Me And My Partner; Andrew Dunn and Simon Clarke

Andrew Dunn, founder of Ski Scott Dunn, met accountant Simon Clarke in the Alps in the late 1980s and the pair have worked together ever since. In 1996 they launched Scott Dunn World. Their combined business revenue now exceeds pounds 3m

ANDREW DUNN: I had been skiing before university and thought I would like to set up a ski company. I went to college and everybody laughed at me. But I am an obstinate person and it was blatantly obvious it could be done better. Back then, chalet holidays were completely different. I was 22 and highly motivated, and the first year of business was pretty exciting, but there was a relatively steep learning curve. I spent a year researching it all: I went to the Alps and did surveys on three different- sized companies. I found out people's likes and dislikes to pinpoint what they wanted on a holiday.

I distinctly remember meeting Simon when he arrived to see his sister, who happened to be working for us. He had driven out to the Alps in a black TVR car. I have always been good at running the business and having ideas, but the accounts were in a shocking state. I said to Simon "Can you take a look and prepare the books for the auditors?" He realised it was a little bit more than just a run-through. He said "Listen, one way is to join you and invest in the business." That's exactly what he did, and became the full-time finance director.

At the time, every brochure had some pretty blonde girl on the cover. We said, how are we going to be different? We did a totally black brochure, and that immediately got us noticed.

We had a loyal clientele, but we realised we had to expand if we were to have a good living. We've ended up with the cream of the ski resorts and some of the best properties. My grandmother taught me that you should always buy the most expensive, because generally it's going to be the best. There are some little things we have always done when nobody else would go to such lengths. It's the fluffy bathrobes and the postcards which are there in your room, the toiletries in your bathroom and the bottle of water on your table. Our greatest asset is our staff. We now have 14 in London and 57 overseas.

We got hit hard during the recession, and kept thinking, how deep can we dig into our own pockets? Then we took on board a whole new series of shareholders, from bankers to barristers. We weren't going to fail through lack of effort. I would take it as a personal insult if someone said they had had a bad holiday. I would be devastated.

Our non-executive chairman and I have always been the bullish ones, but Simon was confident we would get through the difficult times. Simon always sits and listens, and then comments. I will talk continually without necessarily having thought of every aspect or eventuality. He is naturally the cautious partner.

We have never advertised the company: word-of-mouth is far better, and that is why we have to make sure every single holiday is excellent. It has always amazed me how travel companies would send out letters which would say, "Dear Client". In the early days, I used to hand-sign every letter. Also, Simon and I know everything that goes on in the office, which is open-plan. It's important that you can overhear what people are saying.

My role is increasingly managerial, taking an overview of products. Competition in the travel industry is fierce, but no one is really doing cooks and nannies. We are transferring the Alps to the summer, and that's hugely exciting. You want to be with your children, but equally you want to read a book by the pool or play tennis.

We have never fallen out. I am more hot-headed and he would never lose his temper. I think he chose to work with me because he saw the possibility of being part of something which could grow and be successful, to which he could contribute - a chance for him to make his mark. I have infinite trust in Simon, and you know when you can trust someone.

SIMON CLARKE: When I met Andrew, I was working in the City: my father had set up an optical business, and myself and my brothers were to be drawn into it. But in 1989, the business was bought by Boots. I was working as an auditor and knew it wasn't really what I wanted, though it was nice to see how other companies worked.

Andrew is a brilliant front man, but I think it was getting a bit lonely. Some of the back-room books and processes were being neglected. That's my strength, and I decided to go straight into it. I thought it was an opportunity I couldn't miss. I knew Andrew pretty well - my sister and I shared a house - and after that first ski season, we got talking. It was an exciting business to be in, and Andrew was very enthusiastic, very inquisitive, and doesn't mind asking anyone a question, even if it's an incredibly stupid question. He's always getting knowledge from people and finding out how things work, then he stores that information away. Years ago, when he was up in Scotland with friends, they nicknamed him "Harry Keen". Lots of people know him as Harry now. He's always been the buzzy one.

One of the first things I did on arrival was to say that the company cars had to go. Until you actually look from afar at a business, you can't see these little things. Andrew is half Scottish and I hate paying bills, so we try and get value for money.

The great thing we had, in a small company, was to be able to sit down and make a decision and implement it. I loved that informality and flexibility. There were no memos, and we could react very quickly. When we set up, there weren't many regulatory barriers, and a lot of people were setting up so they could go skiing and perhaps make a few bob. Andrew already had a long-term view. He was the first to sacrifice his holidays to get the company going. He loves skiing more than anything but that wasn't his intention in setting up. He had the vision, and we both had the same idea of what we could achieve. He has the energy, and I follow in his footsteps and back him up with a bit of reality.

We could have blossomed very quickly, but we both agree that it is still a niche market, and we have controlled it. We know most of the people who ski with us.

Andrew would take on a lot more and some of those things might well have been very successful, but I am always a little bit of a stick in the mud. You might have one good year, but if a downturn comes, you need spare capacity. I have instilled in Andrew that every single bed is not just a guest - it's money. We have paid for every apartment, so we must get some money for that bed, even if it means discounting. Andrew was very much the gentleman travel agent, and wouldn't discount because it meant somebody in a chalet might have paid more. That's a smashing principle, but economically it's just not viable. Now, he's understood that point and will do everything in his power to make sure every bed is sold.

One of Andrew's strengths is that he listens to people. We have a very fluid office: we go out for drinks together and Andrew and I will empty bins and clean the kitchen, so I think our staff respect us for that. We don't have an us-them relationship. In the last year, we've started to take on different roles. We have come to the point where we have to be much more leader-managers. There are things that happen now that we don't know about, and we're having to move up the ladder somewhat.

I am still cautious: we can work very hard and get everything super, but if there's no snow, it's disappointing for us and for the guests. I hate having that element out of our control. Being an accountant, I'm neat and tidy, even pedantic, and I like things to be finished off in numbers and projects.

Andrew has been wanting to buy and build chalets for several years, but I have always held off. We are not builders - our strength is running holidays, and I don't think we should be pulled away from that. I am keen to concentrate on what we do best. He says it would put a lot of value into the business, but I am risk-averse. We have got a nice lifestyle and we are selling good holidays. My motivation is not to grow numbers drastically and sit on a pounds 20m company. Andrew might be a little bit more motivated by getting a conglomerate going.

Interviews By

Rachelle Thackray

Suggested Topics
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
His band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Extras
indybest 9 best steam generator irons
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

Derivatives Risk Commodities Business Analyst /Market Risk

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Derivatives Risk Commodities Business A...

Power & Gas Business Analyst / Subject Matter Expert - Contract

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Power & Gas Business Analyst/Subject Ma...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering