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Spotlight on Women: Denise Jackson

Meet the President and CEO of Balboa Travel


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Denise Jackson | Photo: Jennifer Siegwart

How long has the company been in business?

The company has been in business 45 years and I have been here for 30 years.

How has the business changed over the years?

There was no technology; we used to call airlines for reservations; we either wrote or typed tickets and had a physical agent at corporations. The business is changing daily. It’s now a 24-hour business. Electronic tickets are the only way to get a ticket now.

Who are your clients?

Corporate- and leisure-based clients. Incentive travel. After 9/11, agencies suffered and we lost about 50 percent of our business. Many agencies did not survive. We worked around the clock to bring our clients back home after 9/11. We had to reinvent ourselves.

What kind of service do you provide?

Total travel management for our clients. Travel is second or third in expenses for a corporation. To manage that expense, they need a travel management company to provide a cost-effective program. Our contracts generally run from three to five years. You have to work for the business, providing value-added programs for our clients.

What is the biggest challenge you face in the business?

Companies that are acquired. They may come with an agency they’ve been working with for a long time. We have to be able to prove that we can provide the service they need.

How many employees does Balboa Travel have?

We have 150 around the U.S.

Find a mentor, be flexible, have patience, and no expectations.

How did you get started in the business?

Mine is a Cinderella story. I really wanted to be a minority woman working as a broadcaster. I had a female mentor at a company I was working for and she sent me to Hawaii, where I was trained on computer systems. My mentor worked for a cruise line and she asked me to join her at that company. I really wanted to be Oprah!

I had a passion for the travel industry. Balboa Travel had just moved to the Bay Area and I joined as an agent. We had a GSA contract, and I went out to sell the business to other companies, which hadn’t been done before. I was very successful in growing the business beyond government contracts. I had great mentors and no barriers. I’ve had every job within the company.

What do you do to mentor others?

I’m on the advisory board of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, where I started a program for mentoring women of color, and the board of Walden Family Services. I’m active in the San Diego chapter of The Links, whose Achiever Program identifies male high school seniors who have distinguished themselves in academics, sports, the arts, or the community. In addition, I’ve served on the Links committee that started a STEM program for children grades 4 through 8, designed to address the underrepresentation of women and African Americans in those fields.

How many hours is your typical workday?

I do whatever it takes. My only son is now in college, so I have a little more flexibility in my schedule. I serve on an industry board, so I travel a lot for that. I belong to BCD Travel and I’m on the board of ASTA, an advocate for travel agents. We discuss things we have to do to protect our industry and our travelers. I also serve on technical company boards.

What is your advice to others?

Find a mentor, be flexible, have patience, and no expectations.

Any plans for retirement?

No, I want to remain connected in the community as well as in the industry.


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