EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim Worthen and Peter Grunwaldt, who co-own Premier Alaska Tours, were featured in Alaska Business Magazine as two new inductees into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame. Here is an excerpt from the magazine.
The unique company — and unique partnership — has been working for Grunwaldt and Worthen since 1995. At the time, both men were working for another tour company that decided to shut down its operations. The pair contacted all of that company’s tourism clients and asked, “Would you like to do tours with us now and our brand-new company that we just started today?” Their clients all agreed, says Worthen, which was the catalyst that Premier Alaska Tours needed to launch.
Today the two CEOs run the company in equal partnership. This allows them to meet separately with clients as decision makers while leaning on their unique strengths and skills to move the company forward. “Tim and I have a different style, and we have partnered incredibly well together over the last almost 30 years,” Grunwaldt says. “He has a conservative style of, ‘We’re going to keep costs down; we’re going to watch the finances closely,’ and my style is more, ‘Gosh, I want to have really shiny wheels! I want to have a really nice building with all the bells and whistles.’”
“We’ve had a really nice balance of ‘How do we make sure that this partnership is successful together?’ and it’s been great.”
What they share in equal measure is a love for Alaska, their employees, and the tourism industry.
Last year the two made a bold move, opening the first phase of a major addition in the Denali area. A lodge-like boathouse is the first structure in Denali’s hotel and resort community meant to host indoor presentations and events. From educational or professional development seminars to breakfast or dinner programs, the boathouse is primed to be a centerpiece in the area.
“Everyone who visits Alaska is told they have to visit Denali, but there is a bottle neck of tourism that happens there,” Worthen said. The boathouse should open up that experience.
Eventually, the Premier grounds will also feature a 150-room lodge, employee housing, bus maintenance facility and several trails for guests.
Meet Tim Worthen, Premier Alaska’s Co-owner
Tim Worthen is a co-founder, co-owner and co-CEO of Premier Alaska Tours. After earning his accounting degree from the University of Washington, Tim worked as an accountant for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. from 1981-1985. Following that, he worked for the Alaska Railroad and was placed in charge of Passenger Service for the Seward and Whittier docks for cruise ships where he would eventually finalize the deals with Holland America and Princess to pull their dome rail cars.
In 1990 Tim left the railroad to work for Regency Cruises and oversaw their Alaska land tours until 1995. During his last two years, he worked with Peter Grunwaldt, who would become his business partner in 1995 when they started Premier Alaska Tours.
In 2000 they acquired their first three motor coaches and today have 120 of them. In 2012 Premier Alaska Tours bought all the Alaska assets of Royal Caribbean/Celebrity in Alaska, including four double-decker dome rail cars. For the last 10 years, they’ve operated all of RCCI’s land tours and ship transfers in Alaska. Currently, Premier Alaska Tours operates all the ship turnarounds in Seward and Nome for all lines.
After all his years of success, Tim still finds time to enjoy the tours himself, with his wife of 40 years, Donna.