Oliver Bell is the MD of Oliver’s Travels, which specialises in luxury villa holidays. He talks to BQ about his business, his career so far, and his advice to other entrepreneurs.
What is it the company does?
We offer hand-picked, characterful and unique holiday villas throughout Europe, Morocco and the Caribbean, with a focus on the extraordinary. Every client has access to our complimentary concierge service to make sure each holiday is a truly memorable occasion.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I’m one of the co-founders and company owners (Ravi Sabharwal is the other). I look after the marketing team, Ravi the sales team and we both oversee the product department to ensure we maintain rigorous quality control over all our villas!
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I graduated from University in 2002, worked and travelled for a year and then setup my first business (with Ravi) in 2003. It was called ‘Simply Chateau’ and was really a smaller version of what we are doing now – the focus then was just France and specifically French chateaux. In 2009 we launched Stately Escapes (party houses and country manors throughout the UK). 2011 saw the launch of Simply Italy (Tuscan farmhouses and villas) and in 2013 we made the decision to put all the brands under one umbrella. That takes us up to 2014 which is when we launched Oliver’s Travels. Since then we have grown over 400% and we’re still growing fast with forward bookings for 2018 over 70% up on this time last year.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Firstly I wouldn’t say that I was one. But something that’s important to both Ravi and myself is to allow people the autonomy to get on with what they’re good out. We would never consider breathing down someone’s neck to ensure something got done. We’ve always found that if you trust people to get their work done in their own time then invariably they do it – it also has the added benefit of creating a much nicer working environment which also means significantly less staff turnover – all good things!
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
When I first started hiring people I definitely suffered from the anxiety that I had an overwhelming responsibility to them, as the decisions I made affected their job (and potentially their livelihood).
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I’ve got a two year old and a four year old so going to work is how I alleviate the stress!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a boy - Indiana Jones – I used to go EVERYWHERE dressed up as him. From a teenager onwards it was always to be my own boss as a company owner.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Just people looking at their phones for long chunks of the day. If I spot it I just send a load more work their way as they’re obviously not busy enough. Fortunately it’s pretty rare.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Two to three times the current size with plenty of new destinations launched along the way.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Start young. Don’t feel you have to gain experience in an industry before you set up your own business – you’ll learn as you go. It’s far easier to set up a business when you’ve got nothing to lose and no mortgage, kids etc.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
That the UK would vote for Brexit. I would have hedged currency a lot more!
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