Lesley Millar founded Jigsaw travel in 1998 after spotting a gap in the market for tailor-made travel solutions. She talks leadership, finding a work/life balance and her ambitious plans for the future.
What is it the company does?
Jigsaw Travel delivers corporate travel solutions to businesses throughout the UK. We offer a personal travel management service at internet prices and are small enough to offer personal service but big enough to negotiate the best corporate deals, making sure that we are competitive. We’ve enjoyed 19 years of looking after the complex travel requirements of our customers. Our expertise is tailor-making travel requirements taking into account customer preferences, whilst making sure they get the most from their business travel budget. We are experts in all aspects of corporate travel and can help with everything from tracing lost baggage to accumulating airmiles and frequent flyer points.
Competition is good so we invite clients to benchmark our costs and service against their current supplier or indeed against their favourite online booking portal – we relish a challenge and are confident we can impress.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I head up the team at Jigsaw Travel and have been fortunate enough to recruit the right people to work with me to deliver the goals and the values of the company. My passion for travel has not waned since I launched the business back in 1998 which has contributed greatly to the overall success of the company. The travel industry is ever-changing so in addition to the general day-to-day running of the company, it’s my role to set the overall direction and constantly revisit our business strategy to make sure what we offer is current and fresh.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I began my travel career with British Airways, where I worked for almost 8 years before leaving to launch Jigsaw Travel.
I recognised changes were afoot in the travel industry and there was a gap in the market to offer personal tailor-made travel solutions. Back in 1998 when I started trading, airlines such as Easyjet & Ryanair were beginning to gain market share and I recognised that their presence was an opportunity to offer to ‘piece together’ all separate elements to travel to provide a bespoke, tailor-made travel experience at a competitive price.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I believe a great leader is someone who can create a working environment where people feel valued and recognise just how important their contribution to the business is.
My first boss was an inspiration and a role model to me, even as a 17 years old junior she valued my opinion and encouraged me to push myself to achieve greatness.
Giving people autonomy to make the right decisions, when it just feels like the right thing to do is something I encourage. As a leader, I think it is important to be 100% authentically you at all times. The long-term strength of a business is its capacity to nurture and develop its people faster than the change that is happening around them, which can only be achieved with people who share your vision and enthusiasm.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Recruitment has always been my number one challenge, getting the right people to gel together is so important in a small business and it is critically important to recruit people who share your values and direction. I also find it challenging that as we don’t sell our own product, we have no control of the outcome. We can make sure that our clients’ needs are matched in everything from cost, convenience and comfort however if the airline cancels their flight we need to pick up the pieces.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
To be honest I really don’t find running my company stressful and I have worked hard in recent years to strike more of a work/life balance. I meditate daily, go to the gym three times a week and if all else fails I open a bottle of my favourite red.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a little girl I was convinced that I would be an Oscar winning actress – you never know there’s still time for it to happen Helen Mirren was in her 60’s when she won her first Oscar!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Moodhoovers! People who enjoy a good old moan and suck the life out of the listener. Apparently you become like the five people you spend most time with so working with inspirational, positive people is vitality important to me. Sure everyone can have a bad day but I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people who have no accountability, it’s important to take ownership of situations and improve them, moaning never brings a resolution.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We have plans in place to increase or turnover by 20% per year – yes a million pounds additional turnover per year! We have identified two key areas which we plan to diversify into which we believe can deliver these growth figures. So realistically 5 years from now we hope to be double the size we are today in terms of turnover, staff and profit
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Having the ability to carve your own future is a gift – embrace it. When I started my business, lots of people thought I was unrealistic to take on the big boys of the travel industry and my advice would be to never underestimate your abilities and to surround yourself with supportive people. I have always believed in employing the best, your people are a representation of you.
I would also advise anyone thinking of starting a business to do something they truly love, if you happen to make a healthy profit then that’s an additional bonus but the driver should be doing something which makes you feel completely fulfilled.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
That is it can be the smallest, sometimes apparently insignificant little things which can have a huge impact on your business.