Fast Track: CV Chris Mottershead, Managing Director of Airtours

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The Independent Culture
Chris Mottershead, 40, is managing director of Airtours. Airtours holidays takes more than 3 million customers on holiday every year and has a turnover in excess of pounds 1bn. It is part of Airtours plc which carries more than 8.6 million people and is the world's largest holiday company.

I DEFINITELY wasn't an intellectual at school. I got sufficient O-levels and A-levels to secure a place at university, but playing sports and making friends was more of a priority for me at that time.

Even by the time I was at Warwick University, I didn't have clear ambitions. I studied history because it fascinated me rather than because of any burning desire to become a historian. It was only when I wound up on a graduate placement scheme at what was then Wales Gas that I realised I needed more directly useful qualifications. Concluding that business was for me, I used the company for its training in accountancy. Accountancy was something that I felt I could fall back on, and I was sure it would open some doors.

Even before I'd received my results, I handed in my notice. I moved into smaller businesses, starting with a printing firm where I worked in the business forms division. Because that wasn't so big, it was possible to learn so much more about how the company was run. You lack the security of a large corporation, but everything you do and say in a small company has a major impact. You're closer to its heart and so you have a far greater understanding about what makes it tick. Within six months, I was promoted to running the whole accounting department.

It was then that I had my first experience of being treated differently because of status. There was this strong attitude within the firm of "management versus the workers", and so as soon as I became "one of them", people stopped talking to me. I learnt that anyone working in management needs to work hard at breaking down any barriers that are created because of titles.

By the late Eighties, I'd worked in a couple of other companies in senior positions and finally became finance director at Aspro Travel Ltd. Shortly after I joined, the Gulf war began. Aspro specialised in travel in that area and we really had to struggle to survive. I learnt for the first time that however good you are in the business world, there are external forces that can surprise and threaten you at any time. But the challenge did me an enormous amount of good. After all, if you can manage a business under those kind of circumstances, the good times are easy. Indeed, five years after Aspro was bought by Airtours I became managing director.

With hindsight, I wouldn't put my success wholly down to my qualifications or financial understanding, but also to common sense. Sometimes you just need to rely on gut feelings. It's about having business acumen and knowing which levers to pull at what time without having to think about it too much. In all honesty, I think business can work simply. People just over- complicate it.

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