A day in the life of Jodi Dell Leblanc is never dull or ordinary. She could be working on an ambassador’s trip to India, attending a trade show somewhere in the US or Canada, having a meeting with her team on the US west coast, or taking clients on a tour of The Pierre in New York. “No two days are ever alike. And that is a good thing,” says Ms Leblanc with a wide smile.
All in all she has had some great experiences and regards each venture as a memorable chapter in her life. She learned to dress well from her fashion stint while her job as a travel writer opened the doors to the world for her. She visited Russia before the Wall went down; experienced African safaris and visited every Caribbean island. “I was in my early 20s and my parents didn’t love that their young daughter was running all over the world. But it was such an incredible job. I realised that there’s a big world outside the US and it was just great to meet so many different people,” she says. The interest in experiencing the world also had roots in her upbringing. “My parents always said that vanilla was a very boring flavour.”
As a young girl, Ms Leblanc watched the fascinating adventures of Jacques Cousteau, the French environmentalist. “I think he had a huge impact on the planet. Sunday nights I would sit glued to the television watching sharks and sting rays.” She developed an “absolute love” of the environment and got hooked to snorkelling.
And that’s why her favourite places are where she gets to see wildlife, whether it is a jungle or an underwater experience. One of her best trips has been the visit to the Masai Mara in Kenya where she saw the big five — lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. She is also excited about the Taj Safaris and the four wildlife lodges set up in India. “In Bandhavgarh, if one is lucky, one can spot tigers. Through the Taj Safaris, we are trying to make people understand why we need to protect the animal population.”
Vive le France
Paris is where Ms Leblanc perfected her French with a little help from her mother-in-law who was adamant that her daughter-in-law would learn the language. That was the pre-internet and-cable TV era, when the television had only seven stations, all dubbed in French. Most of her husband’s family spoke no English and she had to do sales and marketing in French. “You really can’t know a language until you are completely immersed. I had no choice but it was a great challenge.” And of course she travelled all over France. “It’s an incredible experience especially from a gastronomical point of view. You really get spoilt for life once you get used to eating French cuisine every day. Now I know and understand why, though they love other ethnic cuisines, the French will just eat French food every day.”
And so one very cold January winter day Ms Leblanc packed her bags and headed to warmer lands. She spent a month touring Taj properties in India and Sri Lanka, understanding the competition, and returned to New York to open Taj’s first sales and marketing office in the US.
Building the Taj brand in the US was quite a challenge. India’s image was limited to clichés (poverty, elephants, sacred cows, etc) but Ms Leblanc soon sold it as a cultural destination. “The Taj brand is entwined with Indian culture. The properties have beautiful Indian fabrics, tapestries, art and sculpture.” She would bring back bangles, bracelets and little hand carvings to show Americans the fun part of India. Since 2005, when the Taj took over the management of the New York icon The Pierre and later acquired the Ritz-Carlton, Boston, and Campton Place in San Francisco, the brand perception has gotten better. The average American is also now more familiar with India through movies and fashion.
Eleven years on, she continues to be passionate about the Taj brand, and proud of the fact that Taj is expanding all over the world [the Taj group has just opened the Taj Cape Town in South Africa]. “There are always exciting new projects happening; it keeps the fire lit. Working for one hotel would be quite boring.”
She ticks off some other required attributes: an incredible amount of energy — mental more than physical — to juggle different projects at one time; a calm temperament to handle difficult situations when things go wrong; patience; and finally honesty.
Ms Leblanc uses her twin strengths of energy and passion, and her Blackberry, to get through the day in the 24/7 hospitality industry. She starts her day by checking 100 plus emails, and is at work by 8am. “I probably should delegate more and I have to learn patience because I want everything done yesterday.” She loves to read and clips everything she finds interesting, habits she picked up from her father. She has passed on her love of reading to her son along with the learning that her “perceived” luxurious lifestyle is not the real world and that he has to make a success of his life on his own.
Work at times spills over into weekends but they are usually devoted to family and outdoor activities such as bike rides, hikes and tennis. As a family the Leblancs go on regular holidays though “sometimes I don’t like to get back into an airplane after all the business trips.”
When asked if she would have liked a different life, Ms Leblanc smiles and confesses that she was always interested in science but she came from a very traditional family and back in the late seventies, science was not encouraged as a profession for women. “I remember asking my parents for a telescope for my 16th birthday and they gave me a fur jacket!”
But Ms Leblanc doesn’t believe in looking back. She knows that she has had a wonderful life with some incredible high spots, and it’s not over yet. As she gets ready for her new role of handling Taj’s international properties, with the Taj expanding steadily into new areas worldwide, Jodi Leblanc is looking ahead for the next amazing and exciting chapter of her life.