Taking the best lessons from venture to venture

It’s cruel to ask teens to set their career paths at such a young age. It seems so few have a clear idea of how they want to spend their entire working lives. Yet they need to make decisions early in life that will force them to close some career doors that they may never have the chance to open again … unless they’re Rick Zimmerman.

The co-founder of KHM Travel Group, the subject of this month’s cover story, took an unorthodox path to get to where he is today: the president and CEO of a very successful travel agency. That latter part is a story of its own — how the travel agency found a way to compete with myriad book-it-yourself travel websites is remarkable. And the company isn’t just getting by; it’s growing its sales and agents significantly year over year.

Zimmerman’s personal story is interesting. He set himself up for success in three different careers — as an engineer, travel agent and home remodeler. He abandoned the first two after becoming disillusioned with the professions and spent 23 years running his own residential remodeling business when he decided to start a travel agency.

The success of his last two ventures is predicated on personalization. Zimmerman found a way to connect to customers by using word of mouth to find them and then connect with them by listening to their needs and responding.

In some ways, that same sensitivity can be seen in the way he found his successes. He recognized he was unhappy and, rather than gut out a career in a field he was less than enthused about, he identified his strengths and found work that gave him satisfaction.

If you check out his Twitter account — @rickzimmerman — you’ll see a globetrotter cruising into port in Norway and having hot chocolate on a cold day in Bratislava, living the dream he almost resigned never to realize.

Zimmerman was able to borrow ideas from his many entrepreneurial experiences and apply them in his current venture. As seemingly unrelated as home remodeling and travel are, he was able to see the connections and create an underlying philosophy that enabled him to thrive in a struggling industry.

Adam is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.