WE WERE BRAVE ENOUGH TO HAVE A GLOBAL FOOTPRINT
Alison Lessmann, founder of En Route, won our 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award. As she leaves the industry, her influence is undeniable
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!