Lessons Learned, Chris Mottershead, Travelzest

Chris Mottershead is a travel industry veteran. He was president and CEO of North American leisure group Airtours before changing course to steer online travel specialist Travelzest through a turbulent period for the sector to land record profits.

SmallBusiness.co.uk asks an inspirational entrepreneur to share their experiences and offer advice for SMEs. With the benefit of hindsight, what do they wish they’d known when they started?

The operational model we use at Travelzest has been informed by the experience I gained from working for much bigger companies. We’ve created a different prospect and were keen to foster an atmosphere that keeps people motivated and inspired.

When you work for a corporate giant, you realise there is a lot of politics that can have an adverse effect. Decisions aren’t necessarily made for the good of the business but rather because you don’t want to step on someone else’s toes. I have learnt to take decisions based on achieving higher profits and driving value for stakeholders.

Making the most of your niches

Having bought eight companies over the past two years, we’ve opted for a more decentralised approach to operations. We have a number of divisions that work in their own niche, so they need to be able to run in their own way and inevitably they have different management practices. Each brand is a boutique with its own expertise within a specialised field. But that’s not to say there isn’t coherence or communication between them.

We aim to create an environment where people can be frank and honest when they talk to each other. I don’t expect them all to love one another, but there shouldn’t be that element of fear you get in a big corporate – that fear of failure and not getting it right. I could never see myself going back to a big corporate now. If you want to push the limits of what you’re doing, you have to be prepared to take a chance and make mistakes every so often. And the decisions you make are personal, so the satisfaction is all the greater.

I’ve also learnt that trying to impose a blanket set of values across a number of brands doesn’t really work. It’s exhausting to manage as you have to try to be an expert in each of the niches and it take a hands-on approach to management to make it work. We prefer to understand our limitations and let the experts within each field do what they do best. The companies we buy often maintain their unique culture.

Tapping into the potential

Travel remains a growing industry and therefore it’s changing. The trick is to recognise that the way people want to go abroad is also evolving. It’s not just about going somewhere and lazing on a beach; people increasingly want to explore the world. It’s the same in any sector, you have to stay in contact with your customers.

In addition to this, they want to book their trip online. With that in mind you have to have a user-friendly website that people can find. Often, the businesses that we acquire have promise but their sites look like a travel brochure. It’s our job to optimise those sites and tap into that potential.

Adam Wayland

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

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