Fred Stratford, CEO Reed & Mackay
Five months since Reed & Mackay was acquired by TripActions, we checked in with CEO Fred Stratford
What stage are you at with the integration?
We’re five months in and are now live with a VIP service for TripActions clients, backed by Reed & Mackay’s expert service. You will also see examples of our teams collaborating to deliver enhanced value to our customer base, such as the partnership with Neste announced today.
How did the partnership with Neste come about?
This is very much a joint initiative, and the result of a lot of hard work by our collective teams. Sustainability is really important to both TripActions and Reed & Mackay. There’s a lot to be done as a sector and we want to play a key role in making real change happen. We’re completely aligned on wanting to provide our clients with the right tools, insights and support to build travel programmes that place sustainability at the heart.
We’re the world’s first travel and spend management company to enable customers to purchase Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) directly from the world’s largest producer and that’s very exciting.
Can you tell us more about VIP solution?
This is a VIP solution for TripActions clients. It’s designed to provide an elevated level of care, and enhanced experience for those travelling with complex itineraries or with VIP requirements. The service behind this solution is the same dedicated, proactive service that we deliver to Reed & Mackay’s clients every day.
For TripActions customers, it brings together enterprise level technology, and the self-serve option that their client’s love, with something extra for those who need it. The waiting list is pretty big; there’s strong demand for high touch expertise right now. Do I see that changing any time soon? No. I think that balance of high touch service with state-of-the-art technology is what people are looking for now.
What are the key challenges for your business?
The main challenge continues to be the external environment as we navigate restrictions and new Covid variants. As demand returns at speed, we’re also building back fast, so we’ve got a comprehensive induction programme in place to welcome people into the business and bring them up to speed with the changing travel environment. Equally, with ever-changing government regulations it has been critical to invest in smart automation to ensure our clients get the most from their expert advisors.
Have there been any redundancies or has anyone chosen to leave Reed & Mackay since the acquisition was announced?
I’m very pleased to say that we communicated at the time of the deal that there wouldn’t be redundancies and that has absolutely remained true. In fact, we’re very much back in growth mode, not only welcoming back UK employees who have been on furlough, but also bringing back employees across the globe who we sadly had to let go, as well as recruiting new people into the business.
There’s a great energy as we welcome those people home and we’re very humbled that these brilliant people who we had to let go are now so excited to re-join us. We’re recruiting for numerous roles across pretty much all business functions as our pipeline of new business continues to grow. At Reed & Mackay we’re here to stay, we have a very exciting future, and we’d encourage people to take a look at the opportunities that we have available.
How has your workforce adapted to the new ownership?
As a global business, we’re used to working with colleagues in different markets and across different time zones. The agile approach to work that we’ve all adopted in the last 18 months provides the flexibility that is needed within a global business. There’s a great deal of cultural alignment between Reed & Mackay and TripActions; the collaboration, energy and results speak for themselves.
Has there been any resistance or concern from your employees and how have you dealt with that?
From my experience of previous acquisitions, achieving employee buy-in and wider success comes from recognising each other’s skills and remaining open to the value that a new approach or fresh thinking can drive – and that is absolutely happening here.We challenge each other’s thinking regularly to ensure we’re meeting the holistic needs of today’s business travellers.
How have your clients adapted to the changes?
Our clients continue to work with their dedicated teams of very experienced consultants and are pleased that we will continue to invest in them and our offerings under the TripActions Group. They are also excited about the future and the combined value we bring as a Group, both through increased buying power, and the speed at which we will deliver innovation to market.
What have you done to minimise client concern?
Our clients sit at the heart of everything that we do at Reed & Mackay. We have continued to listen very carefully to what they want and need and have been very open in sharing our strategy and the value that it will deliver to their businesses.
What stage are you at in terms of integrating both companies’ technology solutions?
We have already integrated and delivered a VIP solution to TripActions’ VIPs, C-suite Executives and their Executive Assistants. Their customers remain on the TripActions platform but can enjoy an enhanced high touch service, backed by Reed & Mackay.
Are you staying on with the company longer term? What about the rest of the management team?
Yes I’m here to stay! We’re on a really exciting journey and the whole Reed & Mackay management team stands firmly behind our vision.
Have you been over to the US to meet with the TripActions team in person?
Our teams in the US have been able to spend time together in person and the full TripActions Executive Team have visited our London offices a couple of times now. We’re still navigating travel restrictions, of course, but still very much believe in meeting in-person and where we can do that, we are.
What has been most exciting aspect of the integration?
Seeing the first bookings coming through on the VIP solution for TripActions was incredibly exciting. To see the pace at which the offering is now scaling shows the considerable demand for the combination of high touch service and leading technology.
It was also brilliant to recently welcome TripActions’ London team into our now shared office space.
What are you most excited about going forward?
There’s fantastic energy in the business, we’re learning from each other all the time and that results in greater value for our combined client base. The TripActions team knows how to deliver innovation at speed, and also how to scale an offering – fast. At Reed & Mackay we have decades of experience in what it takes to deliver genuinely market leading service and build a long standing and trusted brand.
Our combined team is incredibly impressive team and I’m most excited about the potential that delivers for our client base.
Are you seeing an upturn in business travel here in the UK?
Absolutely. Corporate travel bans have lifted and many clients who haven’t travelled in 20 months are now booking. For the UK, volumes have been increasing significantly over the last few weeks and we’re seeing weekly growth in excess of 20%.
With the travel recovery, where is the UK in comparison to the US?
We’ve seen incredible growth over September. TripActions is a great indicator of US travel trends and they are now back to pre-Covid booking levels. In the UK, at Reed & Mackay we’ve seen 20% week on week growth across September. The UK recovery has been slower than the US but is certainly on an upward trajectory which will continue with the US opening to UK and EU citizens from November.
What are the biggest challenges for the business travel recovery?
As we all know, business travel is a key driver for business growth and the wider global economy. Right now, uncertainty is the biggest challenge for us all.
What are the biggest challenges for your clients and how are you helping them deal with these challenges?
It’s clear coming out of the pandemic that companies need both technology and service to support their travel. We’ve always believed this, so our strategy hasn’t changed, but the demand has accelerated. We’ve invested heavily in our technology and our service during the pandemic. From a sustainability suite to enhanced reporting, wrapping Sherpa into our global portal and numerous Covid-19 related health and safety features.
How are you supporting travel buyers of today?
Buyers of today have to be experts in so many fields, sustainability, health, wellbeing. Increasingly we’re operating in an advisory capacity, supporting our clients with challenges such as how they can flex their travel and engagement programmes to support agile working, or how talent placement post Brexit impacts their mobility programme. Advisory Services will be a key area of growth for Reed & Mackay moving forwards.