Growing Your Business through Strategic Partnerships, with Tammy Levent

Exclusive Interview with: Tammy Levent

While other travel agencies were succumbing to the advent of online search engines and post-9/11 woes, Tammy Levent grew her company, Elite Travel, into a 100-million-dollar business. But economic setbacks are just a fraction of the obstacles the respected entrepreneur and branding expert has overcome. As a speaker, best-selling author, and highly sought-after consultant, Levent inspires and teaches others how to build and leverage strategic partnerships along with her other tried-and-tested techniques for turning failing businesses around and growing brands from scratch.

If you’re going to start a business, make sure it’s full time. We women multi-task and having to split our time with another project is another common reason for failure. Just build one part perfectly and then you can expand to other divisions.

SPEAKING.COM: Each year in the U.S., more businesses fail than launch. What are some common mistakes you see entrepreneurs making and what can they do to become more fail-proof?

LEVENT: This happens often in my industry. One thing people should understand is that they need to be both organized and creative. This includes setting daily goals, staying on top of trends, and testing any marketing campaigns to be sure they’re aimed at the target audience. Simply jumping into everything without doing the required research is a recipe for failure.

To be successful you must also be passionate about what you’re doing. Furthermore, surrounding yourself with positive influencers can be extremely beneficial. Finally, you have to be patient; otherwise, you can’t focus on the progress and small successes along the way.

As far as becoming more fail-proof, getting involved with your community as soon as possible is great for networking, i.e. getting your brand out there. Also, make sure that every goal you set is both realistic and obtainable, and don’t be afraid to ask for help! We all need a little help sometimes and that’s okay.

One last word of advice: if you’re going to start a business, make sure it’s full time. We women multi-task and having to split our time with another project is another common reason for failure. Just build one part perfectly and then you can expand to other divisions, etc.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some unique challenges faced by women who are trying to start or expand a business?

LEVENT: It’s unfortunate that even in today’s world of business, women are not always taken as seriously as men. Because of this, it may be a good idea for women to surround themselves with other women to get the support they need when starting or expanding a business. I feel very fortunate because I mostly deal with women.

My general advice would be to do your research so you can make smart decisions, and to know your competition so you can always have that edge you need to stand out.

My direct advice? Get yourself out there! Be seen! Stop doubting any achievements and instead make sure that every single step you take, great or small, is publicly announced. Let the world know you are here and not going anywhere!

SPEAKING.COM: What are the first steps someone with little or no capital should take when starting a business?

LEVENT: 1. Have a solid plan
2. Research your competition thoroughly
3. Build your brand name, which means everything (and stick with it!)
4. Create strategic partnerships
5. Take advantage of networking events, including social media and mainstream media
6. Stay confident!!
7. Make a list of what you will do daily to promote your business (that does not incur an expense) and stick to it. This adds up to 30 new ways that you’re getting the word out about your business each month.

Competition is a good thing and you need to stay one step ahead of competitors. Instead of following trends, create them.

SPEAKING.COM: “Travel agent” is often labeled a dying profession, so how have you managed to grow a travel agency during the past decade?

LEVENT: Travel agents are in fact not a dying profession when you set the trends. A big part of my success comes from knowing how to listen to my clients’ needs. I was able to take a travel business from minus 180 grand (at the worst time of my life) to making over 120 million, and it’s continuing to get better with each and every year. Over the years people have become used to going online to book a trip, with many not even knowing exactly what they’re booking. For example, many would get bumped, sent to horrible hotels, or found that the airlines would not help them when they had problems.

You have to know your product to be great in your niche, and I do. I offer a service, which means I have to be confident that my client won’t be able to find anything online comparable to what I’m offering, and that is the very reason that many people are starting to use travel agents again. Everything comes full circle!

One last thing I want to mention is that I made sure I went head-on with other travel agents. When Burger King or Wendy’s competed against McDonald’s for fast food they didn’t say, oh well, there is already one fast food place, we shouldn’t do this. Competition is a good thing and you need to stay one step ahead of competitors. Instead of following trends, create them.

SPEAKING.COM: What are the keys to creating a lasting brand?

LEVENT: Stay consistent! Stop trying to change your brand every time you see someone else’s logo or message. And keep it simple – think Target’s bullseye or McDonald’s big yellow M. Too many people make the mistake of wanting to include everything in their business name when in fact, less tends to be more. My company’s legal name is Elite Travel Management Group, Inc., aka Elite Travel. My logo is simple – just my name and it’s been that way for the past 25 years.

Build slow and build to last. I even branded the name – Tammy Levent. My given name is Stamatia Kavourakis, which is a little more difficult to brand. I made the decision at 20 years old to brand me a new name, one that had meaning and purpose. Tammy means perfection and Levent means beautiful and as egotistical as it sounds, I am the only Tammy Levent in the world, making it a memorable name.

You should know your strategic partner’s needs and address them before your own. This will grab their attention; they’ll see you’ve done your research and above all, be impressed that you already know what they need, or in what areas they should be partnering with you.

SPEAKING.COM: What are your tips for successfully getting someone to partner with you?

LEVENT: Have your pitch perfected. Before you present your idea make sure it’s something that can be proven successful. You only have one chance to get your point across, so don’t blow it. No pressure, right?

Make sure that you both benefit from a potential partnership so it’s not one-sided. In fact, you should know your strategic partner’s needs and address them before your own. This will grab their attention; they’ll see you’ve done your research and above all, be impressed that you already know what they need, or in what areas they should be partnering with you.

Know your brand and your company like no one else. Be ready to answer any questions regarding why the other guy wants to partner with you. (Never say ‘I don’t know’!)

Finally, always be honest, and if you want something specific don’t beat around the bush, because no one wants their time wasted.

SPEAKING.COM: Building strategic partnerships may come easily to extroverts. What is your advice to introverts who are trying to grow their personal brand or business?

LEVENT: I have a simple formula that I teach and speak about. Basically, open your eyes to all possibilities – no limitations. I look for a new strategic partnership every week. When I speak, I can actually put people together and show them how they are perfect strategic partners. It’s a simple equation of:

– What does your potential partner need?
– What are your best attributes?
– What is it that you need?
– Who is going to be able to give that to me?

I will give you a perfect example: I was just recently speaking at an event, and during this time, I described how I built my business and continue to build my business on strategic partnerships. Then, I randomly asked people in the audience what they did. There was a woman who owned a small bed and breakfast in the mountains of Atlanta. I then found another woman who owned an online retail company selling 1500-count, amazing bed sheets.

Neither of them had to say much. I proceeded to ask the woman with the bed and breakfast, could you use new bed sheets in your property? Of course, she answered. So then I asked the woman with the bed sheets, if you were to have an opportunity to advertise your sheets at a bed and breakfast, with a small card that said these amazing sheets are from XYZ company, and all you had to do was supply her with 12 rooms of bed sheets, would you do that to reach a potential 20 clients a day? Absolutely!

And that is how easy it is to create a strategic partnership. The simplest ideas can stem from just being open to listening and sharing, as well.

Another example: I recently received a handmade beautiful holiday card from a friend and I told her it was absolutely amazing that she can create such a beautiful card. I always give some type of small gift or trinket whenever I visit potential clients, and since I’m in the travel business I asked her to create a small suitcase out of paper that included small details about my business, color scheme, my logo, etc. I filled them up with candy and my business card and it was a hit! In a matter of only three months, she made a new website and is getting business from all of my clients. Again, it cost her nothing. I had the vision to create something with her business and I helped her grow it immediately, with great results!

In less than 30 days there, I was a partner of what soon became the largest shipping company to Greece in the United States. By the age of 20, I had made my first million.

SPEAKING.COM: You became a founding partner of a successful company at age 17. How did you initially learn about running a business?

LEVENT: I graduated and moved out of the house by the age of 16, so I was not the normal 17-year-old. My parents owned a restaurant, my grandfather had his own shoe repair business, and my grandmother worked in a furrier factory sewing pelts. I remember all I wanted was to finish high school and open my own company. I had no idea what it would be or how I would achieve it, so I was always open to possibilities and patiently waited.

I worked 3 jobs (as there were no labor laws at that time). I worked for a tanning oil company from 14 to 16, walking the beach to make my commission. I used my own creativity and time to sell that oil, so in a way, it was my own business.

Fast forward to New York: I was outgoing, bilingual, and had no fear of working. I really just wanted to make money, and was searching for that one thing that was going to give me my future. I’m Greek and thought that finding a job that was bilingual in Greek would be almost impossible, but I found out about this opportunity through my cousin who was working for this export company. I started in admin and got to sales in less than 90 days, proving myself.

I soon discovered the company had no competition and was pretty much a monopoly. My parents had always told me competition is good, and when they would build their business, they were surrounded by competitors. So I took the bull by the horns and decided that I could go up against my boss. As crazy as it sounds, I had no fear. I called the shipping company we did business with and asked to meet with the owner. I told him that I knew how to buy and sell the appliances and if he could partner with me in shipping we could merge our companies (though actually, my “company” was just me!)

In less than 30 days there, I was a partner of what soon became the largest shipping company to Greece in the United States. By the age of 20, I had made my first million. I continue to emerge in strategic partnerships and build long-lasting relationships with great rewards. This is my number one speaking and training topic!

SPEAKING.COM: How did you balance growing your travel business with taking care of your family?

LEVENT: It was definitely not easy. We experienced an armed robbery when my kids were young. Then just a few months later the kids were in a horrific car accident with their great-grandmother, which killed her. My husband was still having issues with his injuries from the armed robbery and we had no income because we had had everything stolen. My kids were in intensive care and my grandmother’s funeral was being planned. I finally got a job telemarketing for a company selling vacation packages, but my husband still did not have a job.

I remember a nurse asked me if I could choose something to do that had nothing to do with money, what would it be? I said I would travel the world. My next thought was “travel agent.” The nurse gave me a newspaper and that’s how I found this travel agent corporate sales position. I began taking just about every course and went to every travel seminar I could. I worked the business as though my life and my family’s life depended on it – and it did. I grew the business to over 3 million in two years. The owner retired and gave me the business. I changed the name, built strategic partnerships and have not stopped since.

At that time, the Internet wasn’t as widespread or user-friendly like it is today. I knew I needed a strategic partner so I looked in the local business journal and found the book of lists with the top travel agencies in the area. The rest is history.

I created a new partnership and part of the deal was that I had to partner as Elite Travel. So I had to be able to grow the business and the brand. Again, going back to strategic partnerships, I found the right person that saw my vision and was willing to help me. The tradeoff was that I got to use his office space, phones, assistant and more while growing my brand without having to pay out anything and he was to receive 30 percent of the commission booked from travel. It worked! I finally had balance at home and was getting myself back on my feet.

In my book Sink or Swim I describe my many challenges in life, including almost dying on the operating table 3 years ago, in an elevator crash, 2 hit-and-run accidents, murders and so much more. After surviving so many near death experiences, I feel the only way to look at things is up.

During challenging times, I asked and received help from our community and that is another reason I give back so much. The saying what goes around comes around DOES indeed work.

I’m now balancing a National TV segment on NBC, training other travel agents around the world, doing speaking tours, writing, and running Elite Travel as well as my charity “,” plus so much more!

I’m proud to say my daughter is vice president of my company and my son is one of the top managers at a solar company, and both are doing great!

Find a partner that you can learn from and grow with.

SPEAKING.COM: How did you come to partner with entrepreneur and Original Shark, Kevin Harrington?

LEVENT: I’ve known Kevin Harrington for a few years now. Even though we were both running in the same circles, we never really had an opportunity to sit down and speak. One day I was working on my Travel Agent Success Kit (TASK) and I needed to record a series of videos. I found myself reaching out to Kevin because he had a studio and a production team and I knew I needed to produce a quality video training series that I could sell to travel agents. He agreed. I then asked him to speak at one of my TASK live events and loved that his storytelling tactics and speaking style were similar to mine.

I’ve really gotten to know Kevin and have such great respect for him. We share the same qualities as entrepreneurs – work hard, help others, believe in your product, have the vision to see past what others may not see, always be open to listening, etc. I know that I can always call on Kevin, as he is my forever mentor and partner.

We are now partnered together through my NBC daytime show Just Go Trav. We’re working on taking this globally! I knew that I wanted to expand my TV segments as I wanted a national presence, and thought ‘who would be better than the person who invented infomercials to help me get there?’ That’s how our tv partnership began and more will be created.

The partnership has to be an unswaying commitment. Kevin will help you grow with no limits but at the same time, you have to work at it. He has been an amazing partner, and even though he doesn’t have to say much, what he does say makes you want to work harder and strive for better goals.

Bottom line – Find a partner that you can learn from and grow with.

To bring entrepreneur and sales keynote speaker Tammy Levent to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at:

©, published on August 29, 2018

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