The vibe was festive at Mattito’s on Forest Lane as I slipped into a booth with Michelle Frymire, CEO of travel management company CWT. She picked the restaurant because it’s close to her home office and because of its “secret” dip.
Locals who have been around for a while will know it as Bob Armstrong dip. Whatever you call it, it’s a delicious concoction of queso, seasoned ground beef, guacamole, and sour cream. One bite, and I was hooked.
Frymire joined CWT in 2019 as executive VP and CFO. Within 18 months, she added president to her title and was responsible for the company’s global transformation, finance, HR, strategy, and technology—all while navigating a pandemic that wreaked havoc on the industry. She took the helm of the company this past May. It has 12,000 employees in 45 countries.
Joining CWT was a return to her travel roots. Frymire began her career as a financial analyst at American Airlines then moved to Continental and Delta. Working in the industry was always fraught with some adversity, she says.
“At American, there was a flight attendant strike. Delta was trying to reimagine its entire company. And when I was at Continental, it had just emerged from its second bankruptcy and was a turnaround business,” she adds. “It was challenging but also exciting and fulfilling, and all of it prepared me for what we’ve faced with the pandemic.”
After Delta, Frymire held CFO posts that put her at the center of several transformative business situations, including reorganizations and an IPO. This made her a strong director candidate, and she was tapped to join the board of Dallas’ Spirit Realty Corp. earlier this year.
When I mention that she seems to not be fazed by drama, Frymire laughs and says all of her career experiences have taught her to “control what you can control, make the difficult decisions, and stay true to your values.”
Besides Dallas, CWT’s executive team is based in Minneapolis, North Carolina, London, Paris, and Stockholm. So, leaders were well versed in virtual meetings before they became commonplace. Recently, though, the team gathered in Paris, and another meeting is scheduled for October.
“We can’t help clients optimize their travel if we can’t do it ourselves,” Frymire says.
Helping clients—the U.S. government and military and some of the largest companies on the planet—navigate the new world of travel has created a business opportunity for CWT.
The company’s robust app and team of counselors help travelers know which COVID rules are in effect where and provide safety guidance.
Business travel is rebounding, but it varies by country and industry. Some U.S. clients are back to their 2019 travel levels, while others are only doing about 20 percent of what they once did, Frymire says. Still, she is confident about the industry’s future.
“People said travel would never come back after 9/11, but it did,” she says. “There’s nothing that replaces the power of the human connection.”