Interview: Fred Stratford, CEO at Reed & Mackay

Reed & Mackay purchased Hillgate Travel in May, then acquired Concierge Travel Group and teamed up with Munckhof Business Travel. CEO Fred Stratford talks to Matthew Parsons about these latest deals and more 

What attracted Reed & Mackay to Sydney-based Concierge Travel?
We’d been working with them for a couple of years, and identified them as a high-end business. They’d also worked with Hillgate, so off the back of Reed & Mackay talking with them, and the recommendations the team at Hillgate had in the past, and clients saying we need to be in Australia, who were the right sort of guys to work with? It was a list of one. We were also starting up in Australia because there was client demand, but it was initially slow. Concierge has given us a platform to fold those clients in more quickly than we would have done organically.

And it works for our 24/7 service too, which is a really big plus. And we’re not having any difficulties in any of our staff in the UK or anywhere else wanting to go out to Sydney on secondment. Surprising that! There are lots of volunteers!

I think business will drive Brexit, not the politicians

I’ve been out to Australia a couple of times, they’ve been here a couple of times. But I’m super confident. Warren Dix, who headed the sales team here, has effectively moved out with his family. And a few other UK staff [have gone out too]. It’s about bringing that best of both together in the marketplace. We’re delighted with that.

You’ve also formed a strategic alliance with Munckhof Business Travel in the Netherlands. Why was that?
We’ve worked with Tom Roefs, the chief executive out there, for about 12 years. They’d been part of our international partnership for a long time. We know they’re a really good outfit. The Netherlands was the next key market. We opened an office in Schiphol airport, and that’s going to be a platform to target the key sectors: law and finance. The amount of inbound calls from prospects has been encouraging. Schiphol is a huge airport, there’s a lot of business coming in. It’s the first office, and there will be others as we progress it. I think it will pay dividends really quickly. We’re really pleased with that. The presence of the Netherlands in Europe is a really big play. 

Success for us is: is the client happy?

Is Brexit driving any of these strategic acquisitions and partnerships?
Not at all really. We’ve not seen any impact of Brexit. We’ve got a Brexit committee here that works with clients, and we’re regularly temperature checking. People have become, in my term, “Brexit fatigued”; you keep talking about it, but business will drive it. Fatigued is the term we use in the business. You have the initial worry, the initial concerns, then you get down to the reality of it, and some clients say “we’ll just carry on, we’re not going to stop”.

There will be challenges, not to be underestimated, but the key thing is people will still do business. I think business will drive Brexit, not the politicians. Yes, Brexit is something that’s going to happen. You can be stifled by not doing anything, versus the world’s going to go on. It’s like Y2K. 

Are more acquisitions on the cards for Reed & Mackay?
For the right businesses. If there’s client demand in a particular region, we’ll take a serious look at how we do that, either through an acquisition or an organic start-up. Success for us is: is the client happy? Our philosophy is – it’s not sector driven, it’s the demands of the client. And the more complex, the better that is for us. It plays to our strength of having very experienced staff who can really get fantastic deals for clients. If they’re in the fashion sector, for example, that wouldn’t preclude us from going after that piece of business, because what we do is absolutely aligned to that. The more complex it is, the more we earn our value in terms of the value we offer. 

We’re always looking for that ‘what’s next?’

Are there any new trends or behaviours you’re seeing?
We are seeing more businesses who value their staff. Businesses that are forward-looking and value staff, let them fly business class. If staff want to fly out on a Sunday afternoon and use their own time, I’m happy for them to fly business class. And retention – there’s a lot of buzz around that, but a lot of clients now are saying staff are our best assets, they’re not just talking about it. 

Why did you join Sabre’s Beyond NDC programme?
We’ve had several conversations with airlines; we support NDC, no question, but the offering just isn’t there yet. There’s a marketing message out there, and there’s a reality. It will get there, but as of today there’s a lot of noise, but being part of Sabre’s NDC Beyond programme… we all want this to work. 

What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing, but what’s on my mind is that we as a business stay ahead of our competition. We’re keen that we can provide a service to clients where we can talk to them before they can talk to us about things. You can’t communicate enough, but it has to be valuable communication. We’re always looking for that “what’s next?”.

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