Magdalena Zoroza
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Magdalena Zoroza

Regional General Manager, South America

Magda ZorozaFrom an early age, Magdalena "Magda" Zoroza learned to appreciate the excitement of discovering new places. "My father was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot," she explains. When Magda was just six years old, the family moved from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia—the world's southernmost city, situated at the very tip of Argentina's wild and rugged Patagonia region. "It taught me that other places in the world have unique natural beauty," says Magda. It also taught her of the wide breadth of natural beauty contained within her native country—and it's a lesson she's never forgotten.

"The best decision I could have made."

With travel already an integral part of her life, it was a natural decision for Magda to study tourism at university. "It was the best decision I could have made," Magda says. "I love getting in touch with other cultures." Immediately after graduation, she started working for a large Argentine tour operator as an operations manager. In 2004, however, a new opportunity piqued her interest. "A local guide who worked with Grand Circle told me that the company was opening an office in Buenos Aires," she says. "So I thought, 'Why not go see what this is all about?'"

As it turned out, Magda really liked the American company. "It seemed totally different than the local company I worked for," she remembers. "I wanted more chances to grow and to keep moving, whereas the Argentine company was more static. I wanted to do something different." On her very first day with Grand Circle, she realized just how different the company was when she was asked to read the handbook about company culture—which described Grand Circle's vision, mission, and the values associates are expected to exemplify. The handbook also described the nonprofit work of Grand Circle Foundation. "I read it all and I liked it," says Magda … but she admits that she needed to see it in action first. "We Argentineans can be skeptical," she says, laughing. "I remember thinking, 'If they do all this, I'll be really happy.' Sure enough, it was all true."

New role, new risks, new rewards

Magda and her team jump for joy in Torres del Paine National Park.Risk Taking is one of the core Grand Circle values described in the handbook Magda read that day—and she never anticipated how important this trait would quickly become. Just one short year after she was hired to work in the Operations department, Susan Harvey, the Executive Vice President in charge of Grand Circle's trips in the Americas, asked Magda to take on a new role as the Regional General Manager of Argentina and Chile. It was quite a promotion, and a huge opportunity—but it was also a complete surprise to Magda. "Susan saw something in me that at that time, I didn't see in myself," she says. Because it required a totally different skill set, taking the new position was a huge risk for Magda—but she embraced her new responsibilities. 

Since then, every day has held opportunities to take risks, some of them bigger—and scarier—than others. Under Magda's leadership, OAT has launched two brand-new trips in Argentina and Chile, giving travelers the opportunity to appreciate the wide range of natural beauty that she discovered herself at such a young age. Today, she has expanded her responsibility even further to include the entire continent of South America.

But while Magda has enjoyed her share of successes in her leadership role, she has encountered challenges as well. "A leader needs to lead by example," says Magda, "and sometimes that means making difficult decisions." In 2008, travelers weren't rating their South America trips as highly as they used to. It was clear to Magda that she needed to take her team to the next level—but the change needed to start with herself. "I was mothering my team too much," admits Magda, who is also a proud mother of two. "I needed to change my leadership style, to be tougher."

"Magda and I had many heartfelt discussions about how she needed to stop being a mother, and that not every associate will meet our expectations," says Susan Harvey. "She took this feedback and never looked back!" In the months that followed, Magda relentlessly kept her team focused on three "magic words": accountability, commitment, and teamwork. Ever since, her excellence results have consistently exceeded goals. "Today she is still a mother—but only to her two beautiful boys," says Susan. "And she's the exceptional leader of a high-performing team in Argentina."

In 2010, Magda's outstanding efforts earned her the Honey Streit Reyes Award, named for a now-retired company legend who has worked tirelessly to create unforgettable experiences for Grand Circle and OAT travelers. "I love meeting travelers and seeing their faces when they tell me they loved their trips," says Magda. "It makes all the hard work make sense."

Joining forces to change lives

Magda and La Concepcion Principal Monica Ceruti.Just as she changes the lives of our travelers through her commitment to excellence, Magda has also changed the lives of a special Argentinean community through her commitment to Grand Circle Foundation. Five years ago, when the Foundation was seeking a project to support in Argentina, Magda discovered La Concepcion School in the Parana River Delta. The school had very little in terms of funding, but Magda knew that La Concepcion had one asset that was crucial to a successful partnership: the leadership of a passionate, dedicated principal. Monica Ceruti has been working at the school since 1969. Over time, she has seen the positive results of her strong leadership, with more people in the community finishing school and finding employment—but with no money to make improvements, the school's infrastructure was posing endless challenges.

"When I met Monica in 2005, the school was using the local chapel for classrooms," says Magda. "The community couldn't afford the space or the money for both." Under the joint leadership of Magda and Monica, the Foundation has donated more than $70,000 toward improvements at La Concepcion—which has allowed the community to once again use the chapel for religious services. "I remember when we presented Monica with the first check for $20,000," says Magda. "She wasn't expecting us, so I surprised her with a group of Program Directors and Trip Leaders—and a big cardboard check. She started crying and ringing the school bell to call all of the children. It was an emotional moment for all of us."

Magda (behind kids, far right) and her team with the students of La Concepcion.A portion of the Foundation funds were used to build three new classrooms on stilts, which help protect the property from water damage when the seasonal floods arrive on the delta. In the summer of 2010, the benefit of these classrooms proved all too real when a period of extremely heavy rains left every other room at La Concepcion completely flooded. "Monica called me, desperate," Magda remembers. "I immediately emailed my team and the local Trip Leaders and Program Directors to see how we could help them recover what they'd lost."

Together, the team raised $1505 to help Monica replace items that were destroyed by the flood—and the Foundation agreed to match the donation, bringing the total to $3010. Next, the Foundation turned to travelers who had visited Argentina, who donated another $1455. These funds will provide new furniture for one classroom. In addition, Magda organized a community service event for her team at La Concepcion, during which they helped paint three new classrooms.

It's just the most recent in a series of changes that have helped change lives in the La Concepcion community. "It was so amazing to hear Monica tell me, 'The school has grown more with your help in five years than it has in the past 35 years,'" says Magda. "It really has changed completely."

Magda, too, has grown more in five years than she ever thought possible. "I've had great opportunities for personal growth," she says. She dreams of further growth in the future—for herself, her team, and the region she loves so dearly. "Together, I hope we can keep increasing the number of travelers who come to this beautiful place," she says. One thing's for certain: The more travelers who come to Argentina, the more who will fall in love—thanks to the passion and commitment of this outstanding leader.

Featured in our November 2010 E-Newsletter. Read full issue here.