Thoughts on Leadership and Legacy

Mike Lawson • Commentary • June 8, 2018

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While our colleagues and peers in the industry today know our father as Bob Rogers, founder of our business, when I was five, he was just my dad, a high school band director, leading his students at competitions across the country.

One of my earliest memories is a trip to Walt Disney World Resort; Dad was traveling with his band, I drove down with my grandparents. I watched them perform at the Magic Kingdom, with their crisp uniforms and polished instruments, entertaining the gathered crowd. I had two very clear thoughts: the first, one I still have every time a student performs, was, “These kids are the most amazing people.” And the second was, “My dad is a hero movie star.”

The way I see my dad has never really changed, because whether he was leading band students, our family or leading our team here at BRT, my dad showed me what it meant to be a leader. Dad had this crazy idea for a travel company that specialized in music travel and just knew it would work, but he never intended to start it alone. Before founding BRT, he personally approached 40 different travel agencies, saying, “Here’s this idea about music travel for students. I was a high school band director and I know how different it is than the trips you plan for families.” He heard “no” 40 times before deciding to start BRT on his own. Starting a business was a huge risk for our family and Dad knew it; my mom was a stay-at-home mom, so all of that risk was on his shoulders. I remember him working late into the night and still working when I’d get up for school the next morning. I inherited that persistence from him and it’s something I work to instill in our team. There’s always a solution, we just have to work together to find it.

For my dad, leading was more than just working hard – it was about relationships. It was something I learned without Dad needing to say a word. I learned it at the holidays when bus drivers joined us for family dinners because they didn’t have other family in town. I learned it at the many client dinners, concerts and performances Dad brought me to where he knew everyone – and not just by name. He remembered details about their wives, husbands and kids, so many things beyond travel plans. When I joined the business, I thought (and still do!) that this part of the job was amazing, that we have the opportunity to really get to know all of these people and have relationships with them.

Dad prioritized relationships as the cornerstone of our business and everything we do to this day revolves around them. We have the privilege to be a part of an industry that my dad’s dream helped to build, that has changed as much as it’s stayed the same.

Dad started BRT before computers or cell phones, so as a company we’ve seen technology explode and the way people live change as a result. In a culture where very few interactions occur in person, we’ve evolved to keep our business as personal as possible. Newer directors often don’t want to talk through travel details over the phone or read a lengthy email, so we’ve become very creative at delivering the same level of customized service in new ways, but relationships are relationships, whether you’re connecting over coffee or over text message.

As rapidly as our industry evolves, it’s important to remember that true leadership is timeless. And that applies to everyone, whether you’re the founder of a company or a travel consultant making magic happen for student travelers. I’m grateful my dad knew this and inspired the rest of us to do the same.

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