Career in focus: Tietse Stelma
CEO and Co-Founder50 Degrees North
1. What does your role involve and how long have you been in your current position?
My role is to be an entrepreneur, motivator and provide inspiration to our clients, our partner travel agents, our staff and our suppliers. I started 50 Degrees North in 2010 as a one-man company, and we have now grown to be a business with a global presence with offices in Melbourne, Lillehammer and Vancouver. We employ 35 passionate people across these three offices, most of whom are of Scandinavian heritage.
2. How did you start out in your career? Were you always destined to work in the travel industry?
My travel industry career started in 1990 as a night time receptionist at Hotel Royal Christiania (now Clarion Hotel The Hub) in Oslo. The hotel was one of three 5-star properties in Oslo and I remember well receiving guests like Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger and the Italian national football team. One memorable experience was bringing room service to Grace Jones in the Royal Suite.
Growing up in Norway, I am one of five siblings and the only non-academic. My career in the travel industry was not a conscious choice, but rather a result of my desire to do something different and be adventurous.
3. Did you complete formal qualifications, and do you think they are important?
After year 12 I did a couple of years of finance, economics and marketing at postgraduate institutions in Oslo before I started working for an adventure travel company taking Norwegians to climb peaks in the Himalayas, Argentina and cycling along the Silk Road in China.
Later in life I also completed an MBA in Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Swinburne University in Melbourne.
I certainly think formal education is important, as it widens your perspective and gives you that all important theoretical background.
4. What do you love about your job?
I love leading a team of very dedicated and professional colleagues who are also passionate about what they do. And I really enjoy being part of one of the largest ‘Scandinavian’ workplaces in Melbourne.
5. What were some of the greatest challenges you’ve had in your career?
Starting a new tour operator in Melbourne in 2010 from nothing was pretty challenging. In many ways the Australian travel industry is quite set in its ways and is not always that open to newcomers. However, with the early support of some key travel agents and clients we managed to make headway and turned a profit within six months of operations.
6. What factors were central to your success?
Daring to take the plunge, belief in the venture we started and not giving up are three central factors to the success of 50 Degrees North. Also, passion for what we do ranks very high, and has become ever more important as we grow.
7. Did you have a mentor, and if so, how did you find them?
I have not had a mentor as such but, I believe in always paying attention to how others succeed and fail. That has taught me a thing or two and helped me stake out the right direction for 50 Degrees North. Over the last few years as the business has continued to grow, I have joined a TEC group, which is a group of CEOs and business owners from different industries and backgrounds who come together once a month to share business insights.
8. What are the keys to good business?
Have your eyes and ears open. Listen to advice and dare to be different. And most importantly treat your clients, colleagues and suppliers with the respect and care you would yourself like to be treated.
9. What advice would you give to others in the industry who would like to follow in your footsteps?
For those who want to start a new tour operator in today’s market; do your research, think niche, be different, be passionate and be bold.