EDUCATION: B.S., Business, Bradley University, Peoria, IL
OCCUPATION: President, Touraid Travel
PAST COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Elk’s Club, Rotary Club, North Country Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, numerous United Way committees
From retail to real estate to tourism, George Barnett, Sr. has a storied career that has made an impressive impact on the greater Plattsburgh region. His story began as a Peru High School student when he worked as a seasonal employee at AuSable Chasm. While many would consider this a simple summer past time, Barnett considers the job as one which helped shape his career. “I worked with a number people who were quite a few years older than I was. They taught me the importance of having a relationship with people and making eye contact if you want results – and good tips!,” he recalled.
After earning a business degree, Barnett began his early career as a management trainee at a Sears Roebuck branch in Connecticut. He gained valuable experience in retail, specializing in both inventory and personnel. It did not take long for Barnett to realize that he did not like the corporate work environment, so he moved back to Plattsburgh in 1969 for a fresh start. “I picked apples during that fall while I worked on getting my real estate license,” he said, recalling the transition.
Real estate was something Barnett always had an interest in, and ultimately this is where he realized his first business success. His real estate career now spans over 40 years, and he maintains an active broker license to this day. Many local business people know Barnett from his time at Century 21, which he co-managed until his son, George Barnett, Jr. came of age. “My son showed an aptitude for real estate, so I decided that I’d better move on,” he joked.
After passing the real estate baton, Barnett’s next move brought him to the tourism industry. Today Touraid Travel has a prominent place on Route 3 in Plattsburgh where it is co-located with Foote Century 21 Real Estate in the Barnett Business Suites.
Barnett recently sat down with Strictly Business to share some of his career and business insights.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
GB: Good things happen to people who apply themselves. I can attest to that. My father started me out with a job mowing lawns before I had working papers. He made sure I had very little idle time. I am a believer in working hard, applying yourself and having direction and goals.
SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
GB: I’d have to say my father. He used to say that the two most import- ant things in life are your health and your credit. He was a banker. He always stressed being honest with people and believed that your word is your bond.
SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
GB: Always be flexible and understand that things change. You have to keep current with trends and it is not always easy. Change is a constant, and today it is even more important. The internet has changed everything — not only the way people act but also the way they think. It is important to be cognizant of that and react to it where you can.
SB: What qualities do you believe are necessary for success?
GB: Honesty, consistency in dealing with employees and being an understanding and compassionate person.
SB: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
GB: The success of Touraid Travel. We have a very large and confident staff, and a wonderful management team. I have been able to surround myself with great people who have those qualities needed for success.
SB: What do you look for when you hire?
GB: We look for someone we like, and for personable people who we know can sell—particularly over the phone. We like to hire people who have some sparkle in their personality, who are motivated and who want to learn. We are looking for career sales people.
SB: Why do you think you have been able to assemble such a great team?
GB: I think that we all enjoy what we do, we like one another and we all work well together. We work together but we play together too. We have outings and parties, and we have training from vendor representatives every week.
SB: How do you approach projects with your team?
GB: One of the things we do when we have a new project like re-vamping our website or getting into a new product, is to involve the entire staff. Collective knowledge is important when you are making decisions.
When we have to make big decisions we really try to bounce the ideas off our people. We take it down to the grass roots level and everybody gets to have their input.
SB: Tell us about your approach to management and leadership.
GB: I try to be very consistent and fair, and to avoid being emotional. Sometimes I think people make an emotional decision instead of weighing the facts.
SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
GB: Nothing. It has been a great ride.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
GB: As a property owner, I think it is important to be a good citizen. I’m really proud to have developed several properties in the area in a way that preserves their history. A great example is the Irongate apartment complex on South Catherine Street. Along with my business partner Harry Payea, we spent all summer upgrading and renewing it. Another property we developed is the Coach House apartments on Pine Street, which used to be a lumberyard.
SB: What do you do in your free time?
GB: I am a golfer, I walk, and I still do my own house projects. I like little projects around the house, whether it is renovating a room or doing something with my hands. I travel a lot as part of my business.
SB: What is something no one would guess about you?
GB: I am very soft hearted and sensitive. I appreciate people and respect them. I have a lot of good friends, and I make sure I take care of those friendships and I don’t have any secrets.
SB: How would you like to be remembered?
GB: As a nice guy and a good friend.
SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today to ensure a prosperous future?
GB: I think we should continue to do what we are doing. When I look back to the time when the air base closed, I commend the leaders of the community for stepping up, creating PARC and making it work. We are in better shape now than we were back then. We are blessed in that we are so close to Montreal and we have a lot of Canadian companies that want to get a foothold in the U.S. by locating here. What we need to do is make sure we support them with a strong labor force. There has been a lot of emphasis on that lately and I think that is well directed.