He’s Distribution & Online Director for Mainstream, but Nick Longman could have gone in a very different direction. He tells us below why he chose travel:
I played darts for England under-18s, so a professional darts player was one career option. But I stopped playing when I went to university. I studied accounting and finance at Brighton Polytechnic and joined a firm of accountants, Touche Ross, which became Deloitte.
My biggest client was Unijet, a large tour operator. First Choice bought Unijet in 1998 and I was approached to join First Choice as head of audit. They wanted me to investigate fraud in the overseas operations, so on my first day in the job, I flew to Ibiza and pretended to be a T-shirt buyer.
I was two years from partnership assessment at Deloitte, so it was a big decision to move. I spent 18 months getting to know the overseas operations. As I came from a very corporate world, travel was a real culture shock.But I fell in love with it straight away and wished I had done it sooner.
I fancied the European finance director role at First Choice, so I was disappointed when they offered me group financial controller. I thought it was going to be a return to accountancy, which was not really what I wanted to do. It turned out to be much more interesting. I wrote speeches for Peter Long, the chief executive, and talked to investors and analysts about our performance.
I was acting finance director when 9/11 happened. I remember watching it unfold on the TV with management from our Sunsail business. We had to take swift action to ensure the business survived. We took 20% of our planes out of the market, and reduced overheads and cut capacity by the same. I’ve always respected Peter Long for making brave, bold decisions – a style I’ve tried to replicate.
Moving to Canada was risky – but you have to take risks in life. That was the role that propelled me from an accountant to a general manager. In 2002, I took a job at the First Choice-owned Signature Vacations in Toronto, which was making losses. I was finance director at first, then president, and given a remit – fix it, shut it down or sell it. At the end of my first year we broke even, and four years later we were millions in profit.
I returned to First Choice as distribution director in 2006. John Wimbleton had the job before me, and I remember him saying: “It’s the best job in the world.” I looked after our UK retail stores, online, our call centres and our agent relationships. And it was!
Taking the integration director role in the new Tui UK & Ireland business was another risk. It was only guaranteed for a year. But it was a fascinating job. How do you take two different companies and put them together We took some 11,000 decisions in that first year and the one that got the biggest cheer was when we dropped the price of coffee in the staff canteen at Luton so it was the same as Crawley.
I became distribution director for the merged companies in August 2008, then distribution director for the mainstream sector as a whole. At first I still had responsibility for the UK and did two jobs, but I had to give it up after a while. I wanted the international experience. What we think is best practice in the UK isn’t always the case.
TUI has sponsored me to work with external mentors. One is David Tyler, Chairman of J Sainsbury and non-executive director of Burberry. It’s interesting because Burberry has embraced social media more than most luxury brands and is using it to create a great experience for their customers. That’s what we’re trying to do in our stores and online.
I travel a lot, especially to our resorts. My daughter will say: “Dad, why are you going on holiday without us again?” I’m never in the same office for more than two days at a time, but it’s been like that since my auditing days. I organise my time well and if I have a two-hour flight, I plan what work I can do on it.
Don’t believe your own hype is my advice to the young leaders of today. It’s great to recognise talent but there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Be humble and stay grounded, and find someone you can talk to outside the business to get their perspective.
You have to have fun at work. My job is selling holidays and I never forget that is what we’re here to do. Attending the annual TUI Retail Conference is like an adrenalin shot, and I try to go every year. We always have a night in fancy dress – one year I came dressed as Yoda and, after switching costumes, I ended the night dressed as a nun!