I was asked to write a blog about my experiences of working through the Covid crisis, however I am not sure about you, but personally at times I am a little done with reading about Covid and hearing about it. Therefore, I will introduce a couple of other areas of interest to me which are the SME market and what it is like to work in it. You will get to hear about some of the great characters that work in this corner of the industry and how I feel it is a truly fascinating area where relationships and being independent are really very special.

I joined Focus in September last year as Business Solutions Manager, looking for new and exciting challenges in business travel. My track record career-wise is to build up good lengths of service in the various positions that I have had, and to move on having created a positive difference to that organisation. I definitely did that during my time at HRG, PwC and KDS which covers the past 17 years of my career. It has given me a broad experience of business travel with a primary focus on large enterprise organisations, so the SME market was relatively new to me.

Since joining Focus, I have now got to grips with the partnership, figuring out where and how I can add the most value. I have created plans to review various elements of business travel technology with a view to enhancing existing relationships, creating new preferred agreements and working towards defining new solutions that revolutionise TMC businesses and offers some best-practice standardisation in relation to technology.

Things are going well, and I have a fantastic team to work with who know the SME business inside out and are not afraid to teach me the ropes! I also have a legacy of tech that, in the main, is good and fits the needs of the Focus Partnership. When you inherit good things, it’s important to recognise these and nurture them.

But my question when I joined Focus was about how I was going to make my mark on the organisation, how could I feed my ego and feel like I can build a legacy? It is hard to find new solutions that revolutionise the way established businesses work – after all, they have been operating for a long time, they are mature and have all their systems and processes smoothly in place.

I have had it drummed into me that creating standards leads to operational efficiencies, and operational efficiencies are good. I have had to re-programme my mindset on this point. Standardisation can be good, but it can also lead to a general blandness and lack of differentiation. I liken it to the UK High Street, where you can pick any town and walk down the main shopping street and you’ll see the same shops with no differentiation and sorry, but that’s just a whole lot of Yawn! The odd town that manages to pull itself from the mould and have smaller independent shops, is just so totally refreshing, personal and interesting. That is for me the SME space of business travel.

Within Focus, the tech make-up of our 60 TMCs is hugely different – you will not find many which run the exact same GDS, back office, OBT and reporting solution – there is a plethora of variation. And the people that run and work for these organisations are passionate, interesting, and dedicated characters that stand out beautifully from the traditional corporate stereotype. If I were looking for TMC services, I would embrace this corner of the industry and enjoy the difference and colour that they can bring.

So, after I had re-programmed my way of thinking, discovering that even if I wanted to standardise the agencies, there is no way it would work and nor would I want to do that. Instead, I have started to think about what it is that an SME TMC needs. Effectively, it is a menu of well-selected components that can be mixed and matched to suit the individuality of the TMC.

Now, back to the forbidden word – Covid.  I have been lucky enough to work through the crisis whilst some of my colleagues were furloughed. It has meant pausing a lot of projects and embracing new ones. Sometimes the tasks were not so much fun, such as taking care of financial related tasks and chasing invoices.  And sometimes the work was quite honestly the most inspiring work I have ever done, like introducing a repatriation service to bring home UK nationals that were stuck overseas.

Several people have inspired me greatly throughout the past few months. My boss Abby always has fresh ideas for the team that keep us all on our toes and ensures that no two days are the same. Her utter dedication to us all, has given me huge confidence that we are in the best possible hands. I can tell 100% that she cares about the Focus team and wants the very best for us and the Partnership. I am baffled as to where she gets all her ideas and energy from!

Scott Pawley, Technology Director at Focus and MD at GTM has also been a total legend.  He is always supportive, always ready to give you a very honest “Scott view” of things and it is so refreshing to get that level of sincerity and engagement.  He is one of the people I refer to that stands out beautifully from the traditional corporate stereotype – even his choice of hair colour during the lock-down has helped to brighten all our days!

There are too many brilliant characters to mention – the entire Focus Central Team and Board of Directors, along with our trusted and valued suppliers has shown the strength, diversity, and courage of the SME business travel community.

In terms of tech and the reaction to Covid, honestly, I have never had so many invitations to view new and exciting innovations. It is hard to keep up with it all, but that is a good problem to have and makes my job the best in the industry.

Right now, I am truly looking forward to going to an airport, boarding a flight, and simply enjoying that excitement of travel. I think honestly that I have been quite complacent over this amazing experience. There is nothing like the feeling of boarding a long-haul aircraft, knowing that the next time your feet touch the ground, you will be in a different world. Although it’s all currently in my dreams, I cannot wait to make them a reality again!