We talk to Michael Edwards about his inspirations in business, and find out what advice he would give to someone just starting out.
What do you currently do?
I am the Managing Director of our group of companies, which includes Lime Management Limited (specialists in consolidation and outsource solutions for British Airways and Iberia), Aviate Management Limited (specialists in consolidation for small-to-medium sized tour operators and travel agents plus Group bookings) and Calrom Limited (our software development company specialising in internal and external software for the travel industry and airlines).
Our workforce totals 170 across three key sites, including our main office at World House, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, our main development office in Wilmslow and a branch development office near the centre of Manchester. We also have a small satellite office in Sydney, Australia to manage the Groups Booking Solution we provide (Groups Next Gen) for Qantas.
Lime is currently undergoing a phase of consolidation with British Airways and Iberia, including the introduction of new industry, advanced software to enable new future opportunities with both these airlines.
Aviate has grown considerably over the last couple of years, from £20 million to £61 million last year. In terms of organic growth, we anticipate that Aviate will experience another strong year, achieving approximately £90 million in revenue.
The group is also finalising contracts with two major airlines, which will have a significant impact on our operations, our turnover and our resourcing requirements. In preparation, we are currently establishing a new development facility in Lahore, Pakistan with a scale of up to 100 new developers and supporting staff. Aviate will also grow its resource capability this year. We are predicting our headcount will be between 225 and 250 by the end of September 2018.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
The original business was Lime Management Limited, which was established in 2003. Just prior to this, British Airways announced a ‘Future Size and Shape’ restructure. At this time I saw an opportunity to present a solution to maintain (indeed, increase) sales rather than lose sales, as they no longer had the sales personnel in place to manage small-to-medium sized tour operators. After an initial rebuff, British Airways decided to agree a contract and Lime Management was thus established. Lime quickly became a major partner with British Airways supplying significant volumes of revenues via its nett fares for tour operators and group bookings originating in the UK, America and Canada.
After approximately three years of trading, the Lime brand had become synonymous with British Airways and we were asked to agree an exclusivity deal to protect the Lime/BA (and latterly Iberia) relationship. This was agreed and therefore in 2009, we established Aviate Management to handle other airlines as a completely separate entity to Lime.
What defines your way of doing business?
With our external airline customers, we are keen to create a partnership environment; one that works to the mutual benefit of all parties. To this end, we look to innovate new processes and procedures to automate and reduce costs, which can then be filtered back down the supply chain to the airline or its customers.
We are always keen to over-deliver. As an owner managed business, we also readily consider agile and flexible agreements that work for the airlines’ corporate requirements but can give us an opportunity for additional income through growth in sales or greater reduction in costs.
Our reputation, integrity and innovation is the lifeblood of our organisation and we have built long-lasting relationships with many of our airline partners and travel industry customers.
This also reflects in our approach to our HR activities and support for our team. We are keen to be an understanding and flexible employer, often providing unique and customised benefits for many of our staff. The most popular being our “Free Bar Fridays” at our purpose built bar within “The Loft” social space at our World House offices.
Who do you admire?
Creating, establishing and then developing a successful business has many challenges but behind these there are also many, many sacrifices. I admire all business owners that accept the sacrifices with good grace and continue to drive forward their business with the same principles and creativity that inspired them from the outset.
One of my main focuses is, however, on the next generation of managers (and hopefully entrepreneurs). I admire their raw talent and drive. I am keen to work with our staff and other budding managers/entrepreneurs in creating an environment in which they feel confident that they can achieve their dreams – and, as importantly, when mistakes inevitably happen, there will be some support there to help them along the way.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I am an eternal optimist who deals with historic errors as lessons to be learnt rather than something to beat myself up about. Thankfully, my errors have not been major enough to undermine our continued growth and success.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
A business idea or concept without a solid commercial strategy will go nowhere and generally fail.
The obvious truth about success is down to how you will create a business that will be profitable in due course and have the cash-flow to survive until then. Is there a market (or a new product/concept) that can grow to something worthy of all the efforts and sacrifices that any new business will entail?
I know there are many experienced business owners who are happy to offer free advice to the next generation – so knock on doors, buy someone a coffee and ask the key questions!