Staff take over the driving seat at Alfa

LEP - ALFA TRAVEL'Trustees, from left, Head of HR trustee director Jo Barron, employee trustee David Rimmer, CEO Stephen Ford and employee trustee Alyson Jones.'Leading holiday operator Alfa Travel, based in Euxton, have sold 75% of their shares to a new holding company to an employee trust.
LEP - ALFA TRAVEL'Trustees, from left, Head of HR trustee director Jo Barron, employee trustee David Rimmer, CEO Stephen Ford and employee trustee Alyson Jones.'Leading holiday operator Alfa Travel, based in Euxton, have sold 75% of their shares to a new holding company to an employee trust.
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Workers have taken control of a multi-million pound travel firm.

Leading Euxton-based coach holiday operator Alfa Travel – together with its sister company Leisureplex Hotels – is now employee-owned.

The Sawbridge family, who founded the businesses – which recorded revenue of £34.8m in its latest financial results – has sold 75 per cent of the shares in a new holding company to an employee trust for an undisclosed sum.

They say it will secure the business.

Three employee trustees – two based at Alfa Travel, East Terrace, Euxton Lane, the other a hotel manager in Scotland – have been elected by a ballot of all members of the workforce across the company.

The 17 candidates who put themselves forward included chefs, a maintenance manager and coach drivers.

One of the Euxton-based trustees, group sales manager Alyson Jones, 45, said: “I don’t think we were expecting it. We knew there were going to have to be some changes.

“I think we’re all quite excited about it. Generally the feeling is really good. We’re going to have a lot of input into the business.

“If we’d been sold off, the likelihood is the business would have been split up. They’re successful businesses and it would have been a real shame.”

The other Euxton trustee, financial controller David Rimmer, 25, said: “With it being employee-owned, we’ve all got the voices – there’s a structure in place for our voices to be heard.”

New CEO Stephen Ford, originally from Warrington, has just joined the firm from Sydney, Australia, where he worked for Avon Cosmetics.

He said: “I think it means more engagement for staff, particularly those based out in the hotel operations.

“It’s been a very, very successful business by focusing on our customers and none of that’s going to change.

“We’re going to continue to grow the business and have the employees be part of that.”

Together, the business own and operate 21 holiday hotels, 46 coaches, sell more than 100,000 coach holidays a year and employ 670 staff.

Paul Sawbridge, who has been managing director of both Alfa and Leisureplex for the past 25 years, said: “I am delighted to announce this step which will secure the future of the businesses for the benefit of staff and customers.

“As a family owned company we have always been able to take a long term view and when the time came for some of our family directors to retire we looked around for an ownership structure which would continue that long-term outlook.

“Short-termism is a widespread malaise in British finance and commerce and it does not lead to stable or long lasting structures.

“With some of our hotels more than 150 years old, we know that you need to take a longer view.

“The British economy faces many challenges over the coming years but all the evidence is that employee ownership leads to more productive, more stable and more customer-focussed businesses which are able to attract a stable skilled work force.”

The Sawbridge family have retained a 25 per cent minority share in the combined business and provided the majority of the finance for the transaction with senior debt being provided by Lloyds Bank.

Karen Sawbridge remains as an executive director responsible for the hotels division and both Peter and Paul Sawbridge are staying on as non-executive directors and trustees.