By Amy Trang
Paul Lehman's travel company named world's best in Travel + Leisure magazine
Paul Lehman EMP-72 says he was stunned when he learned in August that his small adventure travel company, Austin-Lehman Adventures, was named the "No. 1 Tour Operator in the World" by the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.
But given the firm's extraordinary commitment to customer service, the honor shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
The company's ranking was based on a score of 97.34 out of a perfect 100, based on ratings of its staff and guides, itineraries and destinations, activities, accommodations, food and value.
"It's an amazing sense of accomplishment for a company that was invisible in 2000 to being named No. 1," says Lehman, a 2008 Kellogg Executive MBA graduate. "It was a real validation that we are giving customers a product that they value."
Lehman's company offers trips to places like Machu Picchu and Provence, where customers experience their destination while hiking, biking, or kayaking and get in touch with the local culture through cooking classes and visits to crafts markets.
The Travel + Leisure award is just the latest honor for Austin-Lehman, which in 2008 was named among the "Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth" by National Geographic Adventure. In 2007, the firm's Montana and Yellowstone tour was mentioned as one of the "50 Tours of a Lifetime" by National Geographic Traveler.
To ensure the quality of each itinerary, Lehman, who lives in Evanston, Ill., says he or partner Dan Austin study and scout the trips themselves well in advance of offering them to their customers. They pay detailed attention to everything from the quality of the guides and the travel routes to the authenticity of the food and accommodations. The company focuses intensely on customer service and makes sure that travelers are taken care of before, during and after their journeys, a practice that has resulted in plenty of repeat and new business.
It's the third career for Lehman, who founded Austin-Lehman with Austin in 2000. Previously, he worked in his family automotive parts business for nearly 20 years and served as a social worker for at-risk youth. Now an entrepreneur, Lehman says the skills he learned at Kellogg allow him to view and lead his company from a broader perspective.
"Kellogg provided me with the skills to ask better questions about my business," Lehman says — and to provide many gratified clients with the experience of a lifetime.
For more information on Austin-Lehman Adventures, visit www.austinadventures.com.