When Elizabeth “Lily” Wilson was honored in November 2019 as one of the top 40 women in travel, it was the cap of a breakneck year. The award from the Global Business Travel Association’s WINiT, which recognizes women’s career achievements, came as Wilson was named vice president at the destination management company Access Boston—at 28 years old.
Just the previous fall, Wilson had been elevated from account manager to acting interim manager, then director of events at Access Boston, known as Best of Boston Events before its merger with the 20-office Access Destination Services.
Within the past year, her journey included leadership of a massive, 10,000-person citywide summit, overwork and a resulting revelation and recognition by her (older) peers.
Wilson faced doubts in and outside the firm if she could pull of the citywide summit. It included:
- About 35 events over four days, including at the Museum of Fine Arts, the State Room and Fenway Park.
- A first permitted, timed 5K for 350 runners in Boston Common.
- A final concert for 3,500 people.
The logistics binder still on Wilson’s desk contains hundreds of pages. It’s a tribute to her and four staffers, as is a note from the client: “Your team continues to impress me, and I know it all starts with your leadership … I hope you are proud of what you’ve accomplished.”
Things didn’t look so rosy a month out when long days (and nights) and peak stress became almost overwhelming. Colleagues had been urging Wilson to take a break, and she finally found herself agreeing that stepping back was a good idea.
The day she put down her phone—temporarily—was an eye-opener, Wilson says. After months of 16-hour days, she stopped answering correspondence at midnight, started getting at least six hours of sleep a night and realized she couldn’t do everything herself.
“When your career’s moving so quickly and you’re gaining so many new responsibilities, it’s easy not to take time for yourself,” she says, with the wisdom of hindsight. “My staff is terrific. I needed to learn to delegate.”
The Top 40 Women award—“a huge honor and quite unexpected”—came after less than five years in the travel business. Wilson has a history in events, though. She started her career with an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s business school with a focus on hospitality tourism management.
After graduating, she was a wedding planner for 18 months in Newport, Rhode Island before working for Best of Boston Events.
Wilson made something of a career change for the usual reasons—no weekends off, high emotional stakes among clients— a Groundhog Day existence. Being part of a couple’s celebration was lovely, she says, but after more than a year, she was restless.
By contrast, corporate work offered both a larger scope and a larger sandbox. Recently Wilson and Access Boston partnered with a company that renovated two area homeless shelters and donated myriad in-kind goods.
“It made me feel part of something bigger,” she says. “Our events often bring companies’ clients and employees together. We work with a lot of nonprofits and with pharma companies releasing drugs to treat diseases, so it’s empowering.”
Still, the precareer was time well spent. Wilson learned business essentials, what she did and didn’t enjoy, and more.
“I just put on friendsgiving for 25 friends who said it looked like it came out of a magazine, and that was great to hear,” she says with a laugh. “They say if you can do weddings, you can do anything. So I’ll take that.”