power player

Commitment to Quality, Excellent Customer Service Ensure Lasting, Sustainable Success for Azumano Travel

For 30 years, Sho Dozono has led the successful corporate travel firm Azumano Travel through the highs and lows of the travel industry. Adhering to the tried and true formula of providing excellent customer service, Dozono led the evolution of Azumano Travel full-service travel agency dedicated to providing corporate, leisure and meeting management services.

In 1976, when Dozono took on the reins of the company started by his father-in-law George Azumano in 1949, Azumano Travel employed four travel agents, generating several million in sales each year. Now, the company has more than 200 employees in several offices throughout Oregon, Washington and Alaska, generating more than $160 million in annual sales. The company consistently ranks among the nation's top 50 travel management companies.

"We have a simple business philosophy: taking care of our customers and taking care of staff. If you don’t have happy employees, it’s hard for them to provide good service,” he said.

Dozono emphasizes that Azumano Travel is not geared for the the do-it-yourself and instant-gratification-seeking traveler. “We know what our niche is. We’re not chasing the Internet savvy customers and not trying to compete with Travelocity and Expedia. We lost that group years ago. We work with large corporate accounts, with businesses that use our services so they can focus on what they do best.”

Managing travel for the discriminating corporate set requires a high-touch, “white glove” approach to providing service. In addition to business clients, Azumano Travel also offers travel packages to exotic locations around the world. “If we don’t serve that customer well, it’s easy for them to look for other choices. To that degree, we’re still very old-fashioned, customer service-focused business. There’s not a whole lot of secret to that: take care of your ‘family,’ your workers terms of workers, and they will take care of the customer.”

Dozono is proud of the fact that many Azumano Travel employees have been with the company for a long time. He also takes pride in having interviewed every single staff member at all levels of the organization. “With our employees, five years is nothing. We have employees that have worked on us for 10 or 20 years. For our younger employees, they see continuity, and know that there is a future for them here. Our customers also like working with the same people who have taken good care of them. They work with us because we’re efficient, reliable and always providing value.”

"The key is respecting your co-workers and making sure that their work environment is the best that you can provide. I can’t control the customer’s behavior, industry, but I can control the work environment of our employees, to make sure they are happy.”

Civic Life

A central element of Sho Dozono’s success as a business and civic leader is his desire to help others remove barriers to success, in an effort to ensure more opportunities for the next generation of leaders. He became the first ethnic minority and Asian-American business leader to lead the Portland Business Alliance, and has leveraged his business savvy and connections to become a champion and advocate for Portland Public Schools, United Way, Japan-America Society of Oregon, the Oregon Nikkei Society, among other organizations.

In 2001, a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Dozono made headlines when he rallied 1,000 Oregonians to visit New York City to help jumpstart the city’s economy. Oregonians from all walks of life joined Flight for Freedom, heeding Dozono’s call to get on a plane and spend a few days in New York. “Let’s reclaim our lives,” he remarked.

In October of this year, Dozono once again led a group of Oregonians for the fifth anniversary of Flight for Freedom. The group was honored with the privilege of ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Flight for Freedom participants also walked alongside New Yorkers at the Columbus Day Parade and was featured on a nationally broadcast morning news show. Dozono and others also met with entrepreneur and real estate developer Donald Trump during their visit.

Surrounding himself with a capable and dedicated management team, Dozono is in a position to engage in civic life and give back to the community. “Coming from an ethnic, immigrant background, this country, this community certainly has given me and others the opportunity to succeed, if we’re willing to work at it,” he said. “Even when I came to the business community 30 years ago, I’ve always had the desire to serve the community. I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to follow the footsteps of others, like my father-in-law George Azumano, and Bill and Sam Naito. I’m grateful for what I was able to accomplish, because their leadership have opened doors. I feel a sense of responsibility to give back, because I’d like to make the door even wider for the next generations.”

Beyond his success in business and civic life, Dozono insists that his most important accomplishments revolve around his children. "Hopefully, Iprovided a good foundation for them to have a happy and fulfilling life. Because business has been reasonably successful, I think I’ve been able to give them opportunities for education," he said.

Winter 2007

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What advice do you have for ethnic minority entrepreneurs? It’s important to emphasize that [Azumano Travel] never saw ourselves as a minority business. If I had been satisfied with bidding on the set-asides, I’d be 1/10th the size I am now. I wanted to be as successful as my larger competitors. Some businesses don’t respect you for what you can do when they see you as a minority. I’ve never been in business only because I’m a minority. I don’t expect anything because of my status. Been asked to participate today, would I accept a minority portion of a large contract? I probably would, but it would have to be with the Microsoft’s and Nikes of the world, where we can get a large and substantial piece of the business and not just a couple of crumbs.

What message do you have to up-and-coming professionals and leaders of color? Some young people today come with an edge, like the world owes them something. “Look at what they’ve done to my community, my people.” I think that’s a passion that they have. I think it’s good, but they do not to have such a sharp edge because it’s not necessarily everyone’s fault that we are the way we are. I think this community is much more open that it has been. I encourage young people to look at the positive side, and take advantage of the opportunities that we do have. There are still impediments and bumps in the road. In that vein, we still have to remain vigilant, and make sure that people are treating all of us equally. Bad things can happen if we’re not vigilant about the freedoms we have. Here in the United States, many Asian-Americans think they’ve made it. That what the Jews in Europe thought in the 1930s. Their future was bright. But everyone looked away when they were being segregated. Everyone looked away when the Japanese-Americans were being sent to internment camps. Remember: it wasn’t good to be Japanese-American in 1942. It wasn’t good to be Arab-American in 2001.

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