Xchange asks Canada’s leading businesswomen to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue brings you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.
Rita Tsang is president and CEO of Tour East Holidays (Canada) Inc., a Toronto-based travel agent and tour packager. Founded in 1976, the 130-employee firm specializes in trips to Asia, but also offers such packages as spa and golfing experiences in Whistler, B.C and the Alberta Rockies. Its revenue in 2004 reached $223 million.
BEST ADVICE: “Always watch the bottom line.”
“Never lose sight of the finances of the company.” That’s the advice Tsang’s father, a businessman, gave her many years ago. “You always have to run an efficient and a tight ship to have an operation that’s strong financially.”
That advice may seem like Management 101, but Tsang says she’s seen many businesspeople fall into the trap of over-expanding or spending too much when times are good, leaving themselves in a pinch when those rainy days come. “In difficult times or times of crisis, if you don’t have a strong cash position, no matter if you have the best plans or brightest future, you cannot pull through,” says Tsang.
Tsang knows all about tough business cycles. “If you look at the last couple of years, between 9/11 and SARS, business was not going so well,” says Tsang. In fact, the situation reached crisis stage at Tour East. “People were not traveling at all.” She pulled her company through by keeping a keen eye on the bottom line. Tsang helped ease tight cash flow by reducing marketing and operating expenses and looking for new destinations to promote.
“I always try to make sure to keep our company in a good strong cash position,” she says. That means knowing what money and resources she has on a daily basis, how much she’s spending and what cash she has at the end of the day.
“Business is dynamic and you have to be responsive in the face of changes,” she says. “Never over-leverage and always have a contingency plan, she adds. “When you take a risk, you always have to have the end in mind- the worst case scenario as well as the best case scenario.”
You don’t have to be a bean counter with a degree in finance to get a strong grip on your bottom line. Much of Tsang’s business education comes through experience. Still, when she needs advice, Tsang is quick to tap her staff’s brain trust. “I rely on the knowledge of other people.”
© 2004 Susanne Ruder