Ali­son Less­mann, founder of En Route, won our 2018 Life­time Achieve­ment Award. As she leaves the in­dus­try, her in­flu­ence is un­de­ni­able

Onboard Hospitality - - In Conversation -

it started with a sand­wich! In Au­gust 2002 my job was im­port­ing bak­ery prod­ucts into Ger­many and I was fly­ing home from a busi­ness trip with Bri­tish Air­ways when they served me one so bad that I rang BA to tell them. They told me the con­tract was up so I should start a com­pany and bid for it. By September I had done just that and by Fe­bru­ary I won the £1.5 mil­lion con­tract.

It needed to be on­board by March 28 so it was a stress­ful time be­cause, although I had great con­tacts, I had no idea how to get prod­uct on­board-ready. One com­pany threw me out be­cause I’d won the con­tract over them, but even­tu­ally I struck a deal and man­aged to get the prod­ucts on the plane. Two years later we moved into BA’s per­ish­ables cen­tre.

The fact that we were brave enough to have a global footprint made us stand out. We moved into sup­ply­ing the U.S. around 2006, the Mid­dle East about 2008 and Aus­tralia four years ago. The Lit­tle Bites box we made for Emi­rates in 2011 flew out of 64 coun­tries - the first time an air­line had one prod­uct across its en­tire net­work.


At first we tar­geted air­lines with money to spend in First or Busi­ness and we weren’t in­ter­ested in Econ­omy.

But fol­low­ing SARS, the eco­nomic crash, ash clouds and other threats to travel, air­lines needed to make sav­ings and we re­alised we couldn’t just rely on bak­ery prod­ucts so we changed our pitch and asked how we could help.

Prob­lem solv­ing be­came our spe­cial­ity and our lo­gis­tics be­came more so­phis­ti­cated, but our team was key. The mantra was: "noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble." We looked to re­tail for ideas, mak­ing trends work on­board. Hav­ing an in-house de­sign team also made us more nim­ble and I’m proud to say we won awards for cre­ativ­ity.

I loved my job but I was work­ing too much and the death of some­one close to me made me re­alise there's more to life!

Mak­ing the de­ci­sion to hand lead­er­ship over to dnata was the hard­est I’ve ever made. The staff are part of my fam­ily and I wanted to make sure that who­ever took over had the same cre­ative ethos. But I’m de­lighted with my de­ci­sion and happy to watch En Route evolve from a dis­tance. I’m rais­ing money for Thames Val­ley Hospice, help­ing my son with his in­te­rior de­sign com­pany and ad­vis­ing start-ups. Get­ting good ideas to mar­ket is still a pas­sion!

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