Published: 00:01, 05 March 2018
A military background has made the boss of Saga a quiet consensus leader rather than one who barks orders.
Lance Batchelor has enjoyed a varied career on his way to becoming Saga chief executive in 2014.
He joined the Folkestone-headquartered business after more than two years as boss of Domino’s Pizza, having previously been a divisional chief executive at Tesco, a marketing director of Vodafone, a general manager at Amazon.com and a marketing director at Procter & Gamble.
A graduate of Aberystwyth University with an MBA from Harvard Business School, he spent nine years with the Royal Navy, at sea for nine months a year at a time as a submariner.
At 54, he claims to speak “decent French and bad Spanish” and has crammed more into his life than many people achieve.
He puts some of this down to his upbringing, going to eight schools in four countries.
“It fundamentally shapes the way I look at the world,” he said.
“I always look for another angle on each question, rather than assuming there is a single right answer.”
His present task may yet be his most challenging, steering Saga towards growth in the three years since it floated on the London Stock Exchange, after a decade of private equity ownership.
The company was famously sold for nearly £1.4 billion in 2004 by philanthropist Sir Roger De Haan, son of founder Sidney who launched the company as an over-50s holiday firm in 1951.
Although its traditional travel business is expanding, today the company is trying to reform the saturated insurance industry and introduce a new membership structure which rewards loyal customers.
This has not been without its bumps in the road. It issued a profit warning in December, blaming a £2 million hit from the collapse of Monarch Airlines, days after it was revealed it was making about 100 staff redundant.
"A lot of people assume military people are shouters but submariners definitely aren’t..." - Lance Batchelor, Saga
This sent its share price to its lowest point since the company floated in May 2014 but Mr Batchelor believes the company and its 5,500 staff are well-equipped to deliver long-term growth to investors.
“One of the reasons I came to Saga is because there’s an astonishing sense of family about this company, even after a decade of being private-equity owned.
“That’s credit to the De Haan generation who built the company. They inculcated the place with a real sense of belonging and a real sense of passion of doing what’s right for the customer and treating each other in the right way.”
Mr Batchelor regularly meets with staff from all parts of the business and describes himself as a consensus manager, something he learned from his military career, where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant.
“If you’re a young officer on a submarine, you’re unlikely to sit in the centre with all the right answers,” he said.
“You get the answers from walking around getting the collective wisdom of a group of people and I really do think that has influenced my style.
“A lot of people assume military people are shouters but submariners definitely aren’t.
“They walk around quietly in a pair of moccasins and shorts and quietly suggest things to each other.
“Then it happens and the team works like a well-oiled machine. I don’t see any point in being in that boardroom with 10 really smart, well-paid people and not listening to them.
“I also learned from the military things like the ability to deal with lots of contradictory information, sort out the right answer and stay calm under pressure.”
Why did you take the job at Saga?
“The combination of intellectual challenge, leadership challenge, business challenge and a sense of it being worthwhile.
"I started my career in the Navy and spent seven years under water in a metal tube defending the realm.
"I didn’t get very well paid for that but you passionately believe in what you’re doing and I passionately believe in what we’re doing here.
"We focus on the customer and giving them a great experience and seeking to do that profitably.
"It’s been an interesting experience for me to realise how slow it is to drive change in the insurance industry.”
What do you think of Folkestone?
“I think it’s fantastic. All seaside towns in the UK have a reputation for having become rundown in the 1970s and 1980s.
"The work done in the Creative Quarter by Sir Roger De Haan and others to resurrect and breathe life into the town is absolutely fabulous.
"It's got a real buzz about it. Saga have been very involved in the Triennial and it’s been great fun to watch the buzz around the town."
What has been your biggest challenge?
"It's been an interesting experience for me to realise how slow it is to drive change in the insurance industry.
"Those industries are a low price of entry industry, where someone comes in at a low price and over the years you price up.
"That's contrary to Saga's view of how you should look after customers.
"We want to reward members for their loyalty over time but in the insurance industry people who are loyal end up being charged more.
"We've carefully been restructuring that over time to try and treat customers more fairly."
Born: 9/7/1964 in London
Live: West Berkshire
School: Went to eight schools in four countries
Family: Married to Wendy for 28 years and four sons
First job: Royal Navy submarine officer at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth
First wage: £6,500 a year
Salary now: Undisclosed
Book: The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
Music: The Clash, alt-J, Mozart
Car: Audi A8
Last holiday: South of France
Charity: Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity and Silverline
Lance Batchelor gets up at 5.30am and drives to the office. He has breakfast with a colleague between 7.30am and 8am and then will have meetings all morning.
These are usually one-on-one meetings with his direct reports.
He tries to spend lunch and the afternoon with different groups of employees.
He has just come from a meeting in the boardroom with eight senior managers over a sandwich.
"These are people I don't meet every day and a least every week or two there will be a different group who come through who are randomly selected across the organisation.
"They can tell me what's good and what's bad and how we can make it a better place to work from where they sit.
"I love doing that because it's a fantastic way to get the pulse of what's going on."
In his downtime, Mr Batchelor likes to spend time with his wife and four children.
He sails a lot all over the world and is a commander in the Royal Navy Reserve and runs "very slowly".
More by this authorChris Price