One of the attributes of great leaders is vision. They are able to clearly see and execute toward a vision of the future. We all face uncertainty and change. As a kid, I had one of those toy magic eight balls that you could shake and find your answer to any question. Unfortunately, no such magic answers exist. None of us has the crystal ball to reveal the future. However, there are those who can spot trends and recognize patterns and act upon them. In the last 20 years, many industries have faced dramatic shifts. The Internet has forced companies to evolve or die. Companies and even whole industries have been disintermediated. The $700+ billion travel industry is one that has been through much upheaval. In the late 1990s and early 2000, travel agencies faced very challenging times caused by reduced commissions from airlines and the expanding use of the internet for travel. As an example of this shift, in 2009, over 90 million adults planned travel using the internet.
Dobson Bowdon, owner of TREK Travel Programs, has lived through these changes in the travel industry. Bowdon is originally from Memphis and graduated with a business degree from King College in Bristol, Virginia. He married his high school sweetheart and ended up in Jackson working with her family in a full-service travel agency. In 2001, he saw change in the industry, and he decided to start his own guided travel company with an emphasis on working with school groups and other educational organizations. As he stated, “Personal experience can be one of the strongest catalysts for learning, so I founded TREK Travel Programs (Travel Resources Enhancing Knowledge) for groups who wanted to offer travel adventures as an extension of the classroom.” Bowdon’s vision for his new company was right on the mark. Over the last ten years, he has seen tremendous growth in this market segment. His innovative marketing and commitment to service have allowed him to grow TREK into a national company with guides leading organizations from around the country to destinations like Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York.
Bowdon shared that one of his business mentors Robert Bartell always told him to “do what you love and love what you do,” and he modeled for him how to live out his faith in the business world. Bowdon personally leads a number of these guided tours each year in addition to his responsibilities of running a successful business. My daughter and I attended one of these tours and it was clear to me that Bowdon was truly someone that loved what he did. His passion and enthusiasm were evident. The other challenging part of a business like TREK is to make the complex look simple. Anyone who has taken a family trip knows just how many things can go wrong with travel. The “Chevy Chase Vacation’ series of films bring a humorous view of how far off things can get. For Bowdon, the key is to work hard behind the scenes to ensure that things go smoothly.
For aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders, Bowdon believes that it is important to “utilize your God given abilities.” He believes that each of us have unique talents that can be used to serve others in creative ways in the business world. It’s exciting to think that students from around the country are benefiting from the vision that Bowdon had for this niche in the travel marketplace. I hope other leaders will be encouraged to act on their vision to compete in competitive marketplaces by looking for opportunities to leverage their time, talent, and resources in creative ways.