The founding of Tauck Tours by Arthur Tauck, Sr., in 1925, seems like ancient history, but Jennifer Tombaugh, the young president of the company, has now been with the company for one fifth of its lifespan.
With 18 years at the company, Tombaugh would still think of herself as a relative newbie at a company that has employees with more than 40 years’ history with the brand. But she has become an integral part of the venerable tour operator and has already made a strong contribution to the shaping of the company for the future.
She is the first president of Tauck that is not a member of the Tauck family. However, at this point, she has been part of the company through a significant part of its evolution. It’s been an even larger portion of her own life, and she has had to balance working as an executive at a major company with the responsibilities of being a mother of four.
From Harvard to Tauck, via Coca Cola
After earning a Harvard MBA and working in business development with Leo Burnett and then Coca Cola, Tombaugh joined Tauck in May 2001 never suspecting, of course, what a watershed year it would turn out to be for travel. For a young professional, it was trial by fire.
She was first brought onboard by Tauck CEO Dan Mahar as part of a business development group formed to spearhead new opportunities for the company. Her first project was to oversee the launch of Tauck Bridges, the brand’s highly successful and trend-setting family travel product, in late 2002.
With the success of Bridges, Mahar put Tombaugh to work on a number of other projects, including the launch of a new website; upgrading the company’s reservations system; working on the transformation of Tauck’s IT systems from 2006-2008; running some operations and some new ventures. She led the formation of Tauck's partnership with filmmaker, Ken Burns. The diversity of projects she worked on gave her a good overview of the company and how it works.
After Tombaugh exceeded expectations in every project, Dan Mahar promoted Tombaugh to president in 2011. He said: “Jennifer has excelled in every responsibility she has taken on at Tauck, and she has been a wonderful partner to me over the past decade. Jennifer helped build new brands and partnerships for Tauck; she has led key functions across our company; and she possesses excellent leadership attributes, including a positive attitude, a commitment to excellence, and a proven ability to get the job done.”
The pitter-patter of little feet
As her career with Tauck was progressing, Tombaugh’s family life was also evolving. Married in 1999, she had her first child in 2003, the year that Bridges went into operation. In 2006, her second child was born. A couple of years later, she and her husband decided to try for one more child, and in 2009 their wishes were granted, and then some.
“We went for three and we got four,” she said. “We had twins.”
Giving birth to twins while raising two other children and simultaneously maintaining a high-profile executive position exceeds the capacities of most imaginations.
“The year 2009 was the most challenging year of my life,” said Tombaugh. “The twins were born. My husband was on the road during the week for 80 percent of the year. It was 2009, so the market was collapsing.
“I was coming back to a bigger role at Tauck, ultimately president. We were restructuring here. There were days when I would come to work after two hours of sleep and just say, ‘Please speak to me very slowly as I won’t probably answer you in the next half an hour. It was physically and emotionally exhausting.’”
Things calmed down and got a little easier when the twins got out of diapers. “From a physical perspective, it does get easier,” she said. “There’s just more planning, and some issues get more complicated. There’s still a lot of logistics, and more emotional and different challenges that come up as your children mature.”
Adding to the challenge, both Jennifer and her husband Phil travel a lot in their work. “We have an amazing babysitter,” said Tombaugh. “She has two kids of her own. She holds our life together. Our house is one step away from cratering at any moment. There’s some disaster going on. It takes a village of people that can help and support and cover for you. I literally could not function if this woman was not in my life.”
Keeping it all together takes a lot of planning. She uses a special app to post all the events and coordinate them. “Every day is like D Day,” she said, “a major deployment. I sit down, look at the board, I look at the calendar and say, ‘Okay, who has to be where? What’s the routing we need to take to make that happen? Who do we need to feed when?’ Literally, a deployment schedule goes out every morning: what’s going to happen for the day. It’s barely controlled chaos at any given time.”
Fortunately for Tombaugh, she works at a company that highly values family and supports its employees in their personal aspirations beyond the office.
“I’m so lucky to work in place like Tauck,” she said, “because it’s a family business. Dan Mahar, CEO, my boss, has five kids. We have a very supportive environment for families, for working moms and dads. We just increased our parental leave program, and both men and women are taking advantage of that. I am so heartened by that.”
Tombaugh believes the company’s humane policies toward employees generate strong morale and contribute to the high level of dedication and productivity of Tauck employees.
“I feel even more commitment to the company now because of the support I’ve had as a working mom here,” she said. “I’ll give this place 110 percent because you’ve given me that, the flexibility and the choice to be able to have my children. That’s a huge gift.”
Tauck, says Tombaugh, “is in that enlightened category of companies that recognize the importance of family and enable parents to thrive. That’s not always the case. I find it really unfortunate when companies don’t take the longer view about the return that women and men can give once they feel supported, and you take away a lot of the distraction and stress from the problem of, ‘How am I going to make this work for my family?’”
Today, Jennifer’s oldest child, Matthew, is 15. The second, Katherine, is 12. And the twins, Christopher and Alexandra, are 9.
And in case you were wondering, that’s it. Four is enough.