What is it like to work with the Firebird Partnership? Independent tour operator, Artisan Travel, was one of the growth consultancy’s earliest clients. Its Managing Director, Amy Hope, shares the experience so far.
So much has happened since 2020, when my company, Artisan Travel, became a Firebird client.
The first day that Ian Finlay – Firebird’s co-founder – came in to our office in Newcastle, I was in my eleventh year as Artisan’s Product and Operations Manager. He invited the heads of each department to share their thoughts about the company, and how it operated. Everyone had a lot to say, and a lot of opinions that didn’t quite mesh together – which, arguably, was the reason the company had stalled for the few years prior. Ian listened to all of it, extending his allotted time with the management team from about an hour to almost a full day.
“We were all fiercely protective and proud of our business, as well as our individual teams”
The initial report that came out of those conversations was widely read and shared. It wasn’t the easiest read: we were all fiercely protective and proud of our business, as well as our individual teams. Each manager felt that they were being singled out for criticism – including me! – but once we had some time to process its contents, we soon saw that what Ian was actually giving us was a strategy to achieve growth, identifying various short- and long-term wins for the business. Our board decided to work with him, and make the most of his knowledge, appointing him as a Non-Executive Director.
I think we had all (naively) hoped there might be a “magic switch” Ian would identify to drive our business forward. Ultimately, what he actually taught us in those early days was that it would take hard work to formulate our strategic plan, along with a balance of commitment and flexibility to deliver it.
“I can ask anything, say anything, share however I’m feeling”
The pandemic threw up all sorts of unexpected challenges for Artisan, as it did for so many others, and some changing life situations saw our managerial team change too. When our General Manager went on her first period of maternity leave, and our Founder decided he wanted to delegate more of his workload, Ian recommended to the board that I take the lead on a temporary basis.
In the years since then, that leadership role has become a permanent one, and Ian has coached me throughout. In planned and ad hoc meetings – in person, online, and over the phone – he has always been there for Artisan. I can ask him anything, say anything, share however I’m feeling. His incredible skill lies in being so approachable, and never making anyone feel stupid or that you are wasting his time.
Sometimes a leadership position can feel lonely, even if you have the best team in the world around you. Having support like we have from Firebird to discuss and develop ideas – with people who have the same beliefs in what you are trying to achieve – gives you a huge amount of confidence in both the highs and the lows.
“We redirected our focus to the bigger picture”
Our business is a seasonal one – many of our tours are winter-based – and in 2021/22, we weren’t sure if we would be able to send any of our customers on trips. Ian helped us navigate the challenges, and outlined the benefits of redirecting our focus to the bigger picture.
Having identified that one of my personal weaknesses was becoming immersed in the day-to-day details of the business, he suggested we set up regular check-ins during our busiest operational period. This ensured I was dedicating enough time “looking up” to the longer-term strategy and its implementation, to then be able to reap the benefits in future seasons.
Together, we discussed and fully reviewed our KPIs, our data analysis, the immediate need to track how things were going, and the need to update our back-of-house system. Not only did we get through that challenging time: we thrived.
“Without Ian’s knowledge and insight, I’m not sure Artisan would still be here”
Any time we’ve needed him, Ian has replied, giving us steer on strategy, job appointments, delegation, industry benchmarking, operational experience and more. With Safia, Firebird’s Commercial Marketing specialist, we have also brainstormed ways to achieve a return on our marketing spend, and move away from previous strategies that didn’t work. Our endless questions are never left unanswered, and I have been reassured at every step.
It sounds really cheesy, I know, but without Ian’s knowledge and insight I’m not sure Artisan would still be here. Being a Firebird client has given us a great means of encouragement and support. It’s amazing to see all that work pay off, both professionally and personally, to take us far beyond where we thought we could go.
Co-founder of Firebird Ian Finlay, who works as Artisan’s Non-Executive Director, sees the growing success of the company as a thoroughly collaborative process. Below, he gives his perspective.
“Being receptive to ideas, ready to try new things, and open to critical challenge, are the ideal characteristics for business leaders and their teams to share”
It’s great to hear these comments, and also important to stress that the reason we are seeing fantastic results for Artisan at this stage is down in large part to Amy’s brilliance, and that of the team she has built. She is extremely receptive to ideas, always ready to try new things, and open to critical challenge.
These are the ideal characteristics for business leaders and their teams to share if they are committed to thriving in an ever-evolving market. Directors and managers need to be ready to adapt to changing conditions, to stay open and dedicated, and to recognise how a few fundamental adjustments to a company’s mindset and processes can make a massive difference to whether it finds and sustains success, or whether it stalls.
Working with Amy and her team remains an absolute pleasure.
Amy Hope is the Managing Director of Artisan Travel, an independent British business with a collection of three brands specialising in “bucket list” holidays for both families and adults – including Northern Lights destinations, whale watching, husky sledding and volcanic adventures. Visit www.artisantravelcompany.com
Ian Finlay is co-founder of the Firebird Partnership, and has spent the last 30 years in the travel, leisure and education space: a career encompassing inbound operations, language schools, activity centres, hotels, bars and restaurants, and outbound tour operating.
Learn about Firebird’s specialist Foundations for Growth programme, and get in touch, at www.firebirdpartnership.com