In this issue of Benchmark, our client interview is with Fraser Ellacott. With thirty years of experience at some of the biggest names in travel, including British Airways, TUI and Booking.com, Fraser is now enjoying semi-retirement whilst taking on the role of non-executive Director and investor for a number of growing businesses.
Having started his career as an aeronautical engineer, Fraser has subsequently taken on roles such as General Manager of Operations for BA, MD of Rentalcars Connect for Booking.com and Distribution & Sales Director at TUI. Being MD and Director of Engineering at Thomson Cruise too, means that although trains may be missing from his involvement in planes, trains and automobiles; Fraser also knows ships. Clearly, his knowledge of the travel sector is expansive.
This extensive history of travel experience may go some way to explaining his more recent career moves.
“I am involved in a door-to-door luggage delivery business, Sherpr, which you could consider travel-related. My view is to always get involved in things that you have some knowledge of. Even if it is not primary, to have secondary or tertiary knowledge is important. When my wife and I invest in a business we like to get involved, to have some sort of influence and insight and hopefully be able to help those businesses scale and grow.”
Fraser is also an investor in Karshare, a business focussed on peer-to-peer sharing to improve efficiency of car use whilst minimising environmental impact.
“In the same way that AirBnb allows people with second properties to rent them out efficiently, this allows you to do that with your car. It gives people the opportunity to make some money from their assets; cars are so underutilised, and this company really feels like it is helping solve a global problem. The beauty of this business is that all cars are keyless; you unlock with your phone, it really is a frictionless process.”
Not quite so travel related, but equally exciting is Skinny Lager, a business that Fraser and Susan, his wife, are involved in. “It does what it says on the tin. A full strength, premium lager with 65% of the calories of a regular lager. It is gluten free, suitable for vegans; a really accessible drink. There is so much focus on healthy living now, and people still want to have a drink. If this means that people can do that as it is a healthier alternative, then that is fantastic – it solves a customer problem.”
Fraser notes that all of these businesses are fairly early on in their lifecycle; “They are one or two years off the ground. I like getting involved at that stage, because although there is a lot more risk, there is also a lot more opportunity. Not to mention that if you are interested in the business, you tend to want to get more involved.”
Looking at the challenges he has faced across his career, he highlights the impact of the pandemic on the travel industry. “Working with a tech focussed business; a business that is relatively young, managing a downturn and particularly downsizing is a real challenge for the management and leadership in the business. Very few people had experienced doing that. I had been through that with previous businesses and they are the toughest times in anyone’s career. The impact on people when having to downsize continues to be the toughest challenge. Managing the process is a challenge in itself, but you also have to keep everybody motivated and focussed in the business. The most important thing I learned over the years is to be upfront and really honest with people from the get go, but being positive at the same time around your belief in the business and the ability to see it through. The more you communicate in these times, the more people are likely to understand and work with the situation.”
It is this positive attitude of straight-talking which makes Fraser and DBL a perfect fit. His relationship with DBL began whilst Fraser was still working full time; “We needed some advice as to where to spread our risk, and that is where DBL came in. We needed someone we could trust, and our very close friend recommended Dacre and the business.” He notes that what he really likes is how down-to-earth the business is. “DBL are very sensible, practical and straight-talking and that is what we like. Every year they make sure we use all of our tax allowances. We talk to Dacre 3 or 4 times a year and it is genuine support; it is not salesy or pushing you to do one thing over another that benefits them. They really are looking out for our best interests and they give us options.”
Looking forward, Fraser has an optimistic view of the travel industry, which has obviously had a tumultuous 12 months. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is just a longer tunnel than we all thought last summer when we started to come out from the first lockdown. The reality hit home at the end of last year, coming out is going to take longer than we expected. However, I think there will be a bit of a lockdown bounce. Because of the social restrictions, everybody who is able is going to want to get out there. Whether domestically or internationally, I think there will be a resurgence. Not just travel, but for hospitality, too.”