Shawna Huffman Owen
CEO, Huffman Travel
Tuck helped me realize business is not about spreadsheets and crunching numbers; that it really comes down to negotiations and relationships.
Owen is CEO and president of Huffman Travel Ltd., a member of Virtuoso, the leading luxury travel network. In her role, Owen helps people make decisions about how to spend their most valuable asset: their time. Focusing on the luxury end of the market, Owen thinks of herself as a “travel consultant,” specializing in building long-term relationships that plot out trips for her clients for five years or more into the future. “You don’t have too many years until the kids are off to college,” she says. “You need to make the most of them.”
Owen developed her own love of travel at a young age. Her family founded The Huffman Manufacturing Company, makers of “Huffy” Bicycles, but as a child, her father Tony Huffman was stationed overseas as a State Department diplomat. “I spent the first four years of my life in Istanbul,” she says. Even after her father returned to join the Dayton, Ohio business (eventually becoming Huffy’s chief marketing officer), he took his family for extended trips every summer to places like London, France, Italy, and Switzerland. Owen even spent one summer taking a French language program at Dartmouth.
After studying French and art history at Colby College, she worked in New York for Coopers & Lybrand as a management consultant. The firm sent her to get her MBA at Tuck, where she learned more than just economics and accounting. “Tuck helped me realize business is not about spreadsheets and crunching numbers; that it really comes down to negotiations and relationships,” she says. “That was eye-opening.”
By that time, her father had left Huffy and started Huffman Travel in 1997 as a “retirement business.” In 2005, burnt out after 15 years of consulting and at home with her youngest child, Owen started working for Huffman Travel as an independent contractor. “Everyone was always asking me for travel advice anyway,” she says with a laugh. “I had an epiphany and said to my father, why don’t I come work for you?” After working from home for four years, she opened Huffman Travel’s Chicago office and eventually transitioned to running the company, of which she is now majority owner.
The work played to her strengths, combining her love of traveling with her skills in consulting and relationship-building. “We have a consultation with the whole family, and get to know them as people,” she says. That includes asking about their hobbies, what they like to do in their spare time, and why they want to take a vacation. “We don’t necessarily ask them where they want to go,” she says. In fact, while clients might come in with destinations in mind, Owen hopes over time they trust her judgment. “Our hope is by the third trip, you don’t even know you want to go someplace, until we tell you,” she says.
Some of her most cherished relationships were forged right in Hanover. In fact, a few years ago, she hired fellow alumna André Koester T’98 to lead Huffman Travel’s New York presence. While she was initially nervous about mixing business and friendship, Owen says that working together has only strengthened their already tight bond. Their two families recently vacationed together in the Galapagos.
The trip they took is a perfect example of the kinds of experiences Owen hopes to create for her clients. “One of the hashtags I use is #DisconnectToReconnect,” she says. Spending five days together on a boat without Wi-Fi, everyone in the family was initially nervous about the trip. But they adjusted quickly, playing games together at night and bonding over underwater camera footage they’d taken of hammerhead sharks and tortoises. While the location was exotic, the family vacation experience was anything but: “It was old-school, old-fashioned fun.”
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