FILED IN: Clients Who Inspire, Small Business Spotlight
Posted By: Jamie Kutchman, Founder
I am so excited to introduce you to one of our favorite clients of all time. The first thing that struck me about Ashley is that she is not what you might expect. Allow me to explain. With such a high-profile persona, and her high ranking position in the Obama Administration, and now onto owning and running several businesses, I guess I was expecting her personality to be a lot more formal and reserved, similar to the “buttoned up” personalities of other clients of ours who hold similar prominent roles. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Quite immediately, Ashley's emails to us when working on custom wedding welcome gifts for her Jamaica destination wedding were chock full of smiley face emojis, hearts, exclamation points, countless "thank you's", and exuberant words expressing how excited she was to be working together. We always loved receiving these ray-of-sunshine emails from Ashley and now that her wedding has since come and gone, we're elated to remain in touch and work with her on more business-related gifting. (To be honest, when her wedding weekend arrived, as thrilled as we were for her, we were truly sad at the thought of no longer having her lighting up our inboxes any longer.) But don't let us mislead you. Please don't mistake her bright, warm, and lively personality as lacking professionalism. Quite the contrary! Ashley is insanely inspiring, smart, hard working, wise beyond her years, and we are so honored to have take time out of her busy schedule to share her thoughts with us about life, career, business, her beloved bernedoodle Fozzy, and more. Okay, enough from me. It's time to hear from Ashley in her own words...
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business or line of work?
I’m Ashley Tate-Gilmore, CEO of Fortis Global, Managing Partner of Tate & Associates, and Managing Partner of Ashland Jackson Brand. When my mother passed in 2018, I took over her strategic public relations and community affairs consulting firm, Tate & Associates, to continue her work and legacy. So I have multiple lines of work, but primarily travel logistics management and professional services consulting.
How did you arrive at doing what you’re doing now? In other words, which experience or experiences prepared you for this point in your professional life?
In 2003, when I was just 20 and home from on break from Howard University, I was selected for an internship with Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign. When he won, I became his executive assistant in his U.S. Senate office, overseeing all personal logistics for 4 years. After winning the White House in 2008, President Obama invited me along, and I ultimately became the Director of the White House Travel Office in 2010. I managed all aspects of travel for the President, staff, and press, coordinating and directing the precise logistics to secure their safety and comfort on every presidential trip. Because I often arrived at each destination first, I also served as a “mini-ambassador” and engaged with foreign delegates ahead of pivotal international meetings. My travels with the President brought me to 6 continents and 62 countries. Since the end of President Obama’s final term in 2017, I’ve had the privilege of continuing to plan and manage the Obama family’s personal travel while working on building and launching Fortis Global, my exclusive emergency travel concierge company that offers members bespoke travel assistance and emergency travel services that they can’t access anywhere else in the world.
From President Obama’s visit with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle to his joint press conference on the front lawn of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s home to Pope Francis’ visit to the White House – literally ALL of my experiences have prepared me for this moment in my life. Every trip – every plan – every event. I’m passionate about creating bespoke experiences, so my professional career naturally led me to me plan personal events like my fabulous “On The Run” 35th birthday party, seeing Beyoncé and Jay-Z with friends in San Diego; and recently, my dear friend and Fortis Ambassador Damien Escobar’s surprise engagement and his fiance’s birthday party in London.
Tell us about your mission and core values related to your business?
Fortis Global’s mission is to reduce exposure and assure preparedness to obstacles that arise during global travels. Because I’ve built Fortis Global with my family, our family values are our foundation, and at the core of those values is a strong work ethic. It is essential that we provide our members with the highest level of support and assistance 24/7.
What is your biggest joy in business ownership and/or your particular line of work?
Working for yourself! It can be challenging and even frustrating at times, but you have the freedom to do it your way! There is immense joy in seeing my dreams realized by sharing a set of goals that I get to nurture and cultivate with like-minded people to create something very special for our members.
What do you find most challenging about business ownership and/or your particular line of work?
Business ownership is challenging because you’re responsible for everything, EVERYTHING – other people’s well being, your own wellbeing. From business structure to productivity, everything falls back to you. In my line of work, it never ends because we are constantly working to support our members.
What’s one of the biggest problems you’ve faced as a business owner/professional and how did you solve it?
Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest problem we probably will ever experience in our lifetime. No amount of planning or emergency preparedness could have prepared us for what is happening right now. What we do best is to respond and take action. As a small business and employer, we’ve worked through the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program to protect our staff and continue business operations. As an elite service provider, we immediately began to look at how our business and services would shift based on the pandemic and immediately began focusing on how we could help our members and our community.
How has Coronavirus impacted your primary business model? How have you pivoted and why?
This pandemic has changed how we live and how we will travel. Our business model hasn’t changed, but because of the constantly changing travel guidelines and the absolute need to be safe and healthy wherever we are, our members need our help and expertise to navigate this new world. We are working to prepare them, so when they need to travel again, they can be confident they are traveling under the Fortis Global shield of protection. We are uniquely equipped to provide our members with travel services and support to help them manage their changing plans. This includes navigating airline and travel loyalty programs, hotel best practices, air travel planning, multiple residence management, travel cancellations, and general health and safety throughout their travels. And, with our mission always at the forefront of our endeavors, we are intent on doing our part to help assist our communities with resources and support as we all navigate the evolving COVID-19 outbreak. Our team worked to coordinate meal trains for local Chicago hospitals and partnered with dear friend and violinist Damien Escobar to purchase and donate protective masks for New York City’s first responders.
What behind-the-scenes work had to happen in order to pivot and how long did it take you to introduce your new model to the market?
We quickly made the decision to work from home, pre-shelter in place, with the immediate goal of protecting ourselves, our families and our neighbors, and ultimately to help flatten the curve. We dove in to figure out what relief we could provide our communities, and of course, how to help our members navigate the “new normal.” With that, we are staying up-to-date and remain hyper-informed of changes and updates globally as they happen.
What advice would you give to others looking to follow in your footsteps?
Well, I would say don’t do it (I’m kidding)! Startups aren’t going to be profitable the first 2 to 3 years, and that had to be reiterated to me. You have to be steadfast and can’t get discouraged. It takes time. It’s a marathon – run slow and steady to get to your finish line. I also felt like I was never fully valued as a black woman, generally, in the world. I believe it’s a commonality for women in any business or field. Most women, at some point, have felt some sense of vulnerability in that they were not appreciated or valued in any business or any field. It’s not an easy space to thrive in. So, my advice is to build your village with people you trust.
If you turn back time and tell the 18 year old version of yourself one thing, what would it be?
Cherish the days. I learned this in my 30s. Cherish EVERY SINGLE DAY. I’ve always been a person who speaks her heart, so I have no regrets. But college and my early days in the White House are fuzzy, and I wish I had journaled and taken more photos.
Who are some people you find exceptionally inspiring and why?
The women in my family and in my company! I think they’re really dope – there’s no drama, just respect and appreciation for each other and our talents. They inspire me to stay positive on a daily basis, especially right now, when we’re all leaning on each other to get through this crisis. My mom, Desiree Tate – she was, and still is, exceptionally inspiring. President and Mrs. Obama, obviously. Beyoncé, of course. Jhené Aiko – I love her. She writes her own music, and her lyrics feel like they’re pulled directly from my heart. Fozzy, my tri-colored Bernedoodle, doesn’t necessarily inspire me, but he makes me very happy. :)
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Number 1: Hang out with Fozzy!!! Of course I love to travel for leisure. I love spending time with family and friends, I love the spa, and I’m a foodie, so dining at new restaurants and some of my favorite go-tos. Currently, while sheltering in place, I’m enjoying online floral arrangement workshops and watching my favorite TV shows (The Crown, The Office, The Cosby Show, A Different World, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta AND Potomac).
Why was gifting with M&G important to you for your wedding/event/client experience?
I’m that girl who kept a wedding folder. I’ve had a vision for my wedding for a long time! When Pinterest started in 2010, I was in the White House and traveling all the time. So I’d use my time on the plane to create my wedding folders and sort all of my ideas. People were still using gift bags, and I always wanted something more formal, like a box with graphics and packaging. I thought I was going to have to make them myself! And then I saw Jamie’s first beautiful Marigold & Grey box on Pinterest and I was immediately OBSESSED! I started pinning everything Marigold & Grey, and I swore that when I got married I was going to use them, and that’s exactly what I did! I can’t say enough how much I admire Jamie and her exquisite work! Now I’m excited to work with her and her team for our business needs!
Any big announcements related to your business that you’d like to share?
Specific to COVID-19 relief efforts, Fortis Global coordinated a range of initiatives to help our first-responder and healthcare communities to help protect the front-line staff that are working 24/7 to save lives!
Hospital Meal Trains
In April, Illinois had climbed to the third-highest COVID-19 cases in the country. Chicago is our home base and we partnered with Northwestern Memorial Hospital to provide meals to their hard-working staff. Northwestern is known as Chicago's leading healthcare provider and they are still on the frontlines of this city, helping fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As Northwestern Medicine continues to take a strong stance on treating patients affected by COVID-19, we have worked to support their physicians, nurses, and staff during this unprecedented time. These selfless doctors and nurses work long shifts with shortages of supplies, let alone time to take much-needed breaks, so we coordinated ongoing meal donations and deliveries to them.
We proudly partnered with dear friend and Fortis Ambassador, and world-renowned soul violinist Damien Escobar, on his Masks For the Masses initiative. Born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, New York, Damien used his platform to raise awareness and funds through the months of April and May to purchase and deliver at least 50,000 protective masks to first responders in New York City, which remains the epicenter of our nation’s COVID-19 outbreak. Damien launched this initiative when he became aware first-hand of the risk first responders were facing as they battled the COVID-19 outbreak. A family member is an ER nurse, and as he listened to her daily stress and struggle to protect herself, it became real – he couldn’t live with the thought that he could lose her to the virus. So what was next? From then on, Damien focused on helping people on the front lines get the protection they need, understanding that they can’t protect us if they can’t protect themselves. He found and partnered with a distributor of N95 protective face masks who agreed to match his donation dollar for dollar to ideally provide as many masks to front-line workers as possible.
How can our audience find you and your work?
We hope you've enjoyed getting to know Ashley a little better, learning from her, and of course being inspired by her! I know we are around here at Marigold & Grey. What is the one thing you learned from her that resonates with you the most? Let us know here. We'd love to hear from you! And for past 'Clients Who Inspire' posts, visit here.