BBT talks to Fred Stratford, Group CEO of Reed & Mackay, about the TMC’s acquisition of Hillgate Travel, as well as what consolidation means for corporates
What was the rationale behind joining forces with Hillgate Travel?
We’ve been admirers of the Hillgate Travel business for many years. Jeremy Bull (owner of Hillgate) has built the business on the same values that we hold dear at Reed & Mackay with a focus on having the best people delivering the best service supported by world-class technology. It’s a very natural tie-up and although Jeremy Bull will be retiring he is working very closely with us in the transitionary period.
How has the news of the acquisition been received?
The feedback from the teams at both Hillgate and Reed & Mackay has been: “Why has it taken so long?” When you hear that sort of message from your people, you know the decision was the right one. Client feedback has also been very positive and in our eyes, it is our clients and our people that need to be our first focus.
What will happen with the Hillgate team?
Hillgate’s CEO Anthony Rissbrook has joined the Reed & Mackay board as our COO and their leadership team are joining the broader Reed & Mackay leadership team. This is about growing together. We’re always on the look-out for great people and we’ve found about 200 of them at Hillgate so it’s really exciting.
What’s the plan for the Hillgate Travel brand?
It’s something we’ve given a lot of thought to and we will be retiring the Hillgate brand and uniting as Reed & Mackay. One of the things that’s really important to us, and something I’ve discussed with the Hillgate team, is that the core values are already very much aligned with Reed & Mackay’s. So yes we will retire the Hillgate name, but we’re discussing the process for doing that and the timing – it won’t be five years, but it also won’t be five minutes.
What does all this mean for the existing Hillgate clients? Will they still have the same team working on their accounts?
Absolutely. That’s one of the key things about our strategy for joining the two companies – we want the experience for our clients to be a positive one - the relationships between our clients and our people really matter.
What can clients expect from here on out?
In the short-term, both businesses will continue with their clients on an ‘as-is’ basis. We are working together currently on how we take the best from both to offer an enhanced client experience.
There’s been a lot of consolidation in the TMC world lately. What does this mean for the wider business travel industry?
I think consolidation is a good thing when there is a like-minded approach. When the focus is on cost stripping it becomes a negative experience for employees and clients – that’s not what this is about for us. We’re doing this from a building point of view and we’re very focused on delivering additional value to our clients.
What about looking longer term? Will consolidation create less choice for companies in the RFP process when they look for new providers?
I think what it will do is polarise the market. Yes, there will be fewer TMCs out there, but they’ll be stronger TMCs in terms of what they’re offering. It should help the buyers focus their RFPs; so rather than filtering from a list of 20 down to five and then down to one, having fewer players will streamline that process.
How would you respond to the criticism that TMC acquisitions are all about taking over the ‘number one’ slot?
Our view has always been that we want to offer the best service for our clients. Some of the bigger companies out there tend to focus on a one-size-fits-all approach for their clients around the world, and that’s the opposite of what we want to do. We want to offer a tailored, bespoke service. We have no intentions of being one of the ‘big three’. We want to operate in a space where our clients value service and value for money. There’s a really interesting play for us, in that we have significant scale, but we are still agile enough to treat every client as though they’re the only one.
What’s next for Reed & Mackay?
We’re not looking to grow just for growth’s sake; it’s about being the best, not the biggest. That’s why all of our growth has been client-focused. Our clients wanted to work with Reed & Mackay in key locations because it means guaranteed quality of service. We achieve this consistency across the globe by having very tight processes and relationships in place. Twelve months ago we announced Reed & Mackay’s International Partnership, which is made up of over 4000 experts across the globe and every single one holds the same Reed & Mackay service ethos at the core of their business.
It’s really important for us to continue to offer a great service and grow based on recommendations. Clients speak for us and if they’re happy they’ll tell others. We’re not just out there buying any business for the sake of growing; we’re all about finding quality businesses providing a quality service.
Are you looking to develop your technology further with the new team?
Definitely, yes. We believe, and our clients tell us, that our technology is one of the leading platforms out there, and we want to ensure that continues.
We’ll be consulting with our clients as we look to combine aspects of service and technology to ensure we’re getting it right; the result is going to be very exciting.