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All I ever needed to know about business…

Robert Polk //July 21, 2010//

All I ever needed to know about business…

Robert Polk //July 21, 2010//

I learned everything I really need to know about business from my father, a very wise man. He was in the banking business for more than 30 years and entered the Travel Agency business when he could no longer get along with the Board of Directors.

My parents purchased a travel agency, Polk World Travel, in Denver in August 1976. Before moving to Colorado, the furthest North we ever lived was Memphis. All we knew about Colorado was it was one of those square states out West, and that we enjoyed skiing in the mountains.

As father to seven children, with three in college and one still at home attending Catholic High School, my Dad needed to earn money. So, for the first time, my Mom and Dad worked together in a place of business that was their own. My Mom became an agent and my Dad ran the business the way he thought a business should be run, did all of the accounting, and delivered almost all of the tickets.

After graduating from college, I joined the agency in 1980 and tried to track down and attract new corporate business. During my three years of working for my Dad, I could not have had a better teacher. He had a way of making complex business principles very simple. His wisdom may seem obvious, but in today’s tough economic climate and loose spending/borrowing etc., his philosophy sure seems to be the right way to do things:

• Running a business is not at all difficult: Regardless of the business all you have to do is make sure revenues exceed expenses.
• You can only keep playing the game as long as you have cash.
• If you cannot pay the interest on your debt you are bankrupt.
• Accounting is the backbone of a company.
• On the other hand, accounting has nothing to count until someone sells something.
• And, most of all, just make damn sure you do what you say you will do.

In 1983, my parents moved back to the South to attend to their aging parents. I stayed in Denver and have worked to grow the agency and survive in this industry ever since.

In 2003, Polk World Travel merged with Majestic Travel to form Polk Majestic Travel Group. Majestic Travel was owned by Andrea Shpall, who had taken over the travel agency her mother had started many years before. I wonder how many agencies in the country have two owners that are both second-generation travel people, and I wonder if we could have thrived as we have without that experience.

Polk Majestic Travel’s mission statement is summed up in the last line, ‘We value all that is simple, direct, and honest.’ We have taken one man’s words of wisdom and weathered some tough times with them. These words are as valuable today as they were thirty years ago and can be applied to any business. It seems many of us in this business continually make things more complicated, when keeping them simple and in terms we can all understand would be the best choice.

Below are some of the things I have observed:

• My Dad was right about all of the above, especially the part about doing what you say you will do.
• The Travel Industry changes faster than any industry I know.
• As constant changes occur in the industry, our goal has always been to understand how the industry is changing and how can we make sure revenues exceed expenses today, tomorrow and in the future.
• I have also learned that if today is bad and tomorrow looks worse then times are indeed very difficult. If things are bad today but tomorrow looks better, you can get through anything today. The best is when today is good and tomorrow even looks better. However, I am afraid we have learned that because of the constant travel industry change if today is good and tomorrow is better, you had better save your cash because things can turn bad very quickly.

Many of the largest and most influential corporations in the country grew from very similar and humble roots; from small family run businesses, home-based companies, and simple yet innovative ideas. As long as the principles on which a company is run are sound that business is limited only by the imagination and determination of the team.

I can only hope that I have used my father’s principles wisely and that Polk Majestic Travel Group has come to exemplify the simple idea that success in business just shouldn’t be so hard. Just do what you say you will do…and then some…day after day.
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