EMPOWERMENT :: Judy Dlugacz – Building An Empire From Nothing

By on April 7, 2016

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EMPOWERMENT :: Judy Dlugacz is living proof that success – tycoon size – can be created from scratch. By creating her own lane, listening to her inner-genius, and daring to go for it, the president and co-founder of Olivia Travel took a pass on going to law school to found Olivia Records, which went on to sell hundreds of thousands of records. GGN publisher Shaun Proulx recently spoke to Judy for more intel and inspiration:

SP:  I once saw an interview you did, and you think of yourself, I believe, as an activist first, and then an entrepreneur.

JD: We started Olivia when I was 20, and it was a group of radical, lesbian feminists, and we wanted to change the world. And I was about to go to law school, but instead someone said, “No, let’s start a women’s record company!” And I went, “I like that idea!” So I didn’t go to law school – much to my parent’s chagrin – and started this record company with a group of women, who were just brilliant and fun, and we just didn’t know what the heck we were doing, nor did we have any money to do it, but we knew that music would change people’s sense of their own reality through their hearts, because it hits your heart first, and then your head. This was in 1973.

SP: You say that you were born to bring awareness to LGBT causes and create opportunities that enable lesbians throughout the world to live in freedom.  I was talking to someone over the weekend, and I said to him: “There’s nothing more important to me than freedom. More than money, more than anything else. Freedom, having choice, to be able to “do you” is top thing for me, so when I read that what you wanted to do was allow lesbians to live in freedom… I sort of fell a little bit in love with you. 

JD: I love you too, sweetheart! Really, already! The reality, honestly, I was coming out as a lesbian, so that became my focus. But LGBT is my core, these are my people, so I don’t want it to seem like I just focus on lesbians. There weren’t any women “out”, hardly, at that moment in time. So we helped women really become aware of their own sexuality, and I say something a little controversial, which is I believe women can choose to be lesbians. It’s a very positive choice for women in a sexist world, to be strong and independent. It’s a little different for women than men, and they have a little more fluidity in sexuality, since women really don’t know much about their own sexuality anyway, given this has been hidden from us in so many ways. So to create something like this, to bring women to the place of being able to say: “Hey, it’s not only ok to be a lesbian but it’s great to be a lesbian!” was a big part of what I was doing, and have been doing.

SP: Let’s just paint the picture of that time and place you did all this. A great example  I’ve heard about, is that Olivia Records was the first music company to allow Bonnie Raitt to play back-up guitar? BONNIE RAITT?

JD: Yes.

SP: Because a woman could not even play back-up guitar then.

JD: We had this idea that we would create something so that women would have this opportunity to do all the musicianship, which never happened in the industry at that point. Women would be the producers, the engineers, we would create concerts. So we did all of it. We created and we sold hundreds and hundreds and thousands of records. Our second album sold a quarter of a million records.

SP: Wow. Do you look back at those days as halcyon days?

JD: Yes, absolutely! This is what I want to project to people: We didn’t know what we were doing, but had a brilliant idea. We knew that if we had a single focus on making it happen, because we knew that it would change the world for women, and we did, for literally millions of women. 

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MORE WITH JUDY AFTER THE JUMP.

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SP: What I love about this idea beyond what it became, it birthed the bigger idea: Olivia Travel. It all started because you wanted a concert – on water. This is how you make something out of nothing!

JD:  I did a series of concerts, and someone said, “It would be great to have a concert on the water!” And I went, “Oh my God! I can do that! I can create a cruise vacation for women!”

SP: Was it as clear as that?

JD: Yes! Instantaneous! Somebody just said, “Hey, concert on the water!” That was it. Oh my God, that’s my next thing! So I wrote a letter. I used the “Base” of Olivia, and again, didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have the money, but had single focus that this was going to work, because I knew that if I wanted to go, and be free to be myself on vacation, so would everyone’s wife.

SP: Oh yes!

JD: So I wrote a letter, and I said, “Hey you guys, I just chartered a ship. It’s four nights in the Bahamas next year, you can’t cancel, you’ve got to sign up right away. I can’t refund your deposit and I need 600 signed up immediately!”

SP: Of course they want to do that, because they want to travel and be themselves.

JD: And we get to be the majority for seven days, where we get to take who we are for granted. That doesn’t happen anywhere for week. It’s an insanely spiritual experience to do that. 

SP: We all get genius ideas all day every day, but most of us put aside and don’t pursue them, but you heard “concert on water” equals “cruise for lesbians” and you did it.

JD: You have to be an entrepreneur and a visionary, to hear an idea and go: “Oh my God!” But we are all that. It’s the courage to go, “Oh my God! I’m going to do this, no matter what, because I believe in it so strongly.” You gotta believe in it. You can have a great idea, but if you don’t believe that you can do it, no matter what, then it’s not going to happen. And I have to tell you I’ve created so many things out of nothing.

SP: You went for it.

JD: Tunnel vision! But you’ve got to have the heart to say, “I will do this!”

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SP: I want to echo what you just said. I write a spirituality column here in the city, and in last week’s I said you have to have a Plan A only, no Plan B. Because Plan B indicates some kind of disbelief in your Plan A. Oh Judy, you make me want to become a lesbian.

JD: We do the most fun things. We charter the whole ship or we take over the entire resort. So when we do a resort, we’re going to do Punta Cana at Breathless. We’re taking over the entire resort for 1500 people.

SP: Wow!

JD: We bring all of the talent. We’ve had Heart, we’ve had Patti LaBelle on our last trip. We keep upping the ante in terms of always bringing amazing talent that’s mainstream, but also the most amazing lesbian talent with incredible music, incredible comedians – we’re now doing a family trip as well for all LGBT folks.

SP: This was a pleasure; it always goes by so fast! Judy, thank you so much for being such an inspiration.

- Shaun Proulx is the publisher of GGN. Join his #ThoughtRevolution on FacebookTwitter  and Instagram  and hear him every weekend on SiriusXMCanadaTalks 167 or online here. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, read his weekly column, Spirit & The City in 24 Hours each Thursday.

- This interview was condensed and edited.

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