October 14, 2013

(Kansas City Star)’Brent Blake and Gary Davis are globetrotters, but not the kind that play professional basketball.

The men, business partners since 2000, own Acendas, a travel management company in Mission focused on helping its clients manage today’s complex travel landscape.

‘We are a diversified travel company managing the risk of today’s travel is that risk is overspending, of not getting what you think you are getting, and managing the risk of the things you aren’t planning for, such as travel interruptions,’ Blake said.

Gone are the days of just handling customers’ airline ticket purchases.’ Now, Blake and Davis, and their employees, concentrate on helping clients get the best value for their travel dollar, tracking where people go, and creating flexibility in a system that, at times, seems inflexible.

Today, 85 percent of Acendas business is corporate travel and, the other 15 percent, leisure and vacations. With offices in Mission and Minneapolis, Acendas is a regional company with long fingers.’ Local corporate clients include American Century Investments, Garmin, Gear for Sports, and Burns and McDonnell.

Blake and Davis are co-presidents, each coming to what was then called All About Travel, at different times; Blake merged a meeting planning company with All About Travel in 1998; Davis came in through a merger of Travel Quest in 2000. The next big leap came a year later when the company became a joint venture with BCD Travel, a top purchaser of corporate travel. The move opened the door for the company’s clients to take advantage of leading technology solutions, proprietary corporate travel discounts and global resources.

 

Q: How has technology changed your business?

Technology has played a pivotal role in how Acendas is run.’Davis said 40 percent of its employees worked from home ‘ or elsewhere.

‘The real impetus was in order for us to grow and recruit talented employees, we needed to offer this option,’ Blake said.

It used to be if a talented employee moved because of a spouse’s transfer, ‘we lost a good person,’ Davis said.’ ‘But with voice over IP, we’re able to retain them no matter where they live.’

Blake said, ‘If you have good, talented people, it doesn’t matter where they work.’ We’re agnostic on the location.’

The company does keep tabs on its virtual employees’ efforts.

‘We’ve created a portion of our handbook as part of our business on what a home-based employee must do ‘ have a separate area in their home dedicated to business,’ Davis said.’ ‘We measure their transactions to measure productivity, and they check in’weekly.”

Since 2000, Acendas has experienced what the owners call ‘substantial’ growth.

 

Q: How have you been able to grow, even during the most recent recession?

‘Part of it can be attributed to the fact we’re located in the Midwest with a conservative clientele, and we weren’t hit as hard as the East or West companies,’ Davis said.’ ‘Our clients weren’t as focused on tomorrow as five years out.’

Blake said the pair made a strategic decision to grow.

‘One way to offset a downturn was to grow, and we had the financial wherewithal to grow,’ he said.’ Acendas began acquiring other small firms, bringing in their clients and building economics of scale.

Blake and Davis also made a shift from the firm being mainly an airline reservation company to advising clients how to still travel and cut costs.

‘When times are tough, companies look to cut back and (for) ways to reduce their travel budget,’ Blake said.’ ‘We sat down with our clients as a consultant to help them deal with it.’ Saving money for clients is a value proposition in both good and down economic times, and we have taken advantage of the cyclical nature of this business.’

All the acquisitions helped the company thrive but also presented a challenge.

Q: Why the name change?

‘We had 12 different names under one company, and it became confusing,’ Blake said.’ Working with Morningstar Communications of Overland Park, Blake and Davis moved forward to have one brand identity.’ When they began the process in 2011, there was one thing Davis and Blake agreed upon immediately.

‘We were intent on keeping a word that started with the letter A,’ Davis said.’ ‘The biggest part of the process was to make sure the URL was available.’

Employees had input, providing a list of words that described what the company is and what it does for its clients.

‘We used Google translator to put those words of who we are into Latin and came up with Acendas, which means to help move forward,’ Blake said.

The company rolled out its new name in January 2013 with a series of emails and personal conversations with its clients.

‘We put a video together and email the link to our clients to help them understand why we changed our name,’ Blake said.

Acendas has continued to grow.’ The firm has been ranked as a Top 25 travel management company in the country.’ It has received several industry awards including the Peak Excellence Award, for 2011 and 2010, and Davis was named the Sabre Travel Network Travel Professional of the Year in 2011 by Travel Agent Magazine and Luxury Travel Advisor.’ Still, theirs is a work in progress.

‘It’s a challenge finding new talent to bring into this industry,’ Davis said.

Blake added, ‘The core issues of today are totally different from five years ago.’ The nicest thing about the industry is it’s always changing.”