WHO WE ARE
The Firebird Partnership was founded by long-term business partners and friends Ian Finlay and Stewart Lambert. In Autumn 2020 they were joined by Director Chris Thompson, followed by fellow Directors Mark Bush, Safia Bhutta and Matt Purser in 2022, and Lucy Haines and Gordon Mathie in 2023. All are passionate about the sector and, between them, have over 190 years of experience growing, developing and exiting successful travel and leisure businesses. They have worked with companies of every size, from start-ups to PLCs.
The Firebird team is unmatched in terms of commercial expertise and acumen, and its Directors are determined to use their skills to help businesses achieve their fullest potential.
Strategy, Growth Planning, Management and Leadership, Exit and Succession
Ian has spent over 30 years in the travel and leisure space: a career encompassing inbound operations, language schools, activity centres, hotels, bars and restaurants, and outbound tour operating.
He has raised investment on several occasions and has sold businesses that he has owned to both the trade and to private equity. Ian has been a Director of more than 50 businesses during this time, and has run businesses in 11 countries around the world. Businesses he has run have ranged in size from £3m - £250m turnover, and have always been characterised by fast, sustainable and profitable growth.
Since 2018, Ian has taken on a plural career and enjoys working with a diverse group of exciting businesses. He is very happily married with four children and a dog, and lives in the New Forest.
Corporate Finance, Raising Funds, MBOs,
Stewart is a Chartered Accountant with more than 25 years' experience working in corporate finance, advising owner managers on selling their businesses, raising finance and making acquisitions. Unusually, Stewart has also worked as a venture capitalist and acquired businesses, enabling him to be part of transactions from all perspectives.
Stewart has always specialised in advising travel businesses (both leisure and corporate travel) and has had involvement with businesses including Travelbag and Journey Latin America, as well as advising Ian on his two Management Buy-Outs and disposals.
Stewart lives in Winchester with his wife and two teenage children, and spends his time persuading his family to let him go on adventures to far-flung parts of the world!
Strategy, Value Creation, Team Building, Ski and Winter Sports, Technology
Chris has spent the past 17 years leading and growing businesses in the travel and technology sectors. Prior to that he was a department head at TUI travel.
Chris’s career has centred on creating strategy, building teams and devising processes that are both efficient and build value. In 2004 Chris bought into niche ski operator, Ski Famille, which he grew into a well-recognised winter sports specialist; he led the successful sale of the business to a leading industry figure in 2013.
In 2019 Chris left tour operating to support the founders of an innovative technology and design business, before launching his own travel and leisure focussed consultancy early in 2020. Chris lives in Hampshire with his wife and children, and gets out on a bike or a boat whenever possible.
Business Analytics, Data Science,
eCommerce, Marketing Tech, Leadership
Mark has spent over 20 years in travel and leisure. First working in IT internationally for TUI, he became MD within the Specialist and Activity Sector. Achieving annual turnovers of up to £50m, he was later MD and co-owner of Ski Armadillo, the luxury ski chalet company, then CEO of a privately-owned education group.
In 2022, Mark deepened his knowledge of data science with an MSc in Business Analytics from NYU Stern. He supports sector leaders to implement powerful Business Analytics and martech solutions in B2B, B2C and eCommerce, and is an expert in innovations employing MS Power BI, Tableau, GA4, Salesforce, Marketing Cloud, as well as programming in R and Python.
Mark lives in Brighton with his wife and two children, where they enjoy dreaming about – and planning – their next holidays.
Sales and Marketing, Commercial Strategy, M&A, MBOs
Safia is a highly commercial Marketing and Sales Director with over 10 years‘ experience in the travel industry.
In that time she has helped numerous businesses to grow – holding both executive and non-executive board-level director roles – and completed two MBOs.
In addition to marketing and sales, Safia specialises in commercial strategy – from pricing to product planning, margin analysis and yield management.
Since joining Firebird, Safia has also become involved in M&A: working with companies to formulate and present their story, and preparing them to pitch to potential buyers and/or investors.
Safia has four children and occasionally manages to find the time to play the cello and dabble in creative writing.
Regulation, Finance, Strategy,
After joining the travel industry in 1989, Matt worked for ATOL at the Civil Aviation Authority. There, he was heavily involved in scoping out changes to the regulations, to ensure consumers continued to be financially protected.
In 2005, he set up the Travel Trade Consultancy (TTC) and helped grow it from a start-up to a million-pound-turnover business, with 16 members of staff.
During his 17+ years at TTC, Matt helped a diverse range of tour operators comply with ATOL regulations. He also focused on supported businesses in their strategies to be more efficient, while growing the bottom line.
Matt is married with two young sons and loves to travel the world – as well as watch, play and coach football.
Management Information, Finance, Leadership, Strategy, Investment
Lucy started as an Investment Analyst of travel and leisure companies for Schroders before transitioning to work in the travel and hospitality industry exclusively. There she held both Finance Director and Managing Director roles in a number of companies with turnovers of up to £50m, including Compass Group, Vinopolis, and portfolio businesses within TUI Travel.
In all of her positions – both within FTSE 100 listed companies and in smaller, privately-owned businesses – Lucy has been responsible for driving financial performance and turnaround. As a consultant, she specialises in helping businesses establish financial reporting and obtain financial insight as they grow, attracting investment.
Lucy holds a Master’s in Engineering with Management and is CIMA/CGMA and IIMR qualified. She lives in London with her husband and three children and when she gets the chance enjoys spending time in the mountains or on a boat.
eCommerce, Sales, Start-Ups,
Gordon's 30+ year career has encompassed both the travel and education sectors, involving oversight of hundreds of thousands of specialist online transactions, millions of unique users, and successful launches in the US, Australian and South African markets.
Starting out as a Senior Manager for Accenture, Gordon cut his teeth in the fast-paced eCommerce SME environment. After leading the sale of i-to-i to First Choice plc, he founded LoveTEFL. There he successfully secured private equity investment, embarking on a growth strategy that encompassed international expansion and an acquisition of a competitor.
In 2020, Gordon acquired The Teach & Travel Group alongside its management which, with Firebird’s help, he then sold in 2021 for a 16x return on his investment.
Gordon is married with children. A born adventurer, he is reasonable at table tennis and pool, but hopeless at darts and karaoke…