Starting a Business

The Irony of the Safe Bet

Michael Kahan became a successful entrepreneur after walking away from a 10-year career on Wall Street.
Guest Writer
Entrepreneur and Executive at CAA Premium Experience
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It takes a lot of courage to leave the comfort of a high-paying job to follow your passion, especially when you're newly married and have a child on the way. Michael Kahan left his cushy job on Wall Street to launch Kahan Travel after 10 years in the finance industry.

Kahan started receiving industry airline magazines as a teenager in the New York suburbs. "My dad and grandparents lived in California and Hawaii when I was growing up, so jumping on airplanes became commonplace for me at a very young age," Kahan says. "I was always fascinated with trains, buses, subways and even elevators as a kid. That has carried over to my adult life. Hotels, cruise ships and high-speed rail links as well as airplanes now have my attention."

It took a lot of chutzpah for Kahan to change industries and start his own business. Kahan explained his thinking to me. "I spent 11 years as an equity sales trader on Wall Street and would not trade that experience or change anything," he says. "There was a feeling that told me it was time to move on to a new challenge, working for myself and selling something I was passionate about. Transportation and travel have always been incredibly interesting to me for as long as I can remember. It seemed like the perfect fit."

One thing I think it's important to note: You never start a business from ground zero. Even though Wall Street and the travel business might seem worlds apart, there are still things to learn along the way that help when the time comes to start a business.

"Although there do not seem to be too many stock traders-turned-travel advisors, I think the experience and skill set necessary for success in both careers are very similar," Kahan says. "Most important, I learned attention to detail, the ability to multitask, communication and negotiation skills, and also developed a strong work ethic and competitive spirit."

When Kahan launched his business 18 months ago he realized the travel business had changed a lot while he was working on Wall Street. When asked what the biggest changes have been in the industry since he started reading those airline magazines years ago, Kahan says that by putting prices and availability at the consumer's fingertips, the internet is both a valuable partner and competitive threat.

"The other major change is the decision of most U.S. airlines to cease commission payments to travel agents for domestic flights," Kahan notes. "Most agents and advisors now charge service or research fees to help offset this loss of revenue."

The good news is that Kahan has been extremely successful in his startup venture. His clients say he is honest and has the highest integrity. Others point to his tremendous knowledge of the travel business, and many people say his recommendations and planning are impeccable.

Kahan credits his effort to keep things simple for his successful transition. "My formula is coming to work each day with a good attitude, hard work, building relationships with clients and our supplier partners based on integrity and trust, and always being honest," Kahan says. "The rest will fall into place on its own."

I must admit, the rest usually does fall into place if you're willing to take the leap. There's something about passion that carries so many people to success. It's always great to speak with people like Michael Kahan who was young, fearless and fed up--and who actually did something about it. Are you next?

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