Packing well: Suzanne Neufang

With 3 million flown air miles, Suzanne (Schriefer) Neufang ’85 knows a thing or two about packing for a business trip.
When she received an invitation to testify at a Senate Commerce Subcommittee hearing on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion in June 2022, just three days before it was taking place, she simply added an extra jacket to the carry-on bag she’d already packed for the Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA’s) annual legislative summit in Washington, D.C.
It was her second time in front of the sub-committee — and the first time in person — since taking the role of CEO at GBTA in March, 2021. With business travel still globally suppressed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the focus on inbound testing as a perceived barrier was reaching a critical stage.
“I testified on a Wednesday, and by Friday evening, the testing rules were relaxed for returning Americans and in-bound vaccinated non-Americans,” she said. “It was an honor to be there — and it’s nice to think my team and I had a small impact on the inner workings of the U.S. government in this regard.”
Neufang became GBTA’s CEO during the pandemic, which brought world travel to its knees. The $1.4 trillion business travel industry (2019 spend) was impacted even more than leisure travel, losing nearly 70% year-over-year by the end of 2020. The industry has since been slowly recovering, as companies send their employees back on the road, into offices, and across oceans. The industry will likely end 2022 at 65% of 2019 global spending levels.

“It was a tough time in the industry and at the association itself. But it was actually a great time to take on this leadership role and work to bring the industry back again,” she said. “Transformation during a crisis can bring a lot of lasting good, and that has been true for our association and the industry we serve.
“GBTA represents over 100,000 global professionals and their companies within a dual-sided marketplace. We create tradeshows and conferences where companies meet to do business. We also offer learning opportunities for buy-and supply-side professionals within the industry. And of course, we advocate with policymakers in the U.S., Europe, and Canada — in particular, defining our difference from tourism, what business travel is doing to make itself more sustainable, and ultimately why business travel is important to communities and companies.”

It’s Neufang’s first role as CEO and follows a progression of ever-increasing leadership roles in general management, marketing, sales, product, strategy, and communications which she’s held during her career. The roles have given her a broad business and leadership purview, from U.S. public companies Sabre/Travelocity, Intuit, and GTE/Verizon; German private company HRS; public sector Hawaii Public Television; and even Minot State itself.
“Between my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I worked for MSU for a year as a recruiter,” she said.
She notes even more fondly that she met Ralf, her husband of 35 years, at Minot State, introduced by mutual friends Jane and George (retired MSU librarian) Clark.
Today, she leads a global team which is 100% remote and splits her time between New York City and Ralf’s childhood home near Hanover, Germany. The joy of long-distance travel is a way of life that has been passed on to their sons, Yannik and Trygve.
“We moved to Hawaii when Yannik was a little over a month old, and every day there felt like a trip to paradise,” said Neufang, who received her Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “We left Hawaii after eight years for two in Connecticut, and ultimately GTE/Verizon moved us to Dallas-Fort Worth, where we lived for over 17 years. During our time in Texas, we went to Europe almost every year, first to visit family but then also to explore other parts of the continent.”

Her immersion in different cultures began on the family farm near Golden Valley, where her parents, Bob and Marlene Schriefer, still live.
“I need to give my parents credit because we were always hosting somebody from a foreign country through 4-H, North Dakota Homemakers, or other foreign exchange programs,” she said. “The idea that there were different world cultures and other languages and other places to visit came from those experiences.”

It wasn’t until her freshman year at Minot State, though, that she had the chance to travel overseas.
“I got my very first passport for an MSU concert choir trip to Scandinavia. And next came my first trip to New York City with the theater group and Kevin Neuharth ’74 (retired Minot State theater professor) chaperoning us,” she said. “How serendipitous that we now live there.”
When many of Neufang’s Golden Valley High School peers pursued higher education options closer to home, she followed in sister Carrie (Schriefer) Reber’s footsteps to Minot State, with encouragement from family friend and then-MSU recruiter Terry (Ferebee) Eckmann ’81/’82, current teacher education
and kinesiology professor.
“I wanted to do something different, and that was part of what made Minot State amazing. You could really get involved in just about anything, try something new, do something you had never done before,” she said.
Beginning as a music major, Neufang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, double majoring in broadcasting and foreign languages in German and French.
“The opportunities were all there if you were willing to sign up and learn something new. For example, I had a chance to work on my stage presence, which has benefitted me in every single job I’ve ever had,” she said. “With all of the different departments I was in, it’s remarkable how influential my professors were. For the past 35 years, I have believed that the education you can get at Minot State is an important part of setting up the foundation for what you can do later in life.
“Ultimately, my time at Minot State taught me that ‘packing well’ — for either a journey through one’s life and career or for a long-distance trip — is just as important as ever. With the right frame of mind and a willingness to learn and lead, a farm girl from North Dakota can make a difference in a global industry.” 

CONNECTIONS FALL 2022 (Vol. 31 | No. 1)

Packing Well is the main story from the Fall Connections 20212 issue. Connections is published two times a year by the Minot State University Alumni Association and Development Foundation.

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 12/14/22   

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