Stephen Rhodes chronicles the trips, parties and challenges he’s experienced, from his beginnings in finance to his current role as Funway Holidays’ managing director
I always wanted to work in travel. I love meeting people and seeing different sights. I qualified as a chartered accountant and then looked for an industry I liked, with the vague hope that I might get to travel more.
“You get out what you put in,” is the best advice I’ve been given. I learnt this from Tony Watkins, who was finance director at Ian Allen Travel when I joined in 1986 as chief accountant. It was my first role in travel and Tony was very hard-working and dedicated to the business, and that stuck with me.
I first became managing director aged 34. It’s a reasonably young age, but I just got stuck in. I joined Citalia’s finance department in 1990 and I took over when the managing director left. The business wasn’t doing well but we managed to turn it around. Joining Citalia was the best career decision I made as it was my move into tour operators.
I went on some fantastic trips with British Airways Holidays. I joined in 1998 and as head of worldwide I’d check out new properties as and when BA introduced new destinations. Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico were amazing trips.
Joining start-up Travelchest.com in 2001 was a real error. The internet was just coming to life, so start-ups wanted to capitalise on the boom. I was persuaded by the pound signs and share options, but from the start the website didn’t work properly and we struggled to generate volumes of business. When it closed we had one of the best parties, but I learnt not to be motivated so much by money.
I’m constantly trying to second guess what customers want. During 2001’s UK foot and mouth crisis I was managing director of Avro and the demand for Spain was enormous. We could sell-out an aircraft in five days, so it was about getting the supply and demand to tie up. It was an interesting exercise and now I’m always looking for booking patterns.
I enjoy the challenge of turning a business around. I faced this several times, including at Resorthoppa.com in 2008, and Cadogan Holidays in 2009. I spend the first few days in the reservations centre, listening to calls and picking up issues. Then I meet everyone and find out what they want to do. You can make most businesses work as long as there’s a USP or niche, but the key is having the right staff who are focused on driving the business.
I don’t have an open door policy, because I don’t have an office door. If everyone sits in the same room it creates a strong team-business work-ethic. We have an open-plan office with 61 people at Funway, and if there are issues or people have ideas they talk to me.
I believe in creating a fun environment at work. At Funway we have badminton sessions, fruity Fridays with fruit for everyone, and masseurs come in. We’re also running a pedometer challenge. I’m walking up and down the stairs hoping that makes a difference. I want to win!
When I’m not at work I don’t work. This summer I went on a two-week safari and didn’t check my emails and the business managed without me. It’s important to try and keep that divide.
My long-term goal is to push Funway to the next level. We’ve turned the business around and are growing fast from a revenue and passenger perspective, and there is a great opportunity to become a market leader.