the world according to… Alan Spence

Alan Spence

Managing director, FCm Travel Solutions

I decided when I was 19 that I wanted to start my own business – so I borrowed £50 from my dad and started up Britannic Shipping Services. I had an office in Epsom and just worked on the freight business from there.

Two or three years later the package holiday boom began offering the cheap holidays in the early seventies. People were booking all these holidays so I thought ‘that sounds like a good idea’. I had a travel agency at the front of the shop and shipping was at the back. I had the leisure side of the business

The corporate side was the one that grew and grew and I sold Britannic Travel three years ago to Flight Centre.

When I sold the business to Flight Centre I didn’t expect to be here running it now – I am left to run the business and everybody is supportive of me. When a company is acquired, usually it’s consolidated into other businesses owned by the new parent company, and there are changes at the top in terms of management. But Flight Centre was moving into a new area with its business travel division, so it needed our expertise.

We’ve been allowed to develop as an autonomous business and the result is that we have made great progress in terms of growth in the last year. I have stayed involved because Flight Centre has allowed me to run the company in the way I want to.

I think we have grown the business successfully. We have kept ahead of the market and have the ability to make decisions and find a way of doing things.

When I first started in business I bought a racehorse, but for the last few years it has become more serious. Last year I had 20 winners.

I have different trainers, but I like to get involved. In the mornings I go down for the first gallop of the day – it is the best time to go.

You have got to establish what you love doing and do it. My first office was in Epsom so that set the scene for the racing.

I am also a vice-president at Chelsea Football Club. I go to all the home games. I have supported them since I was a kid. It is now a hobby and you get the best seats. Two of my horses are called John Terry and Super Frank.

I enjoy going on holiday. I go to Barbados at Easter, Spain in the summer, Dubai in October and South Africa in the New Year.

I do relax quite quickly – as you get older you know how to do it.

I am always busy – every day is a busy one. I don’t work on a Monday to Friday basis.

Lowdown on Alan Spence

Age: 59

Born: Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey

Lives: Esher, Surrey

Drives: Aston Martin DB9

Wife/Kids: Married to Karen; two children, Michael and Sarah

Hobbies: Horse racing, Chelsea Football Club, cricket and drinking fine wine

Favourite book: Dick Francis novels

Last film: The Great Escape

Favourite holiday destination: Barbados

I spend as much time as I can with the family, but we lead busy lives. Holidays are the most important time together. We also like eating out – and going to watch Chelsea and horse racing.

There are a few people I admire for different reasons, but I wouldn’t like to single them out. In this business it does seem like I know everybody.

I have been very lucky. I have always worked for myself – since the age of 20 I have been on my own.

I have never used a calculator in my life and do everything in my head – if you do it yourself then you know that it’s right.

We had challenges when we were part of TQ3 [Britannic Travel was a founder members of TQ3 when it was launched by TUI in 2001]. The challenge in terms of being part of TQ3 was dealing with the Germans as TQ3 was 50% owned by TUI in Germany. 

They were very controlling and this made it extremely difficult for Britannic Travel to work with them. We were the winners in the end though because we got out of our licence agreement. It was quite disappointing seeing how they ran the business.

Being part of TQ3 was probably the only bad decision I have made, but we have come out of it better and stronger. We relinquished the TQ3 licence in June 2005 and rebranded as FCm Travel Solutions. FCm Travel Solutions is now one of the top five travel management companies in the UK and globally – and I have contributed a lot to that and still head it up in the UK.

The last 12 months in business travel has seen more change than in the last 40 years.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is that everybody is friendly in the business, but the next day you are out there competing with each other for business.

It is going to be more and more competitive. Service is a key element in business. There probably was a time when service was dropping out but that has changed now. People are now prepared to pay for the service and quality.

I am not a believer in long-term plans – 12 months is long enough. You can waste a lot of time trying to make lots of plans; just get on and make the most of now.

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