Advantage directors Julia Lo-Bue Said, Colin O’Neill and Ken McLeod anticipate a new era for members. They spoke to Ian Taylor ahead of the consortium’s forum in Malaga

Not many businesses run without a chief executive, but Advantage directors Julia Lo Bue-Said, Colin O’Neill and Ken McLeod see it as a positive move following John McEwan’s departure at the end of April.

The three executive directors will continue to oversee the day-to-day operation of Advantage, reporting to chairman Ron Marks and the rest of a 10-strong board.

Leisure director Lo Bue‑Said says: “John had the Abta chairman’s role for the past four years and the team had to step up to allow him time to do that – to step back from day-to-day activity. There is no change in the management team, no change to the business plan.”

Sales and marketing director O’Neill says: “We’re at a point where we don’t need a chief executive. It’s a reflection of the way we operate. It’s a natural progression.

“We run the business, but there is still accountability. There is still a chairman, who will have more active involvement. That is part of John’s legacy. We see the chief executive’s role retiring. The whole organisation has stepped up.”

Corporate director Ken McLeod adds: “There has been a process in place for a number of years. We discuss almost everything.

“We know exactly what is going on in the organisation.”

“We have a long-term strategy to bring value to the members. We’re not bumbling along.

“We have individual responsibilities but we are also responsible for each other. Everything at Advantage is intertwined.”

O’Neill insists: “This is not a commune. But rather than being slowed down by not having a 
chief executive, I think you will 
see increased energy. We have a clear business plan.”

They say members have reacted positively to the change. O’Neill points out: “We don’t have external shareholders. We’re still owned by the membership. The response has been, ‘John has done a great job, but we trust you to take the organisation forward’.”

Lo Bue-Said says: “No one else in the market is structured liked us. We’re wholly-owned by members and run democratically – one member, one vote.

“We’re commercial, but everything we do is for members’ benefit. All our resources are ploughed into the business.”

Between them, the trio have almost four decades’ experience at Advantage. However, there will be a spotlight on the wider management this week as the likes of John Sullivan (commercial), David Moon (business development) and Mark Rowe and Clare McPherson (marketing) address the conference.

Lo Bue-Said says: “One of the greatest assets we have is the team.” McLeod agrees: “I’ve worked at a range of companies but nowhere as professional and dedicated as Advantage.

“We have people who are extraordinarily committed.”

The conference will mark the start of a new era, they say. “It’s an opportunity for us to spell out the new regime,” says O’Neill. “But we are not one for big slogans.

“It is about achieving peak performance,” he says, adding: “Integrity and trust are critical.

“It might be thought our level of influence will drop without John. But we have good standing and I believe the energy levels of the organisation will allow us to come up.”

McLeod says: “John did a great job, but all of us are truly excited. There are all sorts of possibilities. The members could have a great future.”

Lo Bue-Said explains: “You can’t sustain a business on the high street by running it as a hobby. Everything we do is to maximise members’ margins. It is not that Advantage takes control; it is about giving members the tools to maximise margins. Our mantra is ‘look at which suppliers you are selling and understand the impact’.”

O’Neill adds: “A lot of good agents are concentrating on today, and that is where we come in. A lot were performing on rickety stages. We provide a secure stage on which they can perform.”