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Here are some reviews of Driving With No Brakes from our travelers …
Wheeeee! What a ride!. The title and cover photo offer a sense of what's in store. Theirs is an energy driven committment to a dream. That, the creation of a travel company which would give them personal fulfillment and financial security, top value and life changing experience for their travellers, empower their associates to leadership---and make money at it.
Top it off with philanthropy; the creation of Grand Circle Foundation , founded on the belief that business has a social responsibility. It is seen as a cycle of ' giving' and ' giving back' as the driving force behind success, equal in importance to marketing and finance. The benficiaries are schools,orphanages, historic sites, among others, in the countries and villages where their travellers visit. We , the travellers, participate when a % of trip cost is donated to the foundation.
This book is the story of and a business model for how a creative twosome, Alan and Harriet Lewis have built the most successful travel company in the world , serving mature adult travellers. The Lewises are a team with a unique approach revolving around their talent for observing an opportunity and acting upon it, fast thinking, fast acting, risk taking in an ever changing industry.
Not everyone or every company is cut out to move at their speed, to view mistakes / failures along with successes as learning tools , but it's a model for those who dare to dream big. While their business philosophy, it can surely be applied as a life philosophy. --how to accomplish more, more efficiently.
Focus is on their mission; never straying from it regardless of bumps in the road, while constantly changing methods to achieve it. Mission, vision , values are the soul of the company, the base for all decision making by themselves and their associates at home and abroad. Everyone, travellers and associates , has input.
It's a good, flowing read and re-read ( to ' get it'). The Lewises talk to you as friends, with honesty and humor. You feel their passion for doing the best possible to expand their travellers ' lives and connect cultures. You feel their love for travel, the travel business and philanthropy. That said, it might well be used as an instructional read in an MBA course. It's a ' how to ' book for American business success , but for crosscultural business understanding internationally as well.
I have always preferred travelling alone to gain more awareness and have more contact with other cultures. Today, OAT ( the smaller of their travel groups) has replaced my individual travels. Through the reading however, I've learned what's behind our travel experience and came away with admiration for the diversity of the foundation's accomplishments; and the extent of them.
Traveler: Marjorie Soriano, 4-time traveler, Beverly, MA
I thoroughly enjoyed your book and now know why we've traveled with GCT and OAT since 2001 AND will continue to tell our jealous friends who live vicariously through us in our travels: we've never come back from a trip thinking we didn't see and do everything. We've never felt we needed to return to the same country because we "missed" something. In fact, while reading your wonderful book, we decided to book our GCT China/Yangtze River trip for August 2011. We know we'll receive the same great experiences we now have in our memories from other GCT and OAT trips.
Traveler: Joanne and Gary Goodrich, 13-time travelers, Lead, SD
Entertaining, insightful, inspirational, candid about successes and failures. A fascinatingaccount of Alan and Harriet Lewis' quest to build a great travel company, displaying vision,determination, and courage. After reading the book, one has a better understanding of thecare and thought process involved in designing OAT/Grand Circle trips; i.e. each trip islead by a local trip leader/program director, who is knowledgeable about the history and culture of his/her country, and involves a truly cultural experience like visiting schools andhomes. Many of the the schools visited provide some insight into the work of Grand Circle Foundation. I feel that this book is a must read for OAT and Grand Circle travelers.
Traveler: David Hubby, 8-time traveler, Pittsboro, NC
When i first rec'd the book, i said to myself "oh no, a boring business book". but i found it very informative and interesting to see how GCT/OAT was concieved and organized. I started to travel with OAT the year before GCT bought them and found the book interesting the way the company has evolved and still evolving. I have and continue to see how OAT has changed over the course of the years. Also interesting was the background of Alan and Harriet and their philosophy.
Traveler: Susan Nolan, 13-time traveler, Woburn, MA
Driving with No Brakes is a real page turner! Each page tells the story of another new adventure or challenge. As a customer who has travelled a number of times with GCT and OAT, the book helps me to understand why every trip I have taken has been so unique, so invigorating, so educational and so intertwined with the culture and fabric of the country being visited. Additionally, the book is not just the story of two people who have a passion for travel and who have turned that passion into a successful career. It is a story which every Harvard Business School student should read and embrace—it is about developing an organization with its unique mission and values, and then hiring the best people to support that endeavor. It is a story about risk-taking and continuous improvement—of listening to customers and to associates and then being gutsy enough to change directions, when necessary, to make GCT the premier travel company for ”Americans over 50”. Read it; it is another GCT journey that will inspire and transform you! Thank you, Harriet and Alan, for sharing your very personal story with us, and for being brave enough to drive without those brakes!
Traveler: Maurie M. Sachs, 8-time traveler, Natick, MA
"Driving with No Brakes" is a fascinating account by Alan and Harriet Lewis about building a 'premier' travel company called Grand Circle, whose customers are, in the main, aged 50 or over. How two self-described 'mavericks' took over a company in 1985 that was losing $5,000 a day and built it into an entity that grossed over $600,000,000 in 2010 is an amazing tale and well worth reading.This was accomplished though perseverance, tenacity and just plain sheer 'guts'! Mistakes were made along the way and then came some major setbacks: Terrorist bombings in Europe, a tsunami in Asia, 9/11 and the recent recession, just to name a few. Though it all, Grand Circle Travel rose like a phoenix whereas other agencies closed their doors forever. The success of the enterprise is due to the strong, goal-oriented leadership of the owners, multi-talented executives and associates who share their dream plus hundreds of program directors world-wide who are encouraged to be as innovative as everyone else in the company.
Because GCT's main objective is "excellence" above all, it did not surprise me that the Lewises wrote a superb book. The format is unique. Important information is in sepia-colored blocks and the notes and quotes in the margins are as interesting and fun to read as the text itself.
Alan and Harriet's secrets to success are out! Competitors in the travel industry should rush out to buy this book! The pair's formula of good business practices and leadership could apply to any entrepreneur just starting a company. As for Grand Circle or OAT travelers, "Driving with No Brakes" is a 'must read"!!
Traveler: Sandra A. Derenzo, 9-time traveler, Needham, MA
Reading Driving With No Brakes was like being invited into Harriet and Alan's living room as they talked thoughtfully and passionately about their innermost challenges and successes of building a travel business with a philanthropic component which has caused me to travel with OAT annually for l2 years.
Their philosophy of humanitarian travel exactly resonates with my own and I have become deeply involved in giving back to the schools and communities in Tanzania and along the Amazon in Peru, where Grand Circle Foundation is involved.
My life has been transformed by this kind of travel and understanding their vision and struggles to offer this to others makes me deeply grateful. This is a must read for all who love to travel abroad.
Traveler: Susan Rickert, 11-time traveler, San Francisco CA
This book describes the origins and development of one of the most successful travel companies of all time. It provides a lot of insider information about decision making in this industry, alternating with personal anecdotes about the founders and leaders of this company which are very engaging. If you want a compelling read about the history of a most unusual and innovative travel company and the people who made it successful, this book is for you. Authored by the owners of the company, the book is packed with engaging stories about its history. The writing is compact and lucid, and its flavor is very human.
Traveler: Dr. Al Silverstein, 5-time traveler, Pawtucket, RI
I enjoyed reading Driving With No Brakes very much and found it very interesting. A lot of hard work has been put into the company and the recognition is well deserved. The attention the company gives to women travelers is of great importance to me. Grand Circle and OAT tours are outstanding and I am sure will be in the years to come.
Traveler: Nancy Bergman, 10-time traveler, Concord, CA
Driving with No Brakes is a great read, full of entertaining as well as inspiring anecdotes about the journey from risky start up to arguably “the best travel company in the world.” In fact, it’s such an engaging tale that my husband, who had higher priorities in his stack of books, got totally hooked once he idly opened it while waiting in my office.
To build upon rather than repeat what other reviewers have already said, let me add that GC/OAT fulfills one of its core goals--to help make the world a better place--in large part by busting stereotypes. In a challenging economy and highly competitive corporate climate, this is not the typical company driven solely by bottom line profits at the cost of trademark amenities like small groups of travelers, the best guides in the business, first rate accommodations, and home visits with native people at every destination.
Instead CG/OAT has consistently been driven by customer and employee loyalty and has never veered from its commitment to provide an A+ top of the line travel experience. Furthermore, Alan and Harriet Lewis commit 5% of corporate profits annually to supporting local schools, environmental, or other philanthropic initiatives, so we travelers feel we are doing good as well as having the time of our lives. The payoff has been rapid long-term growth despite tremendous industry setbacks like 9/11 and a plummeting economy. This book should be required reading for every MBA student!
Another busted stereotype since my first trip with Overseas Adventure Travel has been my long-standing negative concept of group travel. Without first hand experience, I’d bought into the stereotype of the throngs of tourists seen plodding along behind a guide who delivers a rote spiel in front of every notable monument. Yes, our trips to the Amazon, Galapagos, and Egypt have included all the usual highlights, but it’s the cultural connections with different people in distant lands that remain the most poignant memories. OAT/GC opens doors we never could on our own and builds bridges between vastly different cultures. Our up close and personal experiences—free wheeling conversations across the globe with no holds barred—have revealed the common human core among all citizens of the world.
Traveler: Nancy McLaren, 2-time traveler, Wellesley, MA
This is the story of Alan and Harriet Lewis and their devotion to the idea that people should travel and get to know what the rest of the world is all about. It is the story of how they bought a deficit ridden company and turned it around to be one of the most successful travel companies today. This is the story of Grand Circle and Overseas Adventure Travel.
If this were all, it would be one of many such books, but it is much more than that. It is also the personal story of the Lewises and their vision for a new type of travel company. They started by asking themselves what should be the guiding principles for their company and then laying them down indelibly on paper and sticking with them through good times and bad. They asked what was good for the traveler rather than what was accepted business procedure and in doing so threw away much MBA conventional wisdom. They took unseemly risks when they knew in their hearts that was what they had to do. During the story, which is well told, the reader finds himself fretting as the Lewises get into trouble and rejoicing and laughing when they climb out again. It shows that guts and determination to generate a new business model can lead to success.
The risks paid off handsomely as the size and prosperity of the company attests to. Better still is the devotion of travelers who came back again and again. The Lewises wanted to promise an unforgettable experience for a very affordable price and still grow a profitable company. They also wanted to plow back some of the profits into the countries that gave the travelers that experience, so they are deeply involved via GCT Foundation with altruistic endeavors.
For those who have traveled with GCT or OAT this book gives the inside scoop on the organization that makes their travel experience what it is today and why their tours are so consistently memorable. Some aspects are unusual for a travel company, like their emphasis on the tour leader rather than the traveler. While counter intuitive, they believed that if one gets the tour leader right, then the traveler will have a desired experience. Their tour leaders, who are always local and competitively selected for their smarts and personality, are given unusual authority and leeway to adjust the itinerary to maximize what the traveler sees and does and it really pays off for the traveler.
The book is written with a light, at times self deprecating touch, is humorous and a good read. It has the reader starting to think about where they will next travel and how soon with GCT or OAT.
Traveler: Chris Day, 10-time traveler, Newton, Massachusetts
"Driving With No Brakes" -- Highly RecommendedA truly believable story of doing well by doing good. Always managing to stay ahead of the competition, Alan, Harriet and their associates face many challenges and still have fun. If you have not yet traveled with Grand Circle, you will want to take a trip after reading their book.
Traveler: Marie Laham, 5-time traveler, Boston, Massachusetts
This is an incredible 'LoveStory', and you made it happen !
Traveler: Molly & Gary Vair, 11-time travelers, Boulder, CO
We just finished reading "Driving With No Brakes" and just want to say thank you for giving us the opportunity to read this book, which is a real page turner.Harriet and Alan's story of how they got involved in the travel industry and how they became the owners of GCT/OAT is fascinating and it gave us a better understanding as to why our traveling adventures have become a reality. All their hard work (along with their team of associates) in putting out interesting trips has made us eager to travel with them again and again.We have been traveling with OAT/GCT since 1997 (OAT's "The Eternal Nile"). We have taken eleven OAT trips and one GCT trip since then, with three more already reserved.
Traveler: Joe and Nancy Kiwak, 12-time travelers, Dudley, MA
If I was a business educator, I would have my students read this book. It was remarkable. Some of my highlights included:
Open & Courageous Communication - this is different from the military, which does not teach you to challenge your commanders. But how do you learn and grow otherwise? Risk taking is also evident with your company, and a lot of folks are uncomfortable with that. I can see that your office imparts the value of Risk Taking to your Program Directors. We were finishing up a Grand Circle River cruise when the Iceland Volcano erupted. Your staff couldn't have been more accommodating. At first we were told we would be delayed on the return for 5 days, but one of your Program Directors took our schedule, and went to the airport. Later that day, we were told we were leaving the following day. They seem to create miracles! We're leaving for Holland & Belgium next April on our 15th Grand Circle trip. Thanks for all you do.
Traveler: Fred Blum, 14-time traveler, San Antonio, TX
Once upon a time, two young people's destinies connected: she, a teacher and he, an entrepreneur but both shared a dream. That dream of creating the best travel company in the world materializes before our very eyes as we read Alan and Harriet Lewis' extraordinary story: DRIVING WITH NO BRAKES. Their journey takes us on the ride of our lives as we get an eyewitness account of how Grand Circle Travel began and evolved to include Overseas Adventure Travel, expanding to a fleet of small cruise ships and ultimately creating Grand Circle Corporation, the umbrella company that provides us with the most afrordable and best travel opportunities available in the tourism industry. Their book reads like a novel that is difficult to put down as we follow them through many risk-taking experiences, hard work and the travails of giving birth to GCT, culminating in their dream organization. But, keeping the dream alive holds many challenges for this enterprising couple as many crises enter their lives threatening the very existence of their company.
I urge all of you passionate travelers, entrepreneurs, business managers and above all, DREAMERS, to treat yourselves to the read of the 21st Century. You will say to yourselves: WOW, WHAT A FANTASTIC RIDE!!
Traveler: Edna M. Tobias, 28-time traveler, Hermosa Beach, CA
First of all, Driving with No Brakes was easy reading. I had just returned from a Grand Circle Travel trip to England, Scotland, and Wales and still found time to become engrossed in the subject matter of travel. I have now had 34 successful travel experiences with Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle Travel. I am always asked if I have ever tried another travel company, and the answer is no. Why? Just read Driving With No Brakes, and that should answer the question rather well.
The ins and outs of the travel industry are well illustrated, sort of like successes and horror stories. Luckily the successes outweigh the others. Some might find the book repetitive or perhaps a little self-indulgent, but I found it a truly believable success story. How can I judge this? Well I feel that I have personally been shown a world, now 57 countries, by a company that believes it its product.
I have wondered for some time about trip planning and why go here and not there. What should I see? Should I miss this, and not that? The book serves to illustrate the careful planning, and the careful listening to those who matter most: the travelers. It answers the why do we go here and see that.
The goals of running a company for the benefit of it's consumers are very well spelled out in detail, along with a human side. Team and family effort just seemed to be poured into GCT as a labor of love.
I don't want to seem like a commerical for GCT, but if you want to see the book come to life, just take one of their trips. You will see what I mean.
Traveler: Richard Singer, 28-time traveler, Studio City, California
Two great non-ordinary people starting a new forward thinking great company, with dedicated great associates serving thousands of grateful repeat travelers. This is a great story of love, vision, work, focus, family, change, and more love. Enjoy the successes you all deserve and many more!! "Let's go on a trip !"--- thank you for the book and many super trips---
Traveler: Pat and Rod Vitty, 13-time traveler, Quechee, Vermont
Thank you for quoting me on the back cover of Driving With No Brakes. I’m honored. I was in the travel incentive business for 30 years and had my own company with my husband. When I retired, I turned over all of my travel to OAT, and have been very satisfied. You do a great job for the price.
I found chapters eight and nine of this book particularly interesting from a traveler’s point of view. My own thoughts about OAT and Grand Circle are mirrored in chapter eight, and I found chapter nine very moving. I’m not a very emotional person, but I actually cried after reading about Egypt Air Flight 990 and how you handled it … My quote on the back cover still sums up this book: "This is a business person’s Three Cups of Tea." You are to be commended for giving back. It makes me proud and pleased to be your client.
Good luck with the sale of the book.
Traveler: Maxine Leichtman, 15-time traveler, New York, NY
I've just finished reading your book...I originally thought I'd just skim through it, but soon found myself "hooked". As I read I was not only fascinated by the early history of Grand Circle, but came to realize that you really do listen to our complaints. When we first started to travel with OAT we had an awful time dealing with "The Office" no one knew anything--except how to collect you money and that was often wrong! We found that after the first greetings on a trip everyone was busy exchanging their horror stories of dealing with "The Office" Our mantra was "How do they put on such outstanding trips despite The Office?" In reading the book I realized that complaints of The Office have really fallen off and it is rare these days that the subject even comes up at all!! So you really have pulled off a miracle!!!! and the fact that your group sales associates are not changing with every trip as used to be the case. We are leaving with a group of 26 on the Great Rivers trip and at our pre-party I am going to use the book as part of the decorations and am prepared to lend it to nearly everybody we travel with (we usually have 10 core people who always travel with us) and I know they will be eager to read all about how GCT and OAT really work. Thanks for sending the book.
Traveler: Gail Rhone, 9-time traveler, Newport Beach, CA
When I previewed manuscripts of the first chapters a few months ago, I responded that I couldn’t wait to read the rest of the story. Thank you so much for sending me an early copy of the book. From its catchy title to the glossary, I loved every page. It’s a gutsy, well-told, heartfelt story, open and honest, including the “warts.” I know now why I continue to travel with GCT. It truly is set apart from other travel companies. I can't wait to share this book with my travel buddies.
Traveler: Jane Lehr, 15-time traveler, Shingle Springs, CA
Thank you for sending me the advance copy of the book. I have just completed reading it and have found it really interesting, especially the personal comments about your feelings on traveling and how it broadens the views of travelers. I thoughly found it interesting on how your travel company evolved and why you have given so much to the communities. Reading this book has reinforced why I prefer OAT/Grand Circle for my travels, not only for the quality provided to the traveler, but your concern for your travelers. I have enjoyed the interaction I have had with you over the years and it has been years, going back to the first lunch at 60 State St, gosh it has to be somewhere in the early 90's, to the invite to Harriets Corner regarding the beginning of the book. Thank you for your interest in my input over the years.
Traveler: Gerry Stanley, 21-time traveler, Rockland, MA
Thank you for sending me the advance copy of the book. I have just completed reading it and have found it really interesting. The personnel comments about your feelings on traveling and how it broadens the views of travelers. I thoughly found it interesting on how your travel company evolved and why you have given so much to the communities. Reading this book has reinforced why I prefer OAT/GCT for my travels, not only for the quality provided to the traveler, but your concern for your travelers. I have enjoyed the interaction I have had with you over the years and it has been years, going back to the first lunch at 60 State St, gosh it has to be somewhere in the early 90's, to the invite to Harriets Corner regarding the beginning of the book. Thank you for your interest in my input over the years.
Traveler: Eva Arnott, 6-time traveler, Arlington, MA
This book is a must read for those who love travel and those who wonder how a new company can become successful. This is not a puff piece written to glorify someone's boss, but a real roadmap of a top travel company created from a vision of not profit, but of service. They created a company based upon what they would wish a travel company to be, honest value and more than "this is another castle etc." but "this is how my people live and this is my home". That requires native guides with excellent English skills as well as excellent people skills, and folks on the ground who can devise itineraries and lodgings and meals that get an American really in touch with the country and people. They learned from their mistakes (which are described and admitted - unusual) and brought a vision of doing good in these countries through a foundation which they developed (to which the part of the cost of each trip is added). They share also their vision of what a company should be, where every person can help make the organization better without fear.
Those who are interested in creating a successful business of any kind should consider this a "must read". The practical lessons learned and the vision can be applied to any endeavor, not just travel. I wish that I worked for a company like theirs.
There are pictures and quotes added throughout the book that make the picture they paint much more personal and interesting. This is a book well worth reading and thinking about once finished. I am still doing so.
Traveler: Fred Cohen, 16-time traveler, Newton, MA
I enjoyed reading Driving WithNi Brakes On. It was areal page turner and gave me real insight as to how the company is run.
Traveler: Trina Mallet, 8-time traveler, Norwood, MA
Thank you so much for sending me 'Driving With No Brakes.' I read a lot but few books I have enjoyed more than this one. I deeply admire your creativity, your courage, your honesty admitting wrongs and learning from them, and your generosity sharing your profits with the needy of the world.
The development of Grand Circle is fascinating and sounds like a miracle performed by the two of you with the support of your associates, and now your children. What an example you are for other companies and organizations.
I am grateful for all the enjoyable and meaningful times that your company has given me. I discovered Grand Circle shortly after I retired from Georgetown University and took my first trip in January 1988, 'Hong Kong, Bangkok & Singapore,' and have taken about 50 trips since then. Inevitably the weight of the years is now slowing me down, but I still enjoy Grand Circle Travel. I took the 'Paris to Normandy' River Cruise in the spring and I am going to 'Costa del Sol' in the fall.
After reading your book, I feel like we are personal friends. I certainly share your love of travel and believe that travel is the most meaningful and effective learning experience, and that the world is the best classroom. Travel broadens your horizon beyond friends and borders and helps you to understand and appreciate your fellow human beings and nature. I love your hometown where I lived for a few years before moving to Washington. Occasionally I return. I graduated from Boston University, B.S. and M.S.
The Grand Circle Foundation is a bight light in the world thanks to your generosity. What an inspiration and a great example you are. What a wonderful family you also are.
May G-d bless you and give you and your children a long life, good health, happiness and success in whatever you do.
Traveler: Luisa Contreras, 22-time traveler, Washington, DC
I found the new book "Driving with no Brakes" by Alan & Harriet Lewis to be a fascinating read. After a 16 year relatiomship as a Group Leader with Grand Circle Travel and a personal relationship with Alan, the book was not only interesting but a humerous reflection of these two "risk takers". I finished reading the book while on a trip where I met other GCT travelers. Their interest prompted me to give them my copy and after 3 days thier comment was, like minr had been, "I can't put this story down !" For anyone interesred in a story of success though good luck, bad luck, trials and tribulations with a grear sense of humor this is a great one.
Traveler: Chris Trull, 26-time traveler, Fairfield Glade, TN
We'd love to hear what you thought of Driving With No Brakes ...