Cardiff Business Club interview: Lloyd Dorfman, Founder of Travelex and Chairman of the Prince's TrustDate Posted: 17 July 2017
On Monday 3 rd July, Cardiff Business Club welcomed philanthropist, founder of Travelex and Chairman of The Prince’s Trust as guest speaker at the Club’s annual Summer Reception.
We were delighted to be granted time to speak with Lloyd before he addressed members of the Club to find out more about his career, his work with The Prince’s Trust and his insights into the key quality need for success in business.
We hope you enjoy what he had to say.
Lloyd Dorfman (LD) was interviewed for and on behalf of Cardiff Business Club by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins (PMC), managing director at Clearly PR & Marketing Communications.
(PMC): I read you wanted to be a Barrister but started a career in banking instead, is that when you had the idea for Travelex?
(LD): I left school and didn’t go to university and in those days you didn’t need to in order to study for the Bar. But after a year or so I realised I liked the Bar but didn’t like studying and my then future father-in- law was working in The City and suggested I take a new direction in my career to work with him.
The mid-70s were an interesting time in The City – banks were collapsing, there was a quadrupling of the price of oil, three-day working weeks, Middle East conflict, property and stock markets crumbling. After three years I took the decision to start my own business in 1976, something I had always wanted to do.
The timing seemed right – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 would see a rise in the number of tourists coming to London and I thought I would start a ‘little money changing business.’
I had to borrow the money to start the business, because I didn’t have any of my own. This gave me enough to take a shop and since then the business has become the world’s largest retail foreign exchange business.
(PMC): You started at a tricky time, the year of the IMF crisis to be precise (*the financial crash forced UK government to borrow $3.9bn from the IMF followed by withdrawal from the foreign exchange market), was that a punt or a stroke of genius?
(LD): Even then, when I was in my early twenties working in the The City, I didn’t see myself as a corporate type. I always wanted to build and grow my own business.
But the other thing to mention is that often in difficult economic times you will see growth in the number of new start-up business, as we saw during the recent recession.
In fact, last year saw a record number of new businesses starting up and in today’s world you can start a new business from your bedroom, which is a fantastic thing to do especially when the so-called ‘job for life’ is now a thing of the past.
(PMC): Travelex is listed at over £1bn, what has been the key to its success during your time at the helm, how has the business retained market-leader position?
(LD): I started the business when the market was dominated by some of the largest and oldest financial organisations in the world, but we concentrated on just one particular aspect of the overall banking service – retail foreign exchange.
Typically, this was not an area of key focus for those institutions, so banks rarely had their best people performing this role and investment was generally pretty low. We made this our focus and positioned it as our core business. It’s akin to what has happened in the aviation industry.
A decade or two ago, short-haul routes run by the larger airlines such as British Airways (BA) struggled to break even. But if you take those same routes and make them a stand-alone focused business then you have the likes of easyJet and Ryanair who are making more money operating these routes than BA ever did.
That’s not to suggest that Travelex has become bigger than the banks, it hasn’t. But it has become a leader in that one specific area in which it focuses.
(PMC): Your involvement with The Prince’s Trust’s stretches back 15 years, what prompted you to become involved?
(LD): When Travelex reached it’s 25 th anniversary in 2002, I began to look for ways to help young people start their own business and provide them with the opportunities that I was fortunate to have but they don’t. This is one of the key things that The Prince’s Trust does.
Since 1983, the Trust has helped 85,000 businesses to start up and after being introduced to the Trust and subsequently making a significant donation, I was asked to join the development committee. Five years later I joined the Council itself and have remained ever since.
(PMC): When Prince Charles set up the Trust in 1976, he said, “People didn’t see the point”, adding that his aim was to "invest in the future, in an army of young people". What impact do you think the Trust makes?
(LD): The Trust is not short of ambition. Much has been achieved but we aim to do so much more over the coming years.
The 40th anniversary campaign for the Trust is A Million Lives, so we are looking to help one million young people over the next 10 years compared to 825,000 over the first 40 years.
I also chair The Prince’s Trust International, which was launched in 2015. Its aim is to take the Trust around the world and we are already in a number of countries globally.
We are also developing our digital platform to enable us to reach and better engage with more young people, along with incorporating Mosaic within the Trust – the Prince’s charity that works with disadvantaged young people in Muslim communities.
(PMC): There are many reasons why businesses can and should support such projects, so what would you say is the key reason for them doing so?
(LD): It is incumbent on any business to help make a difference within their community, especially for young people who are finding difficulty getting into education, training or employment.
Growing and building businesses is about creating wealth, which creates employment, which creates prosperity, which then creates philanthropy - business has become a force for good.
More than anything, it is a privilege and a pleasure to be able to be involved in making a real difference to young people’s lives.
(PMC): You are involved in several projects, The Prince’s Trust, Westminster Abbey and the Royal Opera House being a few, is there anytime left for you? What do you get from all the work that you do and how do you choose the projects you become involved in?
(LD): If you have been fortunate to make money in business it is important to give something back. I started, created, built and ran a global retail foreign exchange business and in doing so I learned a lot and can impart that experience to help others.
(PMC): You were appointed to Sadiq Khan’s board at the end of 2016, where 10 of the 16 advisory board members are women – how important is diversity at senior level?
(LD): It is important to have as many stakeholders as possible represented around the table. Boards that become too introspective, limited and underrepresented are not healthy and actually become rather insular.
(PMC): Finally, given your experience of building a hugely successful business, what you know and what you have learned, if you could pass on one single piece of advice to aspiring managers and business leaders, what would it be?
(LD): Persistence. Desire and ambition are both wonderful but at the end of the day it is persistence that wins through. Don’t always take ‘No’ for an answer because it is that which makes people ultimately achieve their ambitions.
Each business that I have been involved with has been a challenger business. The turning point for Travelex was when we secured our first ever airport contract after being rejected twice previously. Today it operates in 125 airports around the world.
The acquisition of our biggest competitor, Thomas Cook, is another example. When they were put up for sale, we were informed that Travelex had been barred and excluded from the bidding process.
Again I had to battle to get a seat at the table and eventually we were allowed to participate in the auction and we won – with a bid of £440 million. But we didn’t have the money.
We turned to Barclays who funded the £440 million but £1.3 billion was needed to secure the deal itself, so I bet the business. Within seven months we had repaid the entire £440 million. I like competing against the established operators and the theme of persistence has permeated throughout my entire career.
I am always reminded of a quote from Winston Churchill, who said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.” He was right.
Phil Jones, Director at The Prince's Trust Cymru: “The Prince’s Trust is on the cusp of a significant growth ambition in Wales to help even more young people and ensure that they are part of the economic- the entrepreneurial- growth that is taking place right now in this country.
“But it’s not just about helping young people to set up their own businesses, it is helping them to develop that entrepreneurial state of mind so that they can fulfil their ambition to succeed.”
For more information about The Prince’s Trust here in Wales and how you as a business can become involved, please go to https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/about-the-trust/where-we-work/wales