Shaper: Craig Burkinshaw

Show aired on 23rd June 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Dinah Washington with the brilliant aniconic Mad About The Boy. Good Morning this is Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM. I am Elliott Moss, hello, how are you this morning. Jazz Shapers is the place I hope you know where you can hear the very best the people shaping the world of Jazz, Blues and Soul and right alongside them we also put someone in who is shaping the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. Our Business Shaper is usually someone who has defined their way of doing things and also has a fabulous story to tell. I am really pleased to say my Business Shaper today is Craig Burkinshaw. Craig is a man who got the travel bug early on in life and after self-diagnosing himself with travel cravings – he is not the only one – he co-founded the high end travel company Audley Travel back in 1996. They provide tailor made tours, luxury holidays and safaris to over eighty destinations world-wide including the fantastic Antigua, Botswana, Costa Rica, India, Mauritius I am going to carry on just a bit longer, and the Seychelles, all created by what they call Country Specialists. We will be hearing about Craig in a few minutes time, plus we will be hearing some words of advice for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya and musically we will be hearing from a couple of legendary Jazz Shapers who are performing in the UK this week, and the song choice of Craig as well. That is all after this from Melody Gardot, it’s Amalia.

That was Melody Gardot with Amalia. Craig Burkinshaw is my Business Shaper and I get a great big entrance to him as he walked through the door, well he was in the door but anyway. Founder, co-founder I think actual, we will come on to that in a minute, of Audley Travel back in 1996 and a self-diagnosed craver of the travel thing. Hello and thank you for coming.

Craig Burkinshaw
Hi how you are doing?

Elliot Moss
Alright how are you?

Craig Burkinshaw
Good thanks, yeah.

Elliot Moss
Tell me where your head was way back in the 90’s when you decided that not only were you going to, well you love travel, tell me about why you love travel, but then you decided to set up a business. A lot of travellers I know, have just kind of got wanderlust and they want to get on with it, but you decided to focus about love and create a business out of it.

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, yeah I had spent all my savings travelling round the world and had to been to Vietnam in the early 90’s, so I got back to the UK and was saving up for another trip but didn’t have any cash, and I just thought one day if I operate some trips to Vietnam and try and find a few people who were prepared to go with me, maybe I can get to go to Vietnam and split my expenses with those guys and everything and see what happens with that. So I tried it with a Sunday Times advert and four people luckily sort of signed up and things kicked off from there.

Elliot Moss
And that first trip made money, lost money? Broke even?

Craig Burkinshaw
It deliberately broke even, I just split my expenses so it was £400 or £500 each or something for the four people on it and we did at cost and just went for it really, it was, yeah, there was no intention of making a profit or anything it was just for a bit of interest really.

Elliot Moss
And after that first trip what made you think, you know what I can do this again, I want to do this again. Because most people go well that was a nice time, thank you very much and I now I will go and start the rest of my life doing something less interesting than the thing I really love to do?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, I really enjoyed it, you are only 22 or so, something like that and I was looking at trying to get a job in the City, so go and work in the City and be a stockbroker or something, not really very excited by that, so the idea of just placing a few more adverts and seeing if I could get a few more people to go on trips and just sort of role with it a little bit was the way I went with it.

Elliot Moss
And just for perspective, for those people that don’t know now we go into 2016/17 this is a business that employs over seven hundred people, if my numbers are correct?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yep something like that.

Elliott Moss
Something like that. A business that is in excess of two hundred million turnover, a business that has been bought by private equity, I think once and then again. You’ve transformed your passion into something that became, you know the centre of your working life?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, yeah it wasn’t really planned, as I say I was supposed to end up working in the City of London, but never made it. Still not there. Yeah I just, somebody called me up one day, I was doing little group trips and everything just playing with it and then a BA Pilot, Ralph Richardson, rang me one day and he said can you put together some tailor made arrangements in Vietnam, cars, guides and bits of things, and I said yeah, yeah I can do that, so that was the first tailor made, put that together for him, and then started to do more and more of those for people. Ralph has just stopped travelling with Audley because he sent me an e-mail the other day actually, he has done fifteen trips just been to Taiwan and he said I am just too old for the long-haul now I can’t do that Craig, so yeah my first ever person I ever dealt with is, well was still travelling with us until weeks ago.

Elliot Moss
And the tipping point, when did you go ‘hold on a second actually this is more than just me organising a few trips’, when did you start to have to employ people, how many years in? When it became a, you know, a bigger entity?

Craig Burkinshaw
I got somebody to help me within the first few weeks because you rapidly get bogged down in all the admin and everything, so I did something on that very, very early on because I could easily see, how if you just try and do everything yourself and you don’t delegate etcetera then you are going to get tied up very quickly. So I have always been a pretty good delegator I think, probably over delegate actually, I am a little bit, I go too early.

Elliot Moss
Well I don’t know it sounds like you have done alright so far. Stay with me for much more insight from my Business Shaper today that is Craig Burkinshaw. He didn’t have a plan, we’ll see how much he sticks to that, it looks like he probably didn’t, he’s shaking his head, he really, really didn’t have a plan and yet there he is now doing other interesting things. We’ll talk about what founders do and also when they feel they need to step back from the business. Time for some more music right now here on Jazz Shapers, it is Quincy Jones with Stuff Like That, and just so you know there is a special tribute night at the O2 on Wednesday for Quincy celebrating his 85th birthday and I think the guest featured in there will be Corinne Bailey-Rae, Caro Emerald, Jess Glynne, Lalah Hathaway, Mick Hucknall, Beverley Knight and Mark Ronson, Jack Sevoretti and Paul Weller and of course, not forgetting the man himself here he is Quincy Jones.

That was the brilliant and incredibly talented and unbelievably successful Quincy Jones. My talented and successful and very laid back Business Shaper today is Craig Burkinshaw, co-founder of Audley Travel back in ‘96, it was a trip with a few people, here we are twenty and a bit years later and its, well its grown enormously. Now, your attitude towards what you did, is obviously you love travelling, tell me about the buzz for that, when did you realise you wanted to just go and see the world. Because I love travelling too but people are different, what made it important for you?

Craig Burkinshaw
Well I was at University I always had a plan to finish and then go and try and do a round the world trip for a year and go to places like India and Nepal and stuff like that. The pivotal bit on that trip that changed things was we arrived in Thailand and it was just at the point when Vietnam was opening up to tourism so we managed to get visas to go to Vietnam very few people were going there, you had to get police permits to go all around the Country it was, basically it was quite exciting. Went there had an amazingly interesting month there, carried on and finished the trip through the South Pacific and Australia and all the more sort of standard places, and then got back to the UK and I just got the bug for it really. I started saving for an overland trip we were going through Turkey, into Iran, up into Pakistan through the Karakoram Highway into Western China, and it was while I was just saving up for that trip doing a temp job one day that I decided to have a go at doing the Vietnam trip for people.

Elliot Moss
And what was the buzz when you got into Vietnam in those early days, because again there is tons of history round about, but for you specifically do you remember it as a certain feeling, what was it, was it the newness of it, was it the difference of it, what exactly was it back then, if you can cast your mind back?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, I think it was just that simple excitement of the unknown, very few people were going there, it was a place that I was born in 1970 so I don’t really have memories.

Elliot Moss
It’s a great year by the way, the best year ever Craig, ever, ever, ever.

Craig Burkinshaw
Absolutely, yeah I believe that. So, in the 80’s Vietnam was still sort of in the news, there were lots of films and all that kind of thing, so everybody had feelings about Vietnam and thoughts about Vietnam, but nobody actually knew what was going on there. I remember the boat people and everything from the news in the late sort of 70’s and stuff like that, so you mentioned the word Vietnam, and everybody would react to it, it is not something that people didn’t have any knowledge of. So, going there with that sort of mysterious place and all of those that had been going on was just an incredibly sort of interesting and exciting.

Elliot Moss
You said you didn’t have a plan, and I buy that I know what you mean, but obviously you must have realised at a point quite early on in the first few years that this could be quite a structured business and a business with scale. How did you ensure that you had the right people around you to make that so. Because they are critical moments aren’t they, those first few years in a business?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, the first few years we were on a very tight budget, we basically didn’t have any money so we were based out of Northampton in an old granny flat above a Post Office, sleeping on the floor in the attic and then working on the next floor down, so everything was pretty tight.

Elliot Moss
I think it’s really important to know that because again you look at the size, two hundred million pound plus business, seven hundred people, this stuff the reality was right then, it wasn’t easy at all, and you made personal sacrifices?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, yeah it was very, very, very tight we had very little savings, we spent money, we used credit cards and things like that to help finance the first brochure and to get things going and to put those adverts into the newspapers, it was ultra-tight yeah.

Elliot Moss
And then that bit where it does become a bit more formal and you go, you are not doing that anymore, do you remember how you felt, when you thought hold on a minute this is real, this is doing alright, I’m okay here?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, I can remember when we hit a million pounds of sales and things were starting to come together, people coming back from the trips really enjoying them, they were sort of liking the way we approached things, which was to me pretty much common sense really, we were just trying to make an effort to have some time for the customer, listen to them, check what they really, really wanted, make sure we knew what we were talking about, because if they know what they want, but you don’t know your subject then you are in trouble. We just tried to work on those quite simple problems really and make sure that we were in a good place to answer them and deliver what people, properly tailored trips for people.

Elliot Moss
And at that point, before we just go into some words of advice for everyone else’s business, not yours at the moment, what was the buzz when you hit that million apart from the money which I am sensing is not that important to you, was the buzz was that you were pleasing people and they were giving you fantastic feedback?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, for me it was the challenge was to do a good job of it, I was interested in the money because breaking even is, you can’t go for very long it is a bit of a stressful game, so getting things into reasonable shape is a good idea. The buzz was, I was aiming at awards and winning and wanting to be the best, sort of thing really, so quite competitive in that respect so, yeah, we were aiming to win things eventually. I think the Wanderlust Award was the first one we won and that was a massive, massive thrill.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out how my adventurous, thrill seeking Business Shaper has built this business up into the place it is and also the other things that Craig is now also doing. Lots more coming up from him but first as I mentioned earlier some words of advice for your business from our programme partner at Mishcon de Reya.

I hope you are enjoying today’s programme here on Jazz FM. There are lots more ways that you can hear this programme plus hundreds of my former guests on the show. You can just ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes including today’s after 10.00am, or if you pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes you’ll get the full archive of programmes to enjoy, and of course if you are on a British Airways flight in the future to or from the United States you can enjoy us on the in-flight BA Highlife Service as well. But right here right now firmly on the ground although he is a traveller it’s Craig Burkinshaw and he is the co-founder of Audley Travel, the small business that was then, that is no longer a small business that hopefully delivers on what its travellers want and Craig we were talking about that buzz, and interestingly when I didn’t expect you to say that there is one thing pleasing people, there is another thing you talk about this competitive streak. What I haven’t picked up so far is that, and I guess it would be probably naïve of me to think that here in front of this super successful guy is someone who isn’t competitive, where if you are competitive where has that come from do you think? Why? Because some people are, some people aren’t?

Craig Burkinshaw
I don’t know, I think in most areas of life I am pretty relaxed, but then you take certain things you just take seriously, and you want to do them really well, so setting up a business and the structures, processes and everything around that whole thing is quite a challenge. I was pretty sloppy at University, I didn’t really, I lost interest,..

Elliot Moss
What did you study?

Craig Burkinshaw
Economics. I was quite into economics until eighteen but I went to London School of Economics had some of the best lecturers in the world and everything and I just sort of lost interest a little bit and I realised that the entrepreneurial side and everything was more for me. I was doing stuff when I was a kid buying and selling Spectrums and old computers and I was always up to stuff.

Elliot Moss
You see now it emerges, it would have been called the ZX82 but the Spectrum was a much better name for it.

Craig Burkinshaw
Yes absolutely.

Elliot Moss
Funny that I used to have a ZX82, we were born in the same year which is why I was obviously saying nice things.

Craig Burkinshaw
Right okay, cool.

Elliot Moss
It wasn’t just that I was being very nice to my guest, there was a reason, and it started young by the sounds of it. Again I am interested in this next phase, so the million quid happens, the buzz is going on and all that, and then often businesses get stuck and they plateau. Why did you not plateau, where did this big scale up thing happen? How do you think you pulled it off?

Craig Burkinshaw
I think that is where the economics and the maths comes in a little bit. While I was quite casual about it I was very aware of what the numbers were doing and how I think it needs to be structured to make it work and businesses like this you want to keep the clients happy and everything but at the end of the day, they need to run on happy clients and people coming back and telling all their mates, that is what it is all about. And in order to facilitate that and keep that going and to make it work you have got to keep at it, adding new destinations and things because they might love Vietnam but if they want to go to Peru next and you don’t offer that, then you are stuck so I very much realised that we needed to add the same expertise in other areas of the world so we started to employ people gradually as we found experts in different areas of the world, we brought them in and built those areas.

Elliot Moss
Your team and that team then as you think about it as you go back in time a little bit, how would they describe you, do you think? What kind of person was Craig then, as he was hands on and building this business right in front of them?

Craig Burkinshaw
That’s a dangerous question.

Elliot Moss
Very dangerous.

Craig Burkinshaw
I think I was quite relaxed but fundamentally quite serious about wanting to get it right, so I think I can come over as more relaxed that I actually am so when it comes to things like brochure production or the detail of things I am actually reasonably perfectionist and I like things to be pretty much spot on.

Elliot Moss
I mean things go wrong though don’t they, in terms of trips, all the time, having travelled a lot and I lived in India for a couple of years, lived in Mexico a couple of years too, inevitably there is only so much you can do, but there is an infrastructure and if the infrastructure breaks down, how does the perfectionist handle failure? How does the perfectionist handle problems? What did you do to inculcate the right attitude for the team across the world?

Craig Burkinshaw
Right okay, well in travel you are inevitably working with lots of different cultures and different ideas and there is a lot of subjectivity in what people like and understanding that and delivering it. Yes, so things do go wrong it’s not a game where you can produce perfection. It think one of the main things you have got to get right is if somebody is not enjoying something, take them seriously don’t just assume that they are up to something or being sneaky, listen to them, they are travelling they probably don’t want to waste time. Fix it first and ask questions later has always been my approach to things like when things go wrong.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me, if I fix it first and ask questions later, I like that, I’m going to steal that, if that’s okay. It is sort of obvious isn’t it but people forget to do the basics in customer service.

Craig Burkinshaw
They completely forget to do the basics in customer service. Everybody knows the theory but if they turn up on Monday morning and they fail to deliver on it, so no that’s true.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from Craig, my Business Shaper, Craig Burkinshaw, co-founder of Audley Travel. Time for some music right now this is Mel Torme with Right Now.

That was Mel Torme with Right Now. Craig Burkinshaw has been talking to me about his attitude both relaxed on the outside, the veneer, and in many ways that is so, but in business a bit more steely which makes sense, because he has built an extraordinarily successful business called Audley Travel, which many of you have probably used or have heard of. The other thing that strikes me is that obviously the business goes through transition, it changes and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and at some point only about six years ago you then have an investment from I think Equistone Partners Europe they took a majority stake in the business, ninety million pounds I think during a management buyout. Just tell me what it is like when someone, when you are engaged in that process, when you are thinking about investment and what it actually feels like once it has happened? Because it is strange for a founder right, because it’s your baby?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, you worry about and you have heard lots of horror stories and everything so you have got to be sort of wary, and a bit cautious but that turned out to be a really good point for the business it gave us the opportunity to really push things into America and everything, we also felt the American market looked like it was under served in the tailor-made custom trips. We used to look at the States and try and find good providers just to see who was doing really well over there and it was always a struggle and they were always tiny and we never really understood it, so we always saw that as a massive opportunity but we didn’t really want to just dive into that full on ourselves, so this provided a route to go for that, so maintaining a full interest in it without having to do all that yourselves and to bring some new people in.

Elliot Moss
And what is it like with the new people sitting there at the kitchen table of your business suddenly? Strangers effectively?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yes it’s a little bit strange from day one but Phil and Joyce, the guys who came in from Equistone I’m a bit of a believer in gut feeling on lots of things and everything and they seemed like pretty normal, reasonable people so it very much turned out to be that way, so things went really well, it was just common sense what we are doing, why we are doing it and everything, it is just a pretty straightforward approach which for me was how I like it, it was great.

Elliot Moss
And they gave you financial muscle to go and do the same in the States essentially that was the major play at that point?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yeah, they just wanted to role with the ideas the business had and to put those into action and go for it.

Elliot Moss
And then they sell it their own share, back in 2015 I think, and at that point what happens and that was for a significant amount of money, what then happens to you, where is your head? Because now it’s, you know twenty years on you have had sort of two levels of investment if you like, and are you then thinking ‘I think I’ve done what I can do on a day- to-day basis’ is that what is going through your head or was it not that at that point?

Craig Burkinshaw
Yes to some extent, I was wanting to do different things around that time, I got involved with a wee charity through a friend at Virgin. Virgin Atlantic were sponsoring some of their work down in Kenya. A friend said you have got to come see this stuff that is happening in East Africa and everything, so I went down there and got quite involved in that so I spend a lot of my time now trying to work on the travel side, so they do development work but we have opened it up so that we can actually send visitors through Audley or directly and they can go and stay in places like Kenya, Ecuador and India and see some of this development work in action and learn about water projects and other things but we have got good accommodation there and everything and great food and things, so it’s a pretty gentle experience but sort of deeply educational. It sort of gets to another level which I really like.

Elliot Moss
We are going to talk more about WE.org and the five pillars of that, what looks like an excellent charity that will be coming up in my final chat with Craig, plus I will be playing a track from a man who is performing at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday and will be given his Jazz FM Impact Award on stage, it’s George Benson with Nature Boy and he is up next.

That was George Benson with Nature Boy and I will be very luckily in the audience for him at the Royal Albert Hall next Tuesday. Just for a few more minute Craig Burkinshaw is my Business Shaper, co-founder of Audley Travel and we have been talking about that business and the extremely fantastic growth and your exit sort of from it on a level. Tell me a little bit, you are still involved, in what way are you involved?

Craig Burkinshaw
I just have meetings every three to six months now and get involved in pretty much on what you would probably technically call the strategic level, so just the direction of things and where the business is going, so that allows me to stay interested in things that I am particularly into which is customer services and the customer experience really.

Elliot Moss
Do you miss the buzz of the first trip to Vietnam? Do you miss the looking at the numbers on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis? Do you miss being super close to it?

Craig Burkinshaw
No I’m more interested in the general direction of travel so that allows you to take more of a sort of two, three, five year view and everything which is always the way I prefer to look at it. I don’t like month to month can be quite distracting really and you get buried in details that if you try to think about where it’s going you shouldn’t really be looking too closely at that, it is hard not to get stuck in though.

Elliot Moss
And do they still listen to you, in a way that you think, you know, are they still slightly in awe of the fact that you are the founder and you walk in the room and you knew it and you built it. Do you think there is a bit of that and is that a good thing?

Craig Burkinshaw
I think in awe is probably a bit strong, I think they listen to me to a reasonable extent, I know you would say this but there are some very smart people in there, there are lots of people who knew what they are doing, I was technically in charge for a number of years and everything but it is completely a team work thing and a lot of the reason it was successful is a lot of the people who came in were just damn good at what they did. So that drives it at the end of the day. When you get the wrong person then you pay for it.

Elliot Moss
And the other piece that you were talking about the WE.org stuff, and you mentioned this fabulous charity how did you get involved in the first place? What was the entry point for you?

Craig Burkinshaw
My friend was the other half of the CEO of Virgin Atlantic so she had been down to see the work being done in South Africa, the Change For Children campaigns that you get on aeroplanes and everything, Virgin started that and the others sort of jumped on board and copied the idea because it is a good one. She had been down to see the work and what was actually happening with the money, came back and knew I was interested in sort of responsible travel angles and things, and I got a text one day saying you’ve got to get to East Africa and see this stuff that is going on down there, so I said okay, and set them up and headed off down there with one of the founders, Craig Kilburger.

Elliot Moss
And they talk about the five pillars, I mentioned earlier, education, water, health, food and opportunity. For you are they all interesting, are you able with your unique experience and love of travel and love of different culture and things, are you able to contribute in one particular way? Is it mainly as you said through the travel expertise and co-ordinating educative programmes of people coming, or there are other things that you are particularly interested in?

Craig Burkinshaw
When I saw the development model, the initial impressions were extremely positive. In order to be sort of thorough and careful when I came back I asked for some third party reporting to verify what I thought I was seeing. So, I read some reports from North Western University and other stuff like that to back it up, plus I asked more questions. And then the guys, the unusual thing is that we have sort of lodgers down in these locations, where we host corporate sponsors, families who support things and youth who have got involved, because there are thousands of schools in the WE.org network, I think three and a half thousand in the UK currently, so there are lots of people going down there and visiting and seeing the work in action and everything and learning about it, and I just felt I could really help in terms of opening up to a wider audience on the travel side. Obviously, I just know from doing Audley for years that lots of people want to get a little more under the skin of these places and understand the nitty gritty of day-to-day life and this was just like wow, this is the perfect opportunity to deliver that to people. So I thought everyone wins really, they get an educational deep experience, the charity wins they pay to go there so they make a bit of profit that feeds back into the good stuff.

Elliot Moss
We are going to run out of time, so just before I ask you for your song choice. Is there place in the world you haven’t been to yet, and that you want to go to? And if so, why haven’t you been yet Craig, and when are going to go? Where it is? Where is this place?

Craig Burkinshaw
The place I have properly been talking about and not getting round to is Madagascar, I am just fascinated by it generally, it is just a place that has got a ring to it and a fascination. I’m slightly put off because I think there have been some environmental degradation problems there and everything, but I think I need to get down there pretty soon.

Elliot Moss
Vanilla Beans.

Craig Burkinshaw
I’m a bit worried about what I am going to see in terms of some of the environmental stuff but that is not a reason not to go.

Elliot Moss
Madagascar is on his menu. Craig, thank you so much for sharing with me your story as it were, just before I let you go what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Craig Burkinshaw
I like a bit of jazz and everything but I don’t do vast amounts of it, the song that has always caught my eye if it pops on the radio is Take Five, I think that is Dave Brubeck, isn’t it and that is just one that has just always been around and if you go into my playlist and everything it is mainly Oasis and stuff like that, but that has always been in there.

Elliot Moss
Fabulous Craig, here it is just for you. Thank you.

Craig Burkinshaw

From a young age, Craig Burkinshaw was an avid traveller with a keen entrepreneurial spirit. He was keen to steer away from the mainstream travel-agent industry and heavily trafficked ‘holiday hot-spots’ and get off-the-beaten-track. After guiding his own small group tours around Vietnam, he identified a gap in the market for tailor-made travel. He recognized that with a solid, trusted local guide in place international travellers could get a taste for local culture with first hand insight in a safe, comfortable environment. In 1996, alongside his business partner, John Brewer, Craig founded in Audley Travel in a small room above a post office in Northampton. Audley Travel has now expanded to include three offices in Oxfordshire, London and Boston, USA. Audley now has in excess of 400 staff and continues to win top Travel Awards. Their portfolio features more than 75 destinations across every continent and prides itself on a 75% repeat and recommend client basis, as well as staff rating Audley as one of the top 100 companies to work in the UK.

“I was supposed to work in the city of London, but I never made it and I’m still not there.”

“I quickly found out I needed support with admin – in that sense I’ve become a good delegator.”

“I always had a plan to do a round the world trip – the pivotal thing that changed is when we were in Thailand Visas changed and we went everywhere; I got the travelling bug.”

“I got the Vietnam buzz. That’s where it started.”

“I can remember when we hit one million sales – breaking even doesn’t let your business travel far – my competitive streak

“In my personal life I’m very relaxed, but in business I’m very focused; my entrepreneurial side has always been there.”

“We found experts in different parts of the world we brought them on board, we have to be competitive.”

“We’re inevitably working with a variety of cultures; with that we take them seriously; it’s the basics of customer service.”

Credits: Getty Images