Nancy Fogarty
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Nancy Fogarty

Director of Project Management & Usability, Grand Circle Corporation

Growing up in the rural town of Gilbertsville, Massachusetts, Nancy Fogarty learned early on that she was in control of enriching her own life. "My parents divorced when I was young and my mom worked several jobs," says Nancy, "so entertainment was pretty much up to me." In between the hiking excursions, road races, and impromptu games of softball ("back when I was young and fit," jokes Nancy), she began to dream of exploring a bit farther from home. "My grandmother traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada, and she kept postcards of her travels in a big binder, along with a wooden puzzle of a world map," Nancy remembers. "Eventually, I could put the map together in about five minutes, and then I'd spend the rest of the day dreaming about foreign places."

Young Nancy had another dream, too—a bigger one: "Since I was a little kid," she says, "I knew I was going to leave this world knowing I'd made a difference."

Now a 21-year Grand Circle associate, Nancy has made both travel and philanthropy integral parts of her life—along with leadership and mentoring skills that have helped her become an inspiration to her peers.

Lessons in Leadership

A lot has changed over 21 years, and in a sense, Nancy and Grand Circle have grown up together. "When I started, the company was small: just 80 associates in Boston with no worldwide offices," says Nancy. Today, Grand Circle employs more than 450 associates in Boston alone—and staffs more than 35 offices around the world.

As the company evolved, Nancy welcomed every opportunity to evolve along with it. "At first, I was surprised that Alan even knew my name," Nancy recalls. "Eventually, he was asking me to research processes between the departments that created catalogs, built new itineraries, and handled itinerary changes." Her tenacity resulted in the creation of a brand-new position in the company, in which she helped create instrumental databases that the company relies on to this today.

She has also mastered the often difficult skill of challenging leadership when she has doubts about a project. It came as a hard lesson when Nancy was part of a team responsible for launching a new computer system—which eventually ended up being abandoned. "I remember standing in the office of our Senior Vice President and asking, 'Can I trust you?'" Despite his assurances that the project would succeed, Nancy was unsure—but she buried her instincts. "I knew I shouldn't have trusted him, but I didn't raise the flag," she says. "Today, my colleagues know I'm ready to go outside the chain of command and raise issues when something's broken." For Nancy, it all comes back to her integrity—which her fellow associates have all come to expect and respect.

A Goal of Rebuilding Lives

While Grand Circle certainly relies on her contributions in the office, Nancy knows that there are many people around the world who need her help even more. "I love that Grand Circle gives back," Nancy says. "In fact, that's what I love most."

Whenever she and her husband, Chris, take trips with the company, they make it a point to leave something of value behind. They've funded a well in a Cambodian village, for example, and purchased desks for a classroom at the Ngamo School in Zimbabwe. But Nancy's true passion lies in the work they've done here in the U.S.: helping to rebuild homes ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

"We went to the Gulf for the first time eight months after the storm hit," says Nancy. "I was blown away by the devastation and by how people were living." She realized she and Chris had a unique opportunity to make a huge difference, since Chris has building expertise. "Together, we were able to put my goal of making a difference into action."

Working with Rebuilding Together, an organization that partners with Grand Circle Foundation each year to renovate a home in Boston, Nancy and Chris returned to the Gulf five years in a row. "Each year, we still saw devastation," says Nancy. "It's so rewarding to go there for a week and get people closer to reclaiming their lives, and to see the hope in their eyes." At first, the couple focused their efforts on the New Orleans area, which received the majority of attention in the media. They soon realized, though, that the need was equally dire in the Mississippi Gulf region. "It got hit directly, and was completely wiped out," says Nancy, "so we refocused our energy there."

She has vivid memories of the gratitude she encountered from Gulf residents everywhere she went. "Once I went back to my car after a trip to Home Depot, and there was a CD left on my windshield," Nancy remembers. "It was from a local musician, and the songs were all about thanking the volunteers who were rebuilding."

Now that the Gulf is in trouble again, Nancy is researching opportunities to help clean up the oil spill this fall—but she's fully prepared to go back to rebuilding if she finds that's where she'll have the most impact.

From One Leader to Another

In the meantime, Nancy has been impacting the life of a college-bound senior as a supervisor for our Next Generation Leaders program. Not content to leave her young intern, Yelithza, with busywork that doesn't require much thought, Nancy has gone to great lengths to provide a valuable learning experience. "I challenged her to chair a weekly meeting," says Nancy. "By teaching her how to prepare and hold people accountable, I'm building up her leadership ability—which is something she can take with her wherever she goes in life."

It's the type of lesson Nancy has been sharing with her Grand Circle associates for the past 21 years—and just one of many reasons why she's already fulfilled her childhood dream of knowing she's made a difference.

Not that she has any intention of resting on her laurels. As long as there's still a need, Nancy will be leading the charge to give back. After all, it's what she loves most.