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Friday,  April 19, 2024 11:10 AM 

“He made me feel like I could do anything”: The travel industry remembers Gary Gzik

“He made me feel like I could do anything”: The travel industry remembers Gary Gzik
Presenter, corporate trainer, management consultant and author Gary Gzik, CEO of Build a Kick Ass Company, a division of BizXcel Inc., sadly passed away on Nov. 20. (Supplied)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The travel industry is mourning the loss of a dynamic individual who made workplaces awesome by helping people realize their full potential.

International presenter, corporate trainer, management consultant and author Gary Gzik, CEO of Build a Kick Ass Company, a division of BizXcel Inc., sadly passed away from a heart attack on Monday (Nov. 20) with his wife, best friend and travel partner, Jane, by his side.  He was 60 years old.

He is survived by his wife and his children, Hannah and Evan.

Gary, referred to as a “Chief Energizing Officer,” was a catalyst for individuals and teams that chose to “become more” at work, and thrive in life. 

Gary Gzik, CEO of Build a Kick Ass Company, sadly passed away on Nov. 20. (Dan Galbraith)

For nearly 40 years, he worked with hundreds of organizations – and thousands of people – to “lead the revolution” on how work is done, sharing his expertise in leadership, corporate culture development, team building, personal development, conflict resolution, communication skills, and strategic planning.

Gary was a master at helping people fight mediocrity and complacency.

Gary helped people reach their full potential. (Dan Galbraith)

He was a self-made “workplace zombie hunter” who, through high-energy presentations, gave individuals the keys to unlocking their creativity and best version of themselves.

He made sure people’s jobs didn’t suck. 

With Gary, it wasn’t about working to live, or living to work. It was about living.

Creating connections in travel

Over the years, Gary’s lessons inspired many in the travel industry, where he was often booked as a keynote speaker and consultant.

The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND), for one, called on Gary year after year to lead workshops at its national conference – at the request of travel advisors, who benefitted greatly from his upbeat presentations, which often involved physical activities and peer-to-peer sharing.

Gary was a regular speaker at TTAND's national conference. (Pax Global Media)

“He did an amazing job connecting with our agent partners and he very quickly learned about the travel business,” said Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND, in a statement to PAX.  “Gary was very much able to connect on a very personal level with everyone he talked to. He was able to bring out a smile, no matter how your day was going, when he was on stage. He loved talking to the audience.”

Over time, Gary worked more with TTAND, eventually becoming the company’s go-to consultant at staff and executive retreats. He also helped coach team members.

From left: Travel advisor Ashley Forget; Gary Gzik and his wife Jane; TTAND's Penny Martin. (Dan Galbraith)

“Gary would literally spend his own time to talk to our agents, to give them ideas and suggestions on their life path and he would do it 100 per cent on his own time,” Friisdahl shared.

Gary’s daughter, Hannah, is following in her Dad’s footsteps in being a motivational and life coach.

“She’s doing an amazing job and I know how proud he was of her,” Friisdahl said.

From left: Gary Gzik with Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND. (Dan Galbraith)

At TTAND’s conferences, Gary would often bring his wife, Jane, “who would always keep he and I in line,” Friisdahl said.

“Rhonda, the team and I will miss Gary a great deal and I just wish all the best for his family during this very difficult time,” he said.

An inspiration to all

Gary inspired the world to bring their energy – not just their time.

Travel advisor Judith Coates, of Wired for Travel, remembers Gary’s pumped-up presentations well. 

“He talked about surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you, who have a work ethic that you want to emulate, and who have a positive attitude,” Coates said. “He said, ‘We become the people we spend time with.’”

This later inspired Coates to form a “Mastermind” group.

Judith Coates (left) and Gary Gzik get ready for take off. (Supplied)

“I emailed four advisors who were top performers and asked them if they’d be interested in meeting on Zoom every other week to share best practices, talk about what we were doing well and what challenges, if any, we were facing,” Coates said. “We continued to meet for over a year, sharing support and encouragement. I learned so much about running a successful business – so much so, that my business grew exponentially over that year.”

“He made me feel like I could do anything”

Gary had that ability to create workplaces where people valued themselves, and each other.

Whether it was unpacking the meaning of being a “shift disturber” – one who’s willing to “shift” in life, and embrace change – or sharing ways to remove interferences to perform better, Gary’s workshops were consistently relatable and relevant. 

“He had a wonderfully positive energy and always left me with incredible food for thought,” said Frances Gertsch, a senior travel advisor at Stewart Travel Group. “He spoke from a place of wanting to offer value to the people he served. Whether we were talking about transformational change, or winning, or success, it was always about what actions I could take to get closer to where I wanted to be.”

“It was a feeling with Gary. He made me feel like I could do anything.”

Gary Gzik (left) and Eric Lam of Safeguard Canada. (Supplied)

The team at P.E.I-based Stewart Travel Group is thinking of Gary’s family, friends, colleagues, and his communities, during this difficult time.

“His infectious zest for life and for his life's work stood out to me,” said Cheryl Young, Stewart Travel Group’s business manager. “He truly loved people and helping them become their best in their business.”

Beverley Edgar of TTAND credits Gary for helping her gain confidence – especially in the early days of starting her travel business.

Gary Gzik was known for his dynamic, upbeat workshops. (Dan Galbraith)

“One of the most important words of advice he gave was to ‘be clear about what you know for sure,’ and write it on a piece of paper. Then ask, ‘Why am I worried or stressed?” Edgar shared. “This has helped me maintain perspective in my work and personal life.”

“Gary Gzik was the real deal. He really cared about us as travel advisors and as people. He was a big part of the TTAND family and I will miss learning from him at our conferences.”

Eric Lam, an associate distributor and branding specialist at Safeguard Canada, echoed that sentiment.

“We lost a really good one,” Lam told PAX. “He genuinely was the real deal. A great guy who brought out the best in everyone.”

Shean Carmichael, director of host agency operations at ONVIGO, had the privilege of witnessing Gary's passion and personality for many years. 

Gary and his wife Jane attend a TTAND conference. (Dan Galbraith)

“His true gift was the ability to speak directly to you – whether in a room of 10 or a room of 500,” Carmichael told PAX. “He understood people and their motivations and only ever wanted to help people reach their best selves. He was a man of many talents and a true leader."

A passion for teaching & listening 

What stood out for many was Gary’s ability to recognize emotions and understand people’s perspectives.

"Gary was one of the most genuine people whom I and others have had the pleasure of meeting over the last few years,” said travel advisor Monty Dinally of Beaches and Beyond. “This genuineness showed in many ways in terms of his empathy for those struggling. It also showed his passion for teaching and listening to ideas and suggestions.”

Dinally recalls a moment in 2021 when his youngest son was experiencing mental health issues and Gary took time to listen. 

Gary loved engaging with audiences. (Judith Coates)

“I asked Gary to have a conversation, and without hesitation, he agreed and spent a great deal of time with me. I will forever be grateful for this – even though he was a profoundly busy man. He always made time for me!”

Dinally said he will cherish the many laughs he and Gary shared.

“I recalled him telling me how fun it was to have me hug and kiss him on the cheek whenever we had an opportunity to greet each other.  Boy, we would have a laugh over that,” he said.  

An incredible legacy

In a group statement shared by Gary’s daughter Hannah, the family expresses how “deeply saddened” they are to announce “the passing of an incredible man.”

“We feel so lost and broken without him,” the statement reads. “As we shared the announcement, we received an outpouring of love, stories and words that describe my dad, Gary Gzik, perfectly. It is evident that he left behind an incredible legacy and impacted so many lives, which was his reason for doing what he did all these years.”

The family goes on to say how much they appreciate the travel industry’s support.  

Gary imparted wisdom anywhere he went. (Dan Galbraith)

“We are grateful to each and every one of you who crossed his path because you filled him with so much joy and happiness,” they say.

“Although many agents say he changed their lives, I can guarantee that you genuinely changed his life.”

"Live today"

Gary “imparted wisdom anywhere he went,” and in the spirit of this, the family shared the following: 

“He always liked to talk about the concept of ‘getting to your someday.’ That someday you’ll buy that car, someday you’ll go on that dream trip, someday you’ll mend that relationship, someday you’ll do…”

“Except the problem with using ‘someday’ in your vocabulary is that you’re already setting yourself up to never achieve it. It’s saying it isn’t a priority, therefore, I don’t need to take key actions to get there. Somedays turn into empty promises to yourself.”

“My dad was 60 years young when he passed,” Hannah goes on to say. “Far too young for someone with so much life left to live. But we find comfort in knowing that he never created boundaries in his life with ‘somedays.’ He took every opportunity to be a loving husband, the best dad and the friendliest neighbour. He lived life, he had strong relationships and created experiences for his family that we will cherish forever.”

“And so, to honour a great man, I encourage you to forget your ‘somedays’ and live today. To call the friend you haven’t spoken to in years. To make time for selfcare. To give your family an extra hug, nice and tight, today.”

“Let’s live with purpose. Let’s live with intention. Because let’s face it, my Dad always knew best.”

“From our family to the entire industry – which my Dad always described as family – thank you for bringing a smile to his face. Thank you for always showing kindness to him and our family. We know that you are all grieving with us, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to you as well.”

“Together, we will get through this. Together, we will make my Dad proud. Together we will live our best lives.”

Thanks for everything, Gary.

The world is a lot more awesome because of you.

TTAND has set up a page for donations to Pencils for Kids, a charity that supplies, programs, libraries and schools to communities in need, in lieu of condolence gifts.

Click here to access the fundraising page and make a donation. 

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