The name Michelle Peluso may not ring a bell right away. But if you’ve ever booked a trip on Travelocity or purchased a pair of Nikes (she was recently named to the board of directors), you’re already familiar with her work.
Prior to joining flash sale site Gilt.com in 2013, Peluso was an executive with Citigroup and CEO of Travelocity.com. She started her first business, teaching swim classes, as a child, and created A New Generation for Peace in high school, a nonprofit that brought together teens from various countries to discuss global issues such as poverty.
In 1999, Peluso created Site59.com, a last-minute travel deal site that was acquired by Travelocity.com. In 2013, she was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People. We spoke with Peluso about some of the lessons she’s learned along the way, and what advice she’d give her younger self.
When running a business, results are an important benchmark for excellence, but it’s not the only thing. Early in her career, Peluso learned "the how": how you get there, is just as important as "the what."
Over time, she learned to be ruthless in removing people who are sucking the life out of colleagues, destroying the company’s culture and morale. "Maybe I didn’t have the courage [early on]," she reflects.
Now, she’s unequivocal: if that person can’t or won’t change, they need to go. "Even if that person’s hitting their numbers, if they destroy the confidence of others or act without integrity . . . it’s not acceptable to me anymore," Peluso says. "[I see] more clearly in my own mind how I want people to drive results, how I want them to show up every day," she says.
"If you’re going to be ambitious, it’s going to be a rollercoaster," Peluso says. With the highs come the lows, and you have to brace yourself for the tough times. Staying positive and focused is critical, as is being humble and willing to learn. "You need to get through the lows [because] other people depend on you. You have to be at your best," she says.
Peluso finds inspiration in David Foster Wallace’s "This Is Water" commencement address to students at Kenyon College, and believes it’s important to "have people around you who will challenge you." She’s a big believer in doing 360 evaluations—where bosses, peers, direct reports, etc. answer dozens of questions in a number of categories to provide an honest assessment of an employee’s performance.
Last week, Gilt’s executive team reviewed their 360s. Peluso acknowledges this can be a tough, but necessary, process. It’s important to be obsessed about getting better, the need to constantly improve. "My sincere hope is that I’ll be a better leader five years from now," she says.
"Finding quiet time is something I’ve been thinking about recently," Peluso says. Now more than ever, we have more data, more technology, more media and information at our fingertips. For some people, running or practicing yoga is a way to unplug and think.
For Peluso, it’s long flights. She recently returned from a trip to Ireland, where she used the flight time to reflect. It’s important to get out of the day-to-day and spend some time really thinking, instead of just reacting, she says. It could be as simple as a night (or a few hours) away from email, where you sit with a pad of paper and pen and think about things, she says.
"Being a leader is something you earn," Peluso says. To that end, it’s important to her to make others look good. When her employees go home at night and talk to their loved ones about their job, she wants them to be excited about their work and growth. "[It’s about] carving enough time thinking about your best people [and] spending time developing them," she says.