Air Miles managing director Drew Thomson and finance director Robin Wooldridge are understood to be setting up a consultancy that will focus on supplying customer-facing marketing solutions for companies.
It is likely that former Grey London chief executive Garry Lace will also play a part in the enterprise, although neither Thomson nor Lace will be drawn on this. The two were linked via an e-mail that was sent round the industry in February that suggested they were planning to set up a rival to Air Miles (MW February 12). At the time the two denied the allegations. In fact it is understood that negotiations for a Thomson and Wooldridge management buy-out of BA-owned Air Miles itself were already under way.
Thomson and Wooldridge quit Air Miles, the loyalty scheme turned travel agent, last week after British Airways rejected their proposal for a management buy-out.
Although Thomson said that both he and Wooldridge were “gutted” that the management buy-out had failed, he was quick to reveal that they would be setting up a new company together at the end of the month, once his contract with Air Miles officially expires.
He has made it clear that the new business will not in any way compete with Air Miles by producing a loyalty-based offering. It is likely that the solutions will be devised for retailers and could involve “cutting-edge” mobile telephone services. Thomson himself admits that he finds retail “very exciting and fast moving”.
Details have yet to be finalised on financing for the company, although industry insiders have speculated that the likes of WPP Group or Carphone Warehouse founder Charles Dunstone had earlier been mooted. It is understood that Thomson and Wooldridge had retained Hawkpoint, the corporate finance boutique, to advise on their failed MBO. There has also been speculation that former Euro RSCG chief Mark Wnek may be brought on board at the prospective consultancy, which is expected to help clients market the customer centric solutions.
Those who know Thomson say he is an “entrepreneurial spirit”. An accountant, he joined BA nine years ago as a financial controller in the commercial department, rising up the ranks to head Air Miles, where he appointed Tesco as its main retail partner to replace Sainsbury’s. Thomson claims that his greatest achievement has been to reposition Air Miles as a travel agent linked to 18 major airlines and 20,000 hotels worldwide.
During this period the business was also restructured to allow owners BA to set up its executive loyalty club that had a knock-on effect on profits for Air Miles. After reporting a &£11.9m loss for the year ending March 2002, Air Miles moved back into the black with &£2.9m pre-tax profit for the year ending March 2003, according to BA.