- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003


   In Gloria Bohan’s ever-expanding universe, the sky’s not the limit.”There’s no limit to the frontiers we have to offer people to travel,” says the founder and chief operating officer of Omega Travels International, who was also co-founder of Space Adventure, the public-private venture that rocketed the first tourist into orbit.
   “I’ve been on a treadmill for 30 years, and I haven’t jumped off yet,” says the boundless Mrs. Bohan. “You have to keep seeking to find the things that are going to make you grow.”
   Mrs. Bohan loves nothing more than to push herself, her staff and her clients beyond boundaries.
   She’s even created a “gearshift philosophy,” which means “you have to know when to move forward, when to stop or stall, and when to go in a new direction.” For her trailblazing, the Women’s Business Center (WBC) will present Mrs. Bohan with an Entrepreneurial Visionary Award on Thursday.
   Other honorees at the gala — with Southeastern University President and former D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis as master of ceremonies — are Florine Mark, president and chairman of the board of Weight Watchers Group; Charito Kruvant, president/CEO of Creative Associates International; and former U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella, the longtime Republican from Montgomery County “for her support of small business and for initiating key funding legislation to help Women’s Business Centers across the country.” Several WBC volunteer instructors also will be honored, and one woman entrepreneur will take home the $5,000 Wachovia Women’s Capital Award.
   Located on Connecticut Avenue NW, the WBC “provides high-quality, low-cost business training, technical assistance and counseling to the metropolitan-area business women owners.” More than 1,500 women (and some men) are served each year. Half of them are socially and economically disadvantaged.
   “Virtually all of the center’s clients start or grow a business as a result of what they earn during their training,” spokeswoman Jan DuPlain says.
   Grants awarded from the Small Business Administration, program fees and private donations from local banks and businesses support the center’s work.
   “Some of the courses they teach are really terrific,” Mrs. Bohan says. “The growing number of women’s business organizations encourage women to go into business, and small business is what keeps our economy alive and going.”
   Mrs. Bohan says she is encouraged by the increasing number of corporations that are hiring women and awarding them contracts for services.
   She attributes that growth, in part, to women’s business groups and wishes they had been around when she wandering into the male-dominated travel industry. She was fortunate to find a retiring female agent who mentored her and assisted her with the getting the necessary start-up licensing.
   A Brooklyn, N.Y., native who graduated from Marymount College there, Mrs. Bohan always suffered wanderlust. She had taught English in New York City’s junior high schools and was employed as a photographer’s assistant at Forbes magazine when she boarded the Queen Elizabeth 2 on her honeymoon cruise. That’s when she got the idea to start her own travel company.
   “I always knew I wanted a career when I was very young,” says the petite blonde. Mrs. Bohan’s shy and quiet demeanor masks a go-getter’s pioneering spirit.
   The one-woman office she opened in Fredericksburg, Va., in 1972 grew to 200 offices and 1,000 employees nationwide and abroad, and it generates $1 billion annually. In 2001, the Washington Business Journal ranked Omega Travel as the largest woman-owned business in the area.
   Mrs. Bohan says it is important that her husband, Daniel, a Northern Virginia real estate executive, always encouraged her career moves. She jokes that they have more than 1,000 children — all her employees.
   “Diversifying” and “diversity” are key grounding words in the vast vocabulary of Global Gloria.
   For one thing, she’s always on the lookout for new services that others don’t provide. Today, it’s low-gravity space tours, for example. In the beginning it was bus trips for students or shopping sprees for seniors.
   “I don’t like having everything all in one place or putting all my eggs in one basket,” she says. “You can’t say we’re only going to do this job this way.” She also says business owners need flexibility and balance in infrastructure, with employees’ personalities, and in their own life.
    With events such as the September 11 attacks, SARS, airline bankruptcies and Internet competition, Mrs. Bohan says she had to diversify her services and cut back on the number of small, walk-in offices in high-rent buildings to maintain profits.
   To weather the changing tides in the travel industry, Mrs. Bohan augmented her personal services with Internet services such as TourDeals.com, AirDeals.com and Cruise.com with high-touch, customer service centers in major cities that provide reservations 24 hours a day to customers in the corporate, government and leisure sectors.
   Mrs. Bohan is most proud of building a successful work force by establishing in-depth training programs, opportunities for promotion and by offering incentives and bonuses to keep her staff loyal and motivated.
    “I tell them to find out what fires you up, what makes you different and then find something you can turn into your own,” she says of the advice she gives to her staff as well as other female entrepreneurs. The WBC entrepreneurial award joins a lengthy list of accolades Mrs. Bohan has received, including being named one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the area by Washingtonian magazine and being honored for her diversity initiatives by Div2000.com.
   In addition to her leadership role in countless women’s business organizations — such as the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, of which she is a founding member — Mrs. Bohan supports numerous causes and civic organizations, including the Fairfax County Education Foundation, the Race for the Cure, Suited for Change and the Girl Scouts.
   “You have to love what you are doing and reach out to others to have happiness and success,” she says. Later this month, Mrs. Bohan will receive an honorary doctoral degree from her New York alma mater, and she teases her husband that he will have to modify his pet name for her.
   “Instead of ‘Glo,’ I guess it will be ‘Dr. Glo’ now.”
   No matter. You go, “Dr. Glo,” girl.
   For more information about WBC, log onto www. womensbusinesscenter.org
   

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