“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -Nelson Mandela
On January 7th, this year I held a press conference to announce some incredible developments for the Focus Partnership. We were all incredibly excited to announce the appointment of Adrian Parkes as our Non-exec Chairman as well as launching our new Brand to the Industry. Alongside these developments we were thrilled to share that we had become the first BT consortium to Join the BTA as well as welcoming onboard Dani Ives to our Central team as our Events Manager. 2020 was off to a flying start and Focus was ready to take its place as the leading Business Travel Consortium in the UK.
As the Focus Board and I set out its 2020 strategy we were driven by growing the Partnership and strengthening our relationships with our valued Supplier Partners. We had an incredible Supplier lunch at the latter part of 2019, and we were focused on keeping that momentum going into 2020. I recall an FTP board meeting in March where Covid was discussed and I do remember at the time feeling distant from what I immediately felt was not an immediate threat to us, it was business as normal and there was a lot of strategic work to be done.
As I enjoyed a long weekend away with my family a week later in a lodge in Norfolk. I think I was into my 2rd Aperol spritz on my first night when it became apparent that this virus was more than just a dose of the regular flu and I was well into my 3rd one when I received a call about a potential repat project that had achieved amazing results in Israel. This led to an immediate conversation with my management team about how we could recreate this campaign for UK citizens and from that moment on we had an alliance of 15 Partners deploying the ‘Get me home’ project. They had a call centre function up and running with 24-hour coverage in 32 hours where they assisted over 7-day period repatriating UK nationals overseas. This was teamwork and partnership collaboration at its utmost finest and a clear demonstration of what a TMC does well, deliver under pressure! I will always be hugely grateful to the key players in this project, their leadership and commitment was impressive and inspiring.
It became apparent very quickly that the original strategy whilst full of great objectives needed to be put on the back burner and a bridging strategy implemented immediately. Having become a member of the BTA in January we took comfort in knowing that Clive and his team were engaged in representing Business Travel at a governmental level and we would assist where we could. As the government began looking at preventing a major economic disaster, certain assistances became available, we started hearing words like furlough all of which led to a quick google search for clarification. This compelled us to look at our Partners businesses and where we could help outside of our normal programme. As our Partners were battling refunds and amendments and seeing travel requirements deplete at an alarming rate, we wanted to be able to support where we could.
Our organisation was born from the need to create a buying group, this over the last 21 years has become a much cherished community where Partners work together to ensure that the SME TMC remains competitive and also thrives in the BT arena. From a Business Travel point of view these TMCs know their businesses and they know their corporates; they have hugely successful organisations based on this.
Whilst they were busy servicing their clients’ needs during this initial crisis period, we asked ourselves how we could help and who could we collaborate with:
Furlough and the complexities around employee management:
Having an existing relationship with PS Human Resources, we provided a consultative approach through our own HR Manager who delivered sessions on how to circumnavigate through the complexities of the Job retention scheme. We have continued to work in partnership with PSHR throughout this period, ensuring that any TMC that needed up to date advice and guidance could do so through this platform?
Federation of Small Businesses
We became members of the FSB earlier in the year and have found them to be a wealth of guidance and support to the SME, by taking counsel from our Account Manager we were able to provide up to date financial and governmental advice to those TMCs interested in how the SME were performing through this crisis period.
We quickly partnered with Kemp Little early on when we identified that certain complexities were transpiring from contracts, policies etc. Farina Azam became a regular consultant to our Partner sessions offering Legal support and advice on multiple subjects.
Our Accountancy firm is part of a Consortium of Accountants much like ourselves in the Business Travel sector, so we were able to work closely with them to provide financial advice especially around governmental provisions to the SME.
As I mentioned earlier the BTA from the beginning began lobbying to ensure that the Business Travel aspect of Travel was recognised and heard, The Focus Partnership supported the BTA in their plight by representing the SMEs voice. As we make up the SME sector within the BTA we were able to ensure that they had access to our Partners, and we promoted their campaigns internally. Through our membership with the BTA our Partners received up to date governmental developments as well as access to all the BTA communications and panels laid on by the association. This intelligence assisted our Partners in keeping up to speed with very many complexities this pandemic has delivered.
Our Partners were asking us if other TMC’s in the partnership were sharing their experiences with us, at this stage we knew it was an immediate priority to bring the Partnership together albeit digitally. As I mentioned earlier the sense of community amongst these TMCs is a major pillar of the Partnership so providing them a platform to come together to not just listen to our updates but to talk amongst themselves was a massive must. Strength in numbers is more than just a strapline here it is the heartbeat of the organisation.
All our planned events for 2020 changed shape and form overnight. From Panels, mass zoom meetings, training, and webinars, centrally we were driven by the need to communicate relevant information. This was a massive task as I know anybody in the industry would agree there was so much information out there it was becoming a full-time job to keep on top of it. We created the #knowledgeshare as a way of encouraging our industry colleagues to share intel they found relevant and interesting to our sector and invited people to participate on our many platforms of communications to keep the momentum of engagement active.
All the above are ongoing and we continue to introduce new pillars into our bridging strategy as this crisis period develops.
From a Focus point of view, we were of course faced with our own challenges the main one was how do we future proof and protect the Partnership for 2021. Like all of you we had to look at costs and where we could strip them out to ensure that we were Lean for the battle ahead. Staffing is always an emotive topic and I know we all have experienced sleepless nights over this. I personally think I am a tuff old bird, but any talk of redundancy shakes that notion of who I think I am. Putting people in a potential redundancy situation is a professional stress I wouldn’t wish on anyone, if I’m honest I still have battle scars from the 2007-2009 recession and all of this has bought back memories I would rather not revisit. So, to see my Industry friends facing these cuts on an unprecedented scale saddens me greatly. I am not ashamed to say I have shed tears on more than one occasion over the last month or so.
Managing my team during this period has been both challenging and rewarding, the challenges for me were very much around their wellbeing. We are a remote working team anyway however we were mainly on the road and regularly meeting up with one another. Knowing that my team were faced with the uncertainty around our industry as well as facing their own hurdles such as isolation, home schooling and separation issues there was also the worry of having their roles temporarily taken away from them. All of these on their own are testing scenarios but combined I feared could impact their emotional wellbeing. How could we keep our Focus family together and supported? We delivered wellbeing sessions from meditation to cognitive therapy guidance. Keeping our Furloughed teams active through tactical training programmes was not just beneficial for the organisation but also for the team, it kept them busy and gave them purpose during the lock down period. Yes, they had been furloughed but they are valued and very much fighting a different battle than the ones those still in play were dealing with. Preparing for the recovery phase may require new skills so utilising this period to ensure we upped our skillset is paramount to winning the overall fight against the business disruption this pandemic has created. We maintained the much-loved social side of our Industry by having gin nights, quiz nights and even an escape room experience. Keeping professionally connected is also key, we have fortnightly meetings and a weekly newsletter sent out to them to keep them in the know
The Focus Board during this period has met fortnightly to keep abreast of the Partnership developments but also to advise on the strategic direction. The great thing about having a board made up of Partner representation keeps the strategy in line with the need of the TMC. This has been invaluable to me and has reflected in the feedback that we have had from our TMCs. This display of commitment from our TMC board of directors is admirable and hugely appreciated.
We have recently started conversations with our Supplier Partners about the journey ahead of us and are actively re-engaging. Focus Centrally is in an incredibly strong position with our much-valued suppler partners, we communicate regularly and hear their experiences and stories. We have identified the need to bring back the supply chain to the Partnership as we begin to see signs of recovery. Empathy is a wonderful thing and by hearing other trials and tribulations will greatly assist in moving forward our Industry’s recovery. We have the platform for our Industry to come together, our extranet has always been a hub of information and the core of our community so is perfectly positioned for this re-engagement.
As we begin to see some light its important now more than ever that we promote the importance of responsible Business Travel, our key objectives are getting behind the Focus TMC partners as they work to install confidence to the corporate. Our TMCs are respectable experienced professionals with good solid businesses built to manage complex travel programmes. Now more than ever connecting with a reputable TMC to manage a travel policy is key to responsibly handling your business travel requirements. The Focus TMC falls well into this category, our TMCs are rigorously interviewed and screened before they are eligible to join the Partnership, we pride ourselves on the calibre of TMC that make up this community.
To learn more about the success of the Focus Travel Partnership please follow us on our Social Media platforms or do contact me directly, I would be thrilled to discuss the benefits of being a Focus Partner.