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Meeting Leaders: Steve Griffith

Executive Profile

Name: Steve Griffith

Title: VP Global Accounts

Organization: HPN Global

Location: Winter Haven, Florida

Birthplace: St. Augustine, Florida

Education: BA in political science

Career History:

Various tourism jobs, 1976-90

Director of incentive sales, El Conquistador Resort, Puerto Rico (1991–99)

Executive director of sales, Gaylord Palms Resort, Orlando (1999–2010)

VP global accounts, global sales, HPN Global (2012–present)

Living in South America wasn’t in Steve Griffith’s plan. But it changed his life.

The son of a physician in Winter Haven, Florida, Griffith got an undergraduate degree in political science and planned to go to law school. But what was supposed to be a trip to visit two sisters from Brazil turned into a 15-year stint living in Rio de Janeiro.

“I went to the University of South Florida, but in the summertime, I worked as a lifeguard at the school, where I met two sisters from Brazil,” Griffith said. “Their father was the Alitalia [ITA Airways] manager for Brazil, and in the marvelous 1970s, Brazil was a mecca for musicians and movies, and travel was becoming easier. They convinced me to teach English as a second language at the Pontifical Catholic University of Brazil in Rio. Someone told me about a tour company called Brazil Safaris and Tours. Tourism was becoming in vogue and the incentive market had just taken off, so I became a tour guide for them.”

The new market for destination tours was flourishing, with eager Americans flocking to exotic destinations like Brazil but wanting to have an insider’s perspective on the ground. Griffith soon became a manager at Brazil Safaris and Tours, then went to work for Los Angeles-based Delta Cruise Lines Tourism, managing passenger services in their Brazil and Argentina markets. Griffith then decided to pursue an opportunity working with Time Warner to oversee the distribution of Time magazine throughout Brazil, but between the interview date and start period, he had several months to kill.

Enter a new adventure and opportunity. Through a friend, he was offered the chance to sail from Brazil to Miami on a 40-foot ketch. Along with four other people, Griffith made the journey from one side of the equator to the other over four months in 1983.

“During my time living in Rio, I had become friends with a couple of the trip directors from Maritz, a company that works in incentive and rewards travel,” said Griffith. “And when I got to Florida, I needed work. so I called that friend who referred me to the president of the company, Jeffery Reiberg, who needed trip directors. I called him, and without even having an interview, they hired me to be a flight trip director.”

For the entirety of 1984, Griffith traveled the world as a trip director, bouncing around the globe, spending five weeks in Hong Kong and five weeks in Monte Carlo and the Cote d’Azur. He traveled to London, the Bahamas, Brazil and Argentina.

At the same time, a company that stemmed from Brazil Safaris and Tours was starting up in the United States, working within a network of cities across the country including San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Seattle, Honolulu, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. The person heading up U.S. operations quickly tapped Griffith to come work for him.

“Along the way, I really got tired of working and doing tours,” said Griffith. “I wanted to do something else, and because of my destination management company experience and my incentive work, I went to work on the opening team of the new, awesome resort going up in Puerto Rico, the El Conquistador Resort and Country Club, even though I had no previous hotel experience.”

Griffith managed the offices of Williams Hospitality, the company behind the resort, in South Florida. During his tenure, the company became Wyndham and added two more hotels. Griffith encouraged people who might normally lean toward vacationing in the Cayman Islands or St. Thomas to explore Puerto Rico instead. Around that time, a new Gaylord Palms Hotel was opening in Orlando, and Griffith was offered the job of executive director of sales there.

“We opened the Gaylord Texan and the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Washington, D.C., and having that hotel experience is what led to my role at HPN, since everyone who works with HPN has hotel experience,” said Griffith. “We’re a third-party company that makes people happy by negotiating their contracts and finding ideal locations for them. I’ve now worked with clients large and small.”

Griffith has led a life of adventure, travel and working to make people’s travel experiences great. He speaks fluent Portuguese, as well as passable Spanish and French, allowing him a unique capacity to communicate with a range of clients from different backgrounds.

“I’ve been in this business for more than 40 years and I enjoy it thoroughly,” said Griffith. “What makes a tour great is having a guide who has local experience with the culture. You’re giving them an experience they wouldn’t really be able to do on their own.”

Tips from Steve Griffith

• Be nice and kind to everyone.

• Maintain good eye contact when speaking with others.

• Speak first and last when communicating.