Industry celebrates Bruce Shulman's leadership, passion

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Bruce Shulman, left, with Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann at Travel Weekly's 2014 Readers Choice Awards Gala. Photo Credit: Andre Jackamets

Bruce Shulman "has always had a passion for the travel industry," said Wayne Wielgus.

Wielgus should know. The travel industry veteran, whose career included stints as senior vice president of marketing for Celebrity Cruises and Azamara and executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Choice Hotels International, has known Shulman since the 1970s, when both worked for what was then known as Holiday Inns Inc.

As Shulman retired last week as senior vice president and group publisher of the Retail Group at Northstar Travel Group (parent company of Travel Weekly) friends, colleagues and prominent travel industry figures reminisced about working with him over a career that spanned nearly five decades, and they offered insights about his leadership skills, his industry expertise and, yes, his passion for the travel industry.

It was that passion that prompted a career change for Shulman, who graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor's degree in pharmaceutical sciences. He eventually quit his job as a pharmacist and found a night shift at a 24-hour pharmacy that left his days free to volunteer at a travel agency in Miami Beach.

"I went and sat in that travel agency every day from 9 to 5, went home, ate dinner, then went to the pharmacy so I could pay the bills," Shulman recalled. "But I learned the industry from the bottom up." 

Eventually, that learning experience gave way to paying gigs with a variety of tour operators. But it was a job interview with Mike Fegley, then in a management position at Holiday Inns Inc., that would set him on a new career path for the next two decades.

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Bruce Shulman, right, with Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Andy Stuart at Travel Weekly's 2016 Readers Choice Awards Gala. Photo Credit: Andre Jackamets

"After I met him and talked to him less than an hour, 'You're hired!'" Fegley recalled of that meeting with Shulman at the Eden Roc in 1977. "So I got him out of [the tour operator] business and into the hotel business."

Over two decades in the hotel business, Shulman eventually became vice president of sales and marketing for Holiday Inns of the Caribbean and the Sands Hotels and Casinos.

But the dawn of the next millennium would bring yet another opportunity in the travel industry, courtesy of a visit from friend Jay Nelson, then regional director, Southeast, for the Hotel & Travel Index (HTI).

"I called Bruce; I was coming down to Fort Lauderdale," recalled Nelson, who today is Northstar's vice president, business development/strategic accounts for the Retail Group. "I didn't go down there to offer him a job."

But upon arriving in Fort Lauderdale, Nelson said he got the sense that it was time for Shulman to move on from his sales and marketing position at an area condo-hotel.

"He's a guy that should be selling Ferraris, and they put him in a Renault dealership," Nelson said.

'He understood their business'

For Nelson, that upgrade was HTI, and with that, Shulman joined Northstar in 2000 as the publication's national director. 

His hotel experience would prove to be a major asset in the transition to publishing. 

Wielgus said Shulman "had an acute awareness of the customer base and the consumer, which I think has helped him tremendously in moving over to the media side of the business. People he was talking to across the travel industry weren't trying to educate him about their business; he understood their business."

Eventually, Shulman would move on to roles as director of advertising, then associate publisher of Travel Weekly.

Andy Stuart, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, recalled that Shulman "was the guy who would call you back immediately. More often than not, he had already proactively reached out because somehow he'd figured out there was something he needed to get ahead of. ... He managed to find that balance between doing the right thing for his company and having you feel like he was in your corner every step of the way."

Stuart added: "He was very good at weighing up both sides and never giving up his position but figuring out how to have everyone come away feeling like they were winning."

He added with a laugh, "I think I sometimes lost, but hey-ho, what can you do?" 

It was a communication style that resonated with many of Shulman's associates.

Ray Snisky, executive vice president and chief commercial officer for Apple Leisure Group Vacations, said, "Probably the thing I will miss the most is I could always count on Bruce to have some great laughs along the way. Regardless of the topic, he always brought out a smile from everyone he was around."

Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann said Shulman's personality was key to his success at both HTI and Travel Weekly.

"Being personable is a prerequisite to selling," Weissmann said. "But Bruce opens himself up in way that is not typical. Most people in his position would see his transparency as a weakness; I see his humanity as his strength."

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Bruce Shulman and Jay Nelson, who brought Shulman to Northstar.

According to Gerardo Llanes, an industry neophyte before joining the Mexico Tourism Board as chief marketing officer in 2011, Shulman was an essential figure in his travel trade education.

"He was one of the key persons who helped me understand the industry, especially the U.S.," said Llanes, today chief marketing officer for Visit Florida. "He's helped me understand who the players in the travel trade are. He's introduced me to the Signatures and the Travel Leaders and all those consortia. ... He pushed Northstar internally to bigger, better things with the Mexico Tourism Board."

It's that spirit of collaboration that Shulman said has informed his entire travel industry career, regardless of which sector he happened to be working in at any given moment. 

"Relating to people, communicating to people, sharing with people, it's what our business is all about," Shulman said. "We're a people-to-people business."

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