Thrive Global x Juli Corlew: Part 1
In May 2019, VP & Managing Partner Juli Corlew had the opportunity to sit down with Yitzi Weiner of Thrive Global, an online publication founded by Ariana Huffington. Here’s part one of that interview, stay tuned for the rest!
Juli joined Mainsail in 1999 following a distinguished 16-year career with Marriott which encompassed both operations and finance. She began at the Albuquerque Marriott then continued on through San Francisco, Denver and Tampa, where she was the cluster Controller for multiple Marriott properties. Her international experience as Financial Director took her to Mexico and to South America where she opened the JW Marriott Hotel Quito before returning to the US and Mainsail.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I worked in the Albuquerque Marriott Hotel while I was in college pursuing a degree in project management. I started as a front desk clerk, and worked in reservations, accounting, concierge — anywhere that fit in my school schedule — for about five years. When I graduated and had a job offer in my degreed field, I realized I had caught the hospitality bug and didn’t want to leave. I never looked back. My career with Marriott lasted 16 years and relocated me and my family to amazing locations in California, Colorado, Florida, Mexico and even a move to Ecuador. I enjoy living in diverse locations, and each move was filled with new experiences. Moving to Mexico with three children under the age of five was interesting!
For several years while with Marriott, I had worked with Joe Collier. We made a good team, so when Joe later asked me to join him with his new company, Mainsail Lodging & Development, I was reluctant to leave Marriott, but was sold on Joe’s vision for his company. Twenty years later, we have shared many challenges and fantastic rewards.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Riding the economic bust in 2008 was a time filled with learning, creativity, and seeking solutions. Certainly, developing a resort (Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, BVI) on a private island was the most interesting project I’ve ever been a part of. Realizing that everything comes to the island on a boat — the staff, food, supplies — and advanced planning is key! Nothing prepared me for dealing with the crisis and recovery of Hurricane Irma. We had guests and staff on the island as we watched the storm on our computers, and we saw our island completely inside the eye of the hurricane. Losing contact with our team was terrifying, and it was several painful hours until we heard back from them. Thankfully, even though this storm was the strongest on record, and the damages extensive, not one guest or staff member was even scratched.
It was my responsibility to find a way to get them all evacuated. The weight of that responsibility and the struggle to find a solution was a challenge I will never forget. My team all took on different responsibilities, like staying in contact with family members of our staff and guests from around the world, managing press, cancelled reservations, all while trying to maintain a schedule of contact via satellite phone to find help when everyone was trying to do the same thing. Our team on the island was heroic and our corporate team worked tirelessly to do anything we could think of. We ended up doing evacuations via helicopter a couple of days later to Puerto Rico, where the Ritz-Carlton staff took care of our guests in very thoughtful ways.
The Puerto Rican community immediately responded to the British Virgin Islands and brought private boat loads of supplies to the territory and to our staff at Scrub Island. Likewise, in Tampa, our staff, families and friends began collecting supplies and raising funds for the employees.
After leaving the BVI, Hurricane Irma came up the coast of Florida, where we have most of our real estate holdings. Once we had our guests evacuated from Scrub Island, we had to take care of our hotels and guests here in Florida. The day after the storm passed Tampa, we flew down to Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, BVI in a private plane — no commercial flights were allowed — so we could see our staff and our beloved property in person. It was a very emotional trip to see the extent of the damages everywhere we looked; we openly cried when we saw our staff members.
Over the next year and a half, things were forever changing, as we went from crisis mode to providing necessities to our staff and getting them back to work immediately — cleaning, repairs, and anything else we could do to get them working again. We worked with the charter boat communities, Marine Max in particular, to start doing business in the most basic of ways — providing marina slips, guest rooms, starting to open the restaurants even while we were in recovery and rebuilding mode. We operated for months while we ran on generators and boated in trucks of water.
Dealing with insurance claims, contractors and searching for roofing materials (there was an incredible roofing shortage due to all the storms throughout the region and in the US) all became my focus for the next year. We are still making some improvements, but the resort is beautiful, the staff are excited, and business is better than ever. I’m proud of the way we responded to this crisis and think we did the best we could do. Our team really came through and we overcame some amazing obstacles. It was humbling and heart-warming to be a first-hand witness to the resilience and compassion of the people of both Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands as they have worked tirelessly to recover from the terrible storms of 2017.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes! I hope that I learn from them all — and I don’t get upset with others when they’ve made mistakes, unless they are from a lack of caring or concern. I just say — ok, so what do we do now and how do we make it right?
Come back next week to learn more about Juli!