family genes, going back generations and generations: I was born and raised in South and Southeast Asia, and have not stood still much since. So when the chance came to join British Airways in my early 20s, I seized that career-boarding pass firmly with both hands. Today, I work closely with 15 great airlines through oneworld. It can be tough going – seriously! – but I do regard myself as a lucky chap!

In another life: My first proper job was as a newspaper reporter. If I had not wound up as an airline communications guy, then I likely would have stuck to journalism. Who knows, I could have ended in my other dream job—as Features Editor with Premier Traveler!

Planning Travel at Age 12
Joel Chusid, Executive Director, USA
Hainan Airlines: Best Airline in China (4th Consecutive Year)

I was always intrigued by airplanes and was the first in my family to fly on one, when I was around 12: I planned the whole trip myself, from Newark to Washington, D.C., for a weekend with my aunt. Then I planned a road trip for the family to Canada: Seven days, too many cities, and an overambitious itinerary. But that trip to Quebec intrigued me and hooked me on foreign culture, so I took the big jump at age 16, saving up my part-time earnings to spend a summer in Europe alone. I worked in a hotel in Switzerland and then traveled around the continent, including behind what was at the time the Iron Curtain, and I knew this would be the first of many more trips. I was lucky enough to work for American Airlines while in college for two years as a campus rep; though the pay was tiny, the travel made it worthwhile, and I even went to Fiji for spring break. The rest is history: I spent 25 years at AA, two at China Eastern, and I’m starting my ninth at Hainan Airlines. The airplane bug, as you can see, caught me early on, and I’m well above five million miles now.

Road Warrior From Birth
Trip Barrett, Vice President, Brand Management, Latin America
Starwood Latin America: Best Hotel Chain in Latin America (4th Consecutive Year)

I guess I’ve always been in the travel business, but it’s only since joining Starwood in 2003 that I’ve actually worked directly in the industry! Because of my father’s career as an Air Force pilot, and later in the Diplomatic Corps, I’ve been a Road Warrior since I can remember. I lived in Europe and Asia while I was growing up, and during my career I’ve lived in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Hong Kong and Spain. This has given me a truly global citizenship perspective, which is an important attribute when you work in this industry. My experiences as a traveler have been instrumental to my role at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, because I have a clear perspective of what our guests are looking for and expecting in their visits.

In another life: When I graduated from The Wharton Business School, I reluctantly declined an offer to join American Airlines at their corporate headquarters in Dallas, instead heading to New York to be part of an investment-banking firm. Fortunately, in my role with Starwood, I have the opportunity to travel extensively; so can still keep up with the airline industry as an avid frequent flyer.

48 Years in Travel
Ted Brady, Sales Manager Southwest Region USA
Emirates: Best First-Class Service in the World (2nd Consecutive Year) Best Airline in the World for International Travel

Airlines and the travel business have been in my blood all my life. I started my airline career as a part time agent with Eastern Airlines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, back in 1967. I had just returned from Vietnam, was back in college, and my father was chief of the FAA in Chattanooga. He suggested that we visit Eastern Airlines and United Airlines for part time job opportunities. Eastern hired me on the spot, and I spent 20 years with those guys. After ten years with Continental, President of Prestige Travel Group, and 12-plus years with Emirates, I’m now on my 48th year in the travel business.

The Heritage of Shannon
Ian Bradley, Director Communications EMEA & Pacific
American Airlines: Best North American Airline for First-Class Service (3rd Consecutive Year), Best Airline to South America, Best Transcontinental Service (2nd Consecutive Year)

Travel always appealed to me, and aviation in particular was the industry in which I was determined to work. Growing up near Shannon Airport in Ireland I was aware of its heritage as a stopping point for transatlantic travel, and watching the 747s made me want to work in aviation as soon as I could. Many years later, I started with a summer job at Shannon loading and cleaning aircraft for Aer Lingus, which was lots of fun, and also gave me time to understand different sides of the business such as catering and cargo, before moving into communications. I also spent a few years with Icelandair, a small but versatile airline from a fantastic country, before working at American Airlines. It’s been an education all the way: three airlines, three different countries, great colleagues, and still learning something new every day.

A Science Experiment
Juan Carlos Liscano, Managing Director at LAX
American Airlines: Best North American Airline for First-Class Service (3rd Consecutive Year), Best Airline to South America, Best Transcontinental Service (2nd Consecutive Year)

I landed in travel by chance. I originally went to school for biotechnology at Rochester Institute of Technology, where I did leukemia research and was part of two articles published in the Blood journal. But lab work was not very exciting for me, so I switched to business. I landed in Miami after my family moved there, and my first job was working for the airlines, as South Florida had no medical sciences industry at that time. Good for me, because I loved the airlines! I never looked back. I tell my kids I think I’m one of the few lucky people that love what they do, and it happened totally by chance.

In another life: I would have been a professor. I love educating, imparting knowledge and getting the best out of people!

With His Last $600
Scott Solombrino, President and CEO
Dav El Chauffeured Transportation: Best Luxury Car Service Worldwide

When I was a freshman in college I ran out of tuition money, but with my last $600 I bought an old 1969 Caddy limo. By the time I graduated I had a company doing $3 million a year. I deferred going to law school to run the company, and the rest is history.

In another life: If I had chosen a different career I would have been a lawyer and a politician. Still, I have no regrets. I love my career, and would do it all again!

Written on the Chalkboard
Jim Compton, Vice Chairman and Chief Revenue Officer
United Airlines: Best Domestic Frequent-Flyer Program (3rd Consecutive Year), Best B787 Layout, Best Airline Credit Card Rewards Program in the World (2nd Consecutive Year)

I was in a graduate economics class working on my Master’s at the University of Illinois Chicago, when the professor wrote on the board that United was looking for someone with forecasting background. I was really interested in urban economics, and thought this might be great way to combine my econometrics forecasting skills with an airline that connects many of the great urban cities. United hired me. That was in 1984, and I have been fascinated by aviation ever since.

In another life: I probably would have chosen a career in urban planning.

Dreams of Showbiz

The Classical Pianist
Ginger Evans, Chicago Aviation Commissioner
Chicago O’Hare International Airport: Best Airport in North America

I went into aviation as an engineer, designing airfield runways and aprons. I spent a lot of time driving around the airfield with operations and maintenance personnel, who taught me the importance of efficient facilities for aircraft movement and support. From there, I grew into terminal development, where I learned the importance of efficient facilities for passenger comfort and convenience. Then at the ripe old age of 32, I went into large-scale airport development, and have been doing it ever since.

In another life: Before I studied engineering I was a serious student of piano. I taught and performed for many years, but realized I didn’t have “the right stuff” to make it a career. But the piano still gives me tremendous enjoyment and beauty.

He’s the one calling “Action” now
David Cush, President and CEO
Virgin America: Best In-Flight Services in North America (4th Consecutive Year)

I had a lot of friends from graduate school that went on to work for American Airlines, and they always spoke about all the great learning experiences and benefits that come with working for an airline. And then circumstances just happened: American was looking for skills that combined finance and systems, so I went for it, and never looked back. I would say that I am now in the most exciting phase of my career, working with the talented team at Virgin America. Now in our eighth year of operations, we are expanding to new markets, coming up with new ways to reinvent flying and ultimately making a positive impact on the industry.

In another life: I was initially on my way towards a career in broadcasting, and majored in film at Southern Methodist University. I decided fairly early on that business was really my strength, which ultimately led me to a career in the aviation industry. It is without doubt one of the most exciting and dynamic industries in the world, so it’s hard to imagine working outside of it now.

The Aspiring Actor
Uri Steinberg, Israel Tourism Commissioner for North America
Tourism Israel: Best Destination in the World

I didn’t really decide to be in the travel business. I began my work with Israel in the form of branding and marketing the destination abroad, which led me to the travel industry. As a world traveler and adventure-lover, I have always had a huge passion to inspire people to experience Israel through their own personal journeys, not through the evening news back home. There’s no better way than travel to really make this genuine connection.

In another life: I would have been an actor. All I need is the looks and talent, and then I’d be good!

High Kicks
Stephanie Goldman, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications
Hartmann Luggage: World’s Best Luggage

My dream was to work in marketing for a global company that was best in class in its category. I was fortunate to land a position with Hartmann, whose parent company, Samsonite, is based near my home in Massachusetts. I’ve been at the company for over ten years, and I’ve grown to absolutely love the travel business. Serving the world’s most discerning luxury travelers is my mission, and it’s why I wake up excited to go to work every day.

In another life: I would have been a Rockette! If only I was a few inches taller…

Their Hearts Were in the Skies

Blame it on the F14 Tomcat
Larry Schneider, 777 Chief Project Engineer and Vice President
The Boeing Company Boeing 777: Best Aircraft Type (4th Consecutive Year)

As a young boy growing up on Long Island, I was surrounded by Grumman employees and loved the F14 Tomcat. I decided I wanted to be an aerospace engineer and went to school at Georgia Tech. After graduation, I went to work for Grumman Aerospace on the F14 Program.

In another life: I always loved to cook, and thought I would consider culinary school if my aerospace career didn’t work out. Happily that never happened!

In Love with Aviation
Roberto Cuesta, Jr., President airberlin Americas, Inc.
Airberlin: Best International Frequent-Flyer Program

I began working in the travel business as an undergraduate in college, and continued to do so while pursuing my MBA. From there it became a natural progression, as I was working for an airline that offered many opportunities for employees to advance their careers.

In another life: Growing up the son of a doctor, I’ve always had an interest in the profession, and for some time thought that might be a possibility. But in the end, my heart beats for the aviation industry, and of course, airberlin.

Motivated by The Good Life

Hooked in College
Ben Trodd, Regional Vice President and General Manager
Beverly Wilshire, Beverley Hills (A Four Seasons Hotel): Best Hotel Chain in the World

Throughout my time at college I worked in London hotels, bars and restaurants, and was hooked. After graduation, I began managing a bar and restaurant, and moved from there into a longer-term career plan with Four Seasons. I always wanted to live and work in different countries, so I identified early that the hospitality industry would allow me to do this.

In another life: I am from an entire family of schoolteachers, so it may be that the hospitality industry saved me from unleashing my influence on the nation’s kids!

The Happy Accidents

It Started with Duty Free…
Robin Hayes, CEO
JetBlue: Best Domestic Airline

I got into the airline business more by accident. I got into the airline business more by accident. In university, I studied electrical engineering, and after I finished, I took a summer job in Boston selling duty free in the airport, in the same terminal that would one day become home to JetBlue, which was still at least a decade away from being born. I supported all the airlines in the terminal – TWA, Delta, British Airways – but the British Airways people were always the nicest to me, so I decided to work at BA. My first position was in Glasgow, Scotland, checking people in and boarding flights… and that’s how I got started.

From the ocean to the sky
Gary Kelly, CEO and Chairman
Southwest Airlines: Best Low-Cost Carrier in North America (3rd Consecutive Year)

In high school I wanted to be an oceanographer. I loved the ocean and science. I was recruited to the University of El Paso (UTEP) to play football, and as you can imagine, when I went to enroll and declare my major, they didn’t offer oceanography in the West Texas desert! So, I followed in my father’s footsteps, selecting accounting, which eventually led me to Southwest Airlines. It’s funny to think back on that now, as my journey took me from the ocean to the sky. But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Jonathan Frolich, Vice President
Hyatt: Best Hotel Chain in China
Andaz: Best Lifestyle Hotel Brand (4th Consecutive Year)

Firstly, I’d like to thank the Premier Traveler readers for helping Andaz to earn the Best Lifestyle Hotel brand award for four years in a row. We are delighted and honored. Our brand is all about connecting and inspiring people and bringing the very best of each destination into the walls of each of our hotels. We are thrilled to be recognized for the work that we do to position Andaz as a leader in the lifestyle category and look forward to continuing our work in making this brand the very best it can be for our guests.