Shaper: Phil Cameron

Show aired on 9th October 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Donald Byrd with Fallin’ Like Dominoes and Donald Byrd of course part of the Maceo and the Macs and the Jackson sisters era. Thank you very much for joining me, it’s me, Elliot Moss with Jazz Shapers; the place where you can hear the very best of people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside leaders, shapers from the world of business and my Business Shaper today I am pleased to say is Phil Cameron. He is the founder and chief executive of No.1 Traveller they are the specialist lounges which you have probably seen if you have travelled out of Gatwick or Stansted or even other airports around the UK. He is going to be talking a lot about how he has gone from zero to almost twenty million pounds of revenue – yes you heard me right, twenty million in just over ten years. In addition to hearing from Phil you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya, some words of advice for your business. And as well as all of that, lots of brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including music from Jason Moran, Nina Simone, John Lee Hooker and this fittingly from Kurt Elling, it’s And We Will Fly.

The gentle and soothing sound of Kurt Elling with And We Will Fly. A fitting entrance, stage left for Phil Cameron who is the chief executive and founder as I said, of No.1 Traveller and they have those lovely lounges located all around British airports. Phil thank you very much for joining me.

Phil Cameron
Hi.

Elliott Moss
Hi. Now I say enter stage left of course because what most people who haven’t heard of No.1 Traveller, who haven’t heard of Phil Cameron but they will know all about you by 10.00 o’clock, they won’t know that your background is in the world of theatre.

Phil Cameron
I know.

Elliot Moss
And you studied theatre.

Phil Cameron
I did.

Elliot Moss
So tell me, just go back a little bit. Before you ventured into the wild world of business, you started obviously in that world of drama and things, how did that happen and then why did you shift out of it?

Phil Cameron
I don’t know, I mean I had a puppet theatre at age five and that was it really. That was the next thirty years consigned to dark spaces with lovely creative things happening and I think the theatre career sort of took me as much, although it was inevitable I was going to be in it, it took me as much by surprise as I think everybody else because I decided I wanted to study it, I was doing plays at school, I was, you know, the drama club type person and then when I got into the big wide world of actual theatre, I just had a very, very, very fast progression up to the role of producer and I was in the West End I guess within well, actually before I was thirty and yeah, I mean it took me by surprise.

Elliot Moss
You are not just, and again, not just any old person that works in theatre, you are someone who is the Olivier award winner, a Tony award winner, I mean mega stuff. Is it true to say do you think and maybe this is harder because it is about you that smart people, whether they go into the theatre world or the business world are just going to do well if they are smart and they work hard?

Phil Cameron
I quite like the word smart and we’ve used the word smart as kind of a key word in business actually quite often because it means more than one thing. I don’t think you necessarily need to be academic, I don’t think you need to be clever, you have just got to be savvy and you’ve got to have some sort of fundamentals that protect you from the world around you because when you are in business you are vulnerable. Everyone is vulnerable in business and so to succeed you have got to have the facts, you’ve got to have the knowledge but you have also got to have some nouse and you’ve got to be a nice person and you know, there are, there are many parts to the, to the melting pot.

Elliot Moss
And courage because here’s the man who I am talking to now who twelve years you know…

Phil Cameron
That or a bit of insanity I guess.

Elliot Moss
Well both, I mean but that link between courage and insanity and the fact that you went at some point ‘I am going to shift’. When was that moment when you said ‘enough, I have got an idea, here’s what I am going to do’?

Phil Cameron
Out of theatre?

Elliot Moss
Yeah.

Phil Cameron
Well I think I realised that theatre was gambling actually. If you work in the subsidised sector you have a cushion although there is still, there is still risk because you are subsidised. In commercial theatre, you know, if it is too sunny or too rainy people don’t come to the theatre, if the critics don’t like you, no-one comes so you know, you don’t know how well things are going to turn out. I was lucky, I think pretty well every play I did got at least one five star review but you don’t know if it is going to be successful. I did a production of Twelfth Night, Twelfth Night set in India, the Times said it was the Bard met Bollywood and they got along famously but nobody interested in the Bard was interested in Bollywood and vice versa. So the thing was a complete flop. So you know, you just don’t know, you don’t know how it is going to work out so I think having you know, you referred to the achievements, having been, you know, nominated and the winner of some awards, I thought you know, I’ve kind of proved that I can produce it, I’ve proved that I can do it, I’ve proved that I have been successful but you know, I wake up in a stress, I lose a lot of weight, I worry senseless and I don’t know what tomorrows going to be like or what next week is going to be like so I thought I need to find something different.

Elliot Moss
Find out how the gambler…

Phil Cameron
I still love it.

Elliot Moss
…you still love it, of course you do but that’s different, you can love it but not have to work in it or make a buck out of it.

Phil Cameron
Right.

Elliot Moss
Find out how Phil went from Olivier and Tony awards to setting up his own successful, very successful business. Stay with me though because that is going to be in a minute, first though, some more music Phil.

Phil Cameron
Nice.

Elliot Moss
This is Jason Moran with Honeysuckle Rose.

Jason Moran with Honeysuckle Rose. Phil Cameron is my Business Shaper and very eloquently talking about the world of gambling, not that kind of gambling but the world of theatre but I like the way…

Phil Cameron
I use the word gambling a bit flippantly.

Elliot Moss
You did but I know what you mean because…

Phil Cameron
The risk is there, it’s a high risk business, high risk, high return and thrilling as a result. You know you get the roller coaster with it.

Elliot Moss
But you talk about it actually and I think you could extend the metaphor to business. You said, ‘oh well I worried a lot, I lost a lot of weight, there was… I didn’t know what was going to happen. Oh I know what I will do, I’ll set up a business, I’ll do it in multiple places and I’ll hope people come to my lounges, they had better look beautiful, the food better be good, the experience better be great’; I mean that’s not exactly the relaxed option is it? You’ve kind of just gone from one form of gambling to another haven’t you?

Phil Cameron
Well and actually I tried to set up an airline in between the two.

Elliot Moss
Of course you did, sorry I forgot. So what happened on that front?

Phil Cameron
Well I mean I probably shouldn’t mention it, I almost got away with, with not talking about it but, I don’t know… well I do know what the connection is I guess, the whole thing is very experiential. Aviation is actually a pretty theatrical thing. I guess you could extend the metaphor out and sort of talk about both being about a journey, one rhetorical, one not. But actually there is something very similar to the world of theatre and the world of aviation and indeed the world of lounges that I now do. I mean a plane and an auditorium have hundreds of people facing forward, cheap seats at the back, expensive seats at the front and at a given time everyone wants something to happen if you haven’t sold tickets for it, you don’t make the money and you’ve lost an opportunity so I mean… and it goes on, it goes on. So there are lots of similarities. I guess I like things that are doing things that are experiential, that are sort of premium in some way and so it all tied together, it all felt like a good mix from one to the other. The only reason the airline didn’t happen was because we didn’t get the funding for it but it was a great exercise, it was a great thing to do and it was a really exciting thing to do. I spent the best part of a year working out how this might work with some real people who really knew what they were talking about but it was destined never to happen. What came out of it instead was the opportunity to provide ground services in and around what the airlines do to complete that journey from driveway to runway. The bit we do and then on with the airline.

Elliot Moss
And your first lounge in fact was not in the UK?

Phil Cameron
It was at JFK because we were talking about that route, we were talking about the London/New York route so I got to know the airport. Their ground service provision, their premium ground service provision wasn’t good enough and I sort of just stumbled into it and you know, they asked me to sort of look at it and see what I could come up with and we came up with a plan, they rented us ten thousand square foot of space and off we went.

Elliot Moss
And you had to raise money I imagine because a business needs money to get going.

Phil Cameron
Yep.

Elliot Moss
How did you do that?

Phil Cameron
Well we were lucky because we inherited a couple of spaces at JFK that were in pretty good nick so it was literally lick of paint stuff to get the door open but we went to some friends and said ‘can we borrow some cash’, we found…

Elliot Moss
Ten thousand each and then eleven thousand five hundred returned to them within a year?

Phil Cameron
That was it. So it was a loan, we said ‘you know, we will give you fifteen percent back in a year’ which we did and off we went. And then, you know, since then it’s… we’ve been through I think four sort of waves of investment, friends and family if you like, there was that first round. We found a smaller collection of people with a little bit more money, a little bit more friends and family money, then we moved on to a private investor, Middle Eastern private investor and now we are with Northern Ventures NVM who are our private equity partners.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out how Phil has raised this money and kept everyone sweet and is still smiling over here like a very sweet person that he definitely is. That’s Phil Cameron, my Business Shaper today. Latest travel in a couple of minutes but before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya for your business.

This is Jazz Shapers, 9.00am to 10.00am with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning here on Jazz FM. British Airways if you fancy listening is a place you can also hear some of my fantastic guests. iTunes if you want to go back into the annals of history and put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ and you will find some brilliant guests there as well. My Business Shaper today, I am proud to say is Phil Cameron and he is the founder and chief executive of No.1 Traveller. Phil I think you should tell actually everyone, a little bit more about these lounges because I probably didn’t do it justice at the beginning. How many are there right now in the business?

Phil Cameron
Six.

Elliot Moss
And they are in?

Phil Cameron
And we are building a couple more.

Elliot Moss
But before you go to the building. Tell me where they are right now?

Phil Cameron
We have got three at Gatwick, one at Heathrow, one at Birmingham and one at Edinburgh.

Elliot Moss
And it works, what I have to pay to get in do I?

Phil Cameron
You can if you belong to one of the member schemes. There are some worldwide member schemes of lounges. You can present your card and in you come. You can book on-line. You can pay cash on the door or you can be offered access via your airline or tour operator. So there… we have a lot of partners who give people complimentary entrance to the lounge.

Elliot Moss
So the JFK one has stopped now I believe and you have obviously got now UK based things. When you did that first one and that first day happens and the coffee is hopefully pretty hot and the croissants look all nice and they smell delicious and the sofa’s are clean – what did it feel like as the doors opened?

Phil Cameron
It was quite exciting. I mean I had never really, you know, I was a theatre producer, I had no idea what I was doing so I learnt how to carry a tray, I learnt how to carry multiple trays in fact. I learnt how to make some drinks, I, you know, I just, I learnt on the job but I spent three months at JFK pretty much. I had to keep coming back to London because you know, the back office was in London, the front office if you like was in New York so I spent a lot of time on planes.

Elliot Moss
And were you very pernickety about ‘no, no, don’t stand like this’ and ‘I want you to hold the tray with your arm open like this’, ‘no the coffee is not hot enough’. I mean that I imagine is what you had to do.

Phil Cameron
Completely obsessive and the ongoing challenge when you have a business that grows as fast as our business grows is making sure that all of those things are still right. You bring new people on, you need to make sure that they behave in a way you want them to behave.

Elliot Moss
Are you ever embarrassed about that obsessiveness though because sometimes I speak to people and they go ‘yeah I know I’ve got to be like that but I kind of have to stop myself’ or do you think it’s just part of the quality standard that Phil Cameron as the boss brings?

Phil Cameron
I think if you are not obsessive about it and you are not the most passionate advocate about it, the business will fail. You’ve got to be absolutely determined that what you’ve decided to create as a business is going to succeed. It is really challenging and it is really really challenging at airports because if I, for whatever reason, is a waiter and I am running a restaurant in central London, there will be twenty people dropping their CV’s through the door and I can call any of them and they can be in tomorrow, they know what they are doing, Happy days. I have got to find people who are (a) near an Airport (b) can get there for a 4.00 o’clock in the morning start (c) can pass background security checks and then of course I have to get them an ID which takes six weeks. So I have got to… it’s a much bigger challenge to get people in and we are as part of our obsessive approach, we, you know, we want to have really good, really friendly people and then of course this business is growing, it’s growing at a great pace which means that keeping up, making sure that everything is still right as you grow is very difficult. It’s hard enough keeping a hospitality business on its toes and delivering well; when it’s growing it’s even harder.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more insight from Phil Cameron, my Business Shaper today about what it takes to run a multiple site big business that is growing super fast. Time for some music, this is Nina Simone with Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.

That was Nina Simone with Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. Phil Cameron is my Business Shaper today and Phil we have been talking about as you said, your burgeoning business and what you do, retaining the obsessiveness but also somehow or other not being super hyper nervous every day of the week. Over the years, what are the things been the hardest for you to cope with? Because it sounds like you’ve got your head round you know, when someone else is kind of at fault and you need to address it, you’ve got your head round the inherent logistics of service in an environment where people, as you said, have to arrive at 4.00am in the morning and so on. What are the bits that are still tricky for you do you think?

Phil Cameron
It will always be a challenge at an airport operating eighteen, sometimes twenty four hours a day to deliver that service consistently and also the expectations of people are very very different when they are travelling. Everyone is in a heightened state of emotion so you’ve really got lots of things working together to you know, conspiring to make this the most difficult bit of quality hospitality to deliver. So there is always that ongoing challenge. I think the thing for me that’s been difficult is, is really understanding how ongoing business works. When you are in theatre it is project by project. The project happens, you star, it all works out beautifully or not and then the project is over. You move on to the next project. This has been going on for me for ten years. The lounges have been operating for eight and being really understanding business, long-term business, long-term investments in staff, in brand, in products and keeping ahead of the customer is something that I have just not been used to so it has been new for me. You know, I got to thirty five and suddenly I was learning about proper sustainable business and that’s an ongoing challenge because now we are at a scale where, you know, audits are you know, that much more scrupulous because we are at a certain level of business. We are now in a world of, a very happy world I may say of private equity where we, you know, the rules are different. The expectations are different and we are also operating on a much larger scale so we are much sort of, more a significant player I think within the community in which we operate so that again presents its challenges because the expectations increase.

Elliot Moss
And is the way through that to have fantastic people around you? I mean altruism I guess but team must be critical because you can’t be everywhere, being obsessive to the level you need to be or indeed have the knowledge that you need to have in all the different areas you have just described?

Phil Cameron
I love the fact that in my business I have two co-directors, two executive co-directors, I have a couple of non-execs as well… all of whom I have huge respect for and all of whom are much better in their sectors than me and then I have seven heads of department who are just awesome and they all do their jobs much better than I could ever do them and it’s, you know, it is altruism, it’s you know, maybe a bit of a cliché but if you surround yourself with the right people, you are in a great place and the role of the CEO I find more and more is less about being the technically capable person or the, you know, the specialist. It’s about being the pied piper and being able to balance that with a broad understanding of how everything needs to interlink because my role really is to get those ten or so people talking to each other and working together optimally and then you know, job done. But I have great people and that is, that is absolutely key to any success we may have.

Elliot Moss
And in one word, how would they describe you?

Phil Cameron
I don’t think they would be able to do it in one word. Probably tough but you know, they might not say that, I don’t know. Maybe that’s my paranoia.

Elliot Moss
We will have to ask.

Phil Cameron
Yes.

Elliot Moss
Final chat coming up with Phil.

Phil Cameron
Please don’t.

Elliot Moss
I won’t don’t worry. Final chat coming up with Phil, my Business Shaper today plus we will be playing some music from John Lee Hooker, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker. I have been talking to Phil Cameron today here on Jazz Shapers and we decided, well he decided rather that maybe his team would define and describe him as tough but maybe they couldn’t just find the one word, you were saying.

Phil Cameron
I think it’s a balance, I think I confuse them slightly.

Elliot Moss
Are you mercurial? You strike me as someone who could be. I imagine you are very hard and then if you are in a certain creative mode they have to know that and it could be another one which is much more businessy, businessy mode and then the people that read you I imagine, they can see the different heads, the Worzel Gummidge heads that you put on.

Phil Cameron
I think things like, you know, I have that sort of creative you know, angle which I guess makes me a little bit volatile but I…

Elliot Moss
There’s steam coming from his ears.

Phil Cameron
Well but that’s the trade-off which is you know, I am massively enthusiastic about great ideas so you know, the craziness sort of creates, creates some good stuff as well but on the other hand, I kind of, you know, I know stuff and that’s the key thing. I mean you know, I don’t know enough stuff, I am not as good as knowing stuff as they are but I do put two and two together and that’s part of the job so you know, I want to know… know is something that kind of needs a bit of explaining, it’s… if there’s a great idea out there, why can’t we do it? Why can’t we be doing this because we want to progress, we want to keep ahead.

Elliot Moss
Do the private equity guys and you said ‘I have a very good relationship with them’, you mentioned earlier – do they like you because (a) you’ve got great ideas and (b) you make money and (c) there is a happy team. I mean is it as simple as that?

Phil Cameron
I think, I think beyond that… it is kind of as simple as that but I think beyond that they have got to know that you kind of get it and you respond. It’s about, it’s not just about where are we at, you know, we are, we are moving forward at a great pace as you say. We are, we are making money but actually how responsive are we and I think it’s about the working relationship so they put forward ideas, we put forward ideas. We debate them. Sometimes I win, sometimes they win a debate and sometimes we all agree, sometimes we disagree, it doesn’t matter as long as the balanced approached is a really quality one and that things are sort of being processed and responded to in the right way. Everyone wants this company to do well but we all have slightly different views of how to do it and if we are all sitting around agreeing with each other the whole time, I think we wouldn’t actually get where we need to be. I have made some really tough decisions about things we are not going to do which I have been very uncomfortable with because you know, I want to do stuff but at the same time I think to myself, I know this is right so I walk out the room trying to persuade myself its right sometimes. But it’s the, it’s the sort of relationship where you know that goods going to come out of it because you know you’ve got the right people around you.

Elliot Moss
The future in a nutshell. What is it looking like? You’ve been doing it ten years, have you got a plan in your head going ‘I am not going to do it for that much longer’ or ‘the skies the limit, I can never imagine not working’ – where is your head at the moment?

Phil Cameron
I think those are two different things. One is about me and I certainly can’t imagine myself not working. I think the people around me certainly can’t imagine me not working.

Elliot Moss
Oh they can imagine Phil.

Phil Cameron
They can dream.

Elliot Moss
They can dream.

Phil Cameron
But that is all they can do. The question about the business is, I guess we want the thing to grow, we still want, we definitely want it to grow. We want it to keep developing. I have always got to question whether I am the right person to lead it. I definitely feel that I am at the moment. Everyone seems to indicate that I am but you know, you never know what is going to happen with a business. You never know when the right time is to hand over to somebody else because there is a new era in the business. Right now I feel really good about it and we are going great guns.

Elliot Moss
Well it’s a good story and listen, good luck with the next ten million and the next ten million after that and the happiness that comes with it Phil as you grow your…

Phil Cameron
The happiness comes out of good business. It comes out of creating good business, that’s…

Elliot Moss
…and the money is obviously just…

Phil Cameron
…well it’s got to be, it’s got to be a by-product. We talk about product led profitability and you know, you get the product right, people will come, we will make the money – it’s as simple as that really. You can’t start working out how you are going to make money.

Elliot Moss
No. Good stuff. Listen just before I let you go, thank you so much, you’ve been a fantastic guest – what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Phil Cameron
Dream A Little Dream, Mama Cass. Love this song, it featured in a play, I think it was 1993 by John Harvey called Beautiful Thing which was a play about coming of age and actually as it happens, coming out and it was at the Bush Theatre, it had some wonderful people, Sophie Stanton who was in my first West End Production of Top Girls, Johnny Lee Miller who was in… actually thinking about it, my last West End Production, Someone Who Will Watch Over Me and it is just a brilliant, brilliant play and it was one of those moments that was truly seminal you know, and people talk about seminal moments, especially in theatre and it was just one of those blinding moments where I went into a tiny pub theatre in Shepherds Bush, the Bush Theatre and walked out stunned. It was just an amazing piece. But also this song just keeps coming back because it… when I was travelling to New York, when I was going backwards and forwards to New York in those first three months and indeed five years that we had, you know, that we had the contract at JFK, it was one of those sort of songs that you kind of listened to when you were travelling, when you were sort of jetlagged, when you were out and about, you know, at three o’clock in the morning in a cab, three o’clock in the morning UK time, getting to catch the last flight out of JFK back home and it’s just got a great vibe for me and it’s got a great feeling. It’s about, you know, it’s about love and wanting to be with people and all those good things that good songs should be.

Elliot Moss
That was the seminal Dream A Little Dream from Mama Cass, the song choice of my Business Shaper, Phil Cameron. A really enthusiastic lover of that particular song. What a fresh take on business, really great to hear. Totally obsessive by his own admission. I think he has to be and he believes probably business people do have to be in general and enthusiastic to the end. A really, really powerful advocate for his own business and for the belief that you have to be the most powerful advocate in your own business if it is going to work. Great stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am for Jazz Shapers. In the meantime stay with us, coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Phil Cameron, Founder & CEO of award-winning airport lounge specialist No.1 Traveller
Phil Cameron has worked in the aviation sector for twelve years, following a theatre career which saw him win an Olivier Award in the West End and a Tony Award on Broadway. He founded award-winning lounge operator No.1 Traveller having identified an opportunity to deliver high-end experiences in the major and under-served airport market. Anchored around a collection of award-winning lounges at Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh and Birmingham, No.1 provides a range of premium pre-flight services including chauffeur-driven airport transfers, valet car parking, fast-track airport security, VIP departure services, travel spas and an airside pod hotel. Phil is an entrepreneur who has grown his business significantly in a challenging economic climate and is passionate about creating the best possible experiences for the travelling public.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“The risk is there, it’s a high risk business. High risk, high return…and thrilling as a result.”

“Aviation is actually a pretty theatrical thing.”

“…we came up with a plan, they rented us then thousand square foot of space, and off we went.”

“…the back office was in London, the front office was in New York so I spent a lot of time on planes.”

“Everyone wants this company to do well, but we all have slightly different views on how to do it.”

“I think if you are not obsessive about it and you are not the most passionate advocate about it, it’s never going to work.”

“…the expectations of people are very, very different when they are travelling. Everyone is in a heightened state of emotion…”

“When you are in theatre, it is project by project. The project happens, you star, it all works out beautifully or not and then the project is over.”

“I think it’s about the working relationship. They put forward ideas, we put forward ideas. We debate them. Sometimes I win, sometimes they win…and sometimes we all agree.”

“We talk about product-led profitability and you know, you get the product right, people will come; we will make the money – it’s as simple as that really.”