Nancy Atkinson | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Nancy Atkinson


Nancy Atkinson is the chief operating officer of Palto Alto–based TripActions Inc., which provides end-to-end corporate-travel management.

The Mistake

Early in my career, when I was a young CEO and business owner, I made a big mistake. I didn't have much business experience at that age — but I thought I did. My mistake was in not thinking things through in a difficult situation, not drilling down to the root cause of a problem, not figuring out how to mitigate it.

I bought that travel company because I wanted to run and build a business and because I love the industry.

I just thought I knew everything and should be making my own decisions where I was the boss.

We had a very demanding client, a financial-services firm. They were so demanding that they were downright abusive to my team.

Because of this, four or five of my agents said to me, “I’m going to quit if you make me work on this account.”

So, I was going to lose staff — really good staff — because of the abuse.

And because I didn't really think [the situation] through, I took it very personally.

I had a knee-jerk reaction. Instead of spending time with the customer and in training my team how to deal with difficult situations, I just resigned the client.

This client had been an incredible revenue contribution to my company. An even more painful part of it was this client grew to be a huge company.

So when I [did this], I lost not only a potential long-term good account but also a whole lot of revenue.

Plus, my team didn't learn anything.

I learned not to have knee-jerk reactions to new information.

The Lesson

I learned not to have knee-jerk reactions to new information.

I made the mistake of resigning one of our biggest and best clients because I didn't think [the situation] through. I had a team that could have provided me with expertise and guidance and advice, but I didn't use them as well as I could have.

I should have listened to my team and spent more time analyzing the needs of that customer.

I apply this lesson every day, all day.

I now consider myself a really good listener. Because of that, I’m able to help guide people through a process, as opposed to just making a quick decision.

TripActions is on Twitter at @TripActions

Photo courtesy of TripActions

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