April 23, 2024

Jo Layton

As CAP Worldwide celebrates its fifth anniversary, CEO Jo Layton talks about the company’s inception, its culture and what’s coming next

Jo Layton didn’t plan to start her own business, but when she was suddenly ‘let go’ without notice from the senior position she’d held for five years, she and her co-founder Andrew Hopgood took the plunge – and have never looked back.

“CAP was born out of adversity,” she says. “I certainly never dreamt of running my own company. I very much enjoyed the security of being employed. But after my rather unceremonious departure from a job I loved, I was ready to try. What I did know was that I wanted to create an inclusive business to be proud of, with a positive culture that would attract a diverse, cosmopolitan and driven workforce.”

While many competitors and start-ups in the sector rely on outside investment, CAP was – and still is – completely self-funded.

“It wasn’t easy. We had to make hard and sometimes emotional, life-changing decisions, including selling our original family home to invest in the company. My children backed and trusted me, as did my team, and so many incredible people and organisations in our wonderful travel sector,” says Layton. 

CAP has 50 employees today but began with a team of five, including co-founder and fellow shareholder Andrew Hopgood COO, also the architect of the CAP digital eco-system CAPTURE. He brought a wealth of knowledge from the relocation sector and was joined by fellow highly-experienced and respected industry professionals Kate Scott, Francine Migliorati and Liz Warnes, who had worked alongside Layton in her previous roles for 10-15 years. The original leadership team expanded quickly with arrival of Clare Ace and Sabrina Carparelli.

“My children backed and trusted me, as did my team, and so many incredible people and organisations in our wonderful travel sector”

CAP was conceived in March 2019 and officially launched at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge in June 2019, but Layton’s house didn’t sell until that October. 

“We launched just 90 days from inception, and we sailed very close to the wind more than once during that first year. We used all of our savings, ran credit cards to the max, and, thankfully, only once had to borrow money to pay salaries (thank you Liz!).

“It was during those rocky times that our incredible network truly stepped up. The love, support and positive energy we received from far and wide in the travel sector was just mind-blowing. 

“We were invited to events as speakers, sponsored with free or discounted tickets, and we hosted tables on behalf of contacts.”

CAP’s first contracted client, Corporate Travel Management (CTM), was signed in August 2019 and a number of large, global corporate accounts quickly followed. Covid hit the following March but, thanks to the CTM contract, CAP was given the chance to service the NHS and other CTM clients with key workers, so it grew during the pandemic.

Layton remembers: “We worked 24/7. There was no time to bake banana bread! We rarely left our desks to ‘clap for the NHS’ because we were so busy housing them. But it was so worth the effort, and to be nicknamed the ‘accommodation angels’ made everything worthwhile.”

Emerging in good shape, CAP continued onboarding a plethora of well-respected team members, global clients and partners. 

“Together, we had created a clear vision and we all agreed that ‘our tech was our tool but not our why’. Our tech carried our heavy load and made working with us seamless, but it was the blended integration of people and technology that was vital.

“Our clients choose us because they want our experience, our consultative approach and our astute understanding of the sector. We work in true partnership with our clients to achieve their goals and aspirations.”

“There was no time to bake banana bread! We rarely left our desks to ‘clap for the NHS’ because we were so busy housing them”

On its website, CAP describes its leadership as a ‘team of opinionated listeners – creative, future-focused, safety orientated, frugal and inclusive’.

“I want people to thrive,” says Layton. “I’ve learned what to do and what not to do from every leader over my 30-plus years working for great brands, including Marriott and IHG.

“In my heart I’ll always be a sales person, and now I am truly honoured and privileged to also be a CEO. This is a responsibility and position I do not take lightly. It’s my role to provide a safe haven for people to learn, grow, and thrive, to inspire teams to believe in their own ability and to always do the right thing, and to be the best version of themselves, that THEY want to be.”

Layton and Hopgood personally interview every candidate who applies to join the CAP team and are passionate about diversity, accessibility and inclusivity. 

“It’s so humbling when I hear our teams share our mantras and our visions with heart and passion”

At the company’s CAPFest celebration two years ago, a new member of the team, Dan Woodburn, announced to the table that he felt he had joined The Avengers. “He was so right. We’re all so different but when we come together we become something special, something incredible, like a symphony.

“Our culture is to celebrate all individuals and always encourage positive conflict and opinion sharing. We’re a matrix organisation, so myself and all directors will report into whoever is leading the project. Everyone in the team is always encouraged to take the opportunity to lead.

“At CAP, we don’t set ridiculous sales goals and targets. We have one goal and that’s to serve our clients and book their business – and whether you work in reservations, finance or sales, you’re just as important to achieving that goal, so everyone gets bonuses when we hit our targets.”

Layton wells up with emotion as she describes the strength of the CAP culture.

“It’s so humbling when I hear our teams share our mantras and our visions with heart and passion. I imagine it’s like being on stage at a concert and hearing a song you sing sung back to you – only a 1,000 times better – it absolutely takes my breath away. I think we are proving a growing company can be caring, kind and do the right thing, and still be profitable.”

CAP is a female-owned company with a 75% female leadership team. “When we were certified a diverse women-owned company under WEConnect, we immediately created two programmes,” says Layton.

“Firstly, the ‘At CAP, You’re Welcome’ Programme ensures we always pay forward and report on opportunities of accessibility, providing training and support to start-ups and diverse suppliers. Secondly, the ‘At CAP, YOU are Welcome’ accessibility and inclusivity HR programme ensures everyone at CAP is invited to bring their whole self to work.

“While many of our competitors are now marketing diversity measurement as ‘new’ and ‘ground-breaking’, we’ve been measuring diversity in our clients’ programmes since 2020.”

So, what’s on the agenda for CAP in the next 12 months?

“CAP 3.0 is enhancing our vision even further, but it is an evolution, not a revolution. We won’t be changing our shape. We want to remain relevant,” explains Layton.

“We’ll be refreshing our look and feel but we will retain our authenticity and will be firmly holding on to our culture and original vision. Our goal remains the same – to create the most successful extended stay accommodation programmes in the market.”

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Jo Layton is CEO and Co-Founder of CAP Worldwide Serviced Apartments. During a career spanning more than 30 years, Layton has also held senior sales and marketing roles at The Apartment Service, BridgeStreet, InterContinental Hotels Group and Marriott. In 2023, CAP Worldwide achieved an 80% growth year-on-year to just under £40m turnover globally.