International Trade

Hurricane Irma showed true resilience of my staff

5 min read

14 September 2017

A trip out to Florida for Adam Twidell, as part of ongoing business expansion there, preceded Hurricane Irma but got him closer to his company’s efforts in the US.

As I write this, my mind is in Florida. Primarily with concerns around Hurricane Irma, which is currently impacting both colleagues and clients. I returned from there myself just a couple of weeks’ ago, having spent five weeks based at our US office in Fort Lauderdale over the summer.

We opened this office in 2015, to serve our growing customer base in the US and this has since become a significant market for us, now representing over a third of sales. As my co-founder in PrivateFly is also my wife Carol, we weren’t able to go down the tried-and-tested route of having a founder oversee the launch in a new market. So I have shuttled in and out for short periods of time in Florida, just a few days at a time – and we’ve invested in an excellent team to manage things there.

So the plan for Carol, our children and I to relocate there for the summer was a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in the US business for a longer period of time – and for the kids to experience some of that time at a US summer camp.

For Carol and I, it gave us the chance to get to know our small, but fast growing, Fort Lauderdale team at a different level. Characters make companies. And while PrivateFly is a tech-focussed business, our people – and how well they work together – are absolutely critical to our success, and a key reason behind our significant sales growth. So we made it a priority to host a couple of family dinners at our apartment, something we used to do in the UK before the team got too big to fit around the table.

The value of this great teamwork has shone through since we got home. After an early decision last week to evacuate the office from the approaching threat of Hurricane Irma, our UK team seamlessly covered for their US colleagues at a very busy time – we had a huge increase in flight enquiries as a result of Irma – working longer shifts without any hesitation.

The trip was primarily a strategic one. But as our set up in the US is smaller (for now), I also saw off clients, met suppliers and got to know crews – and I particularly enjoyed sourcing a charging point for our electric company car. I also interviewed some candidates for our fast-growing team.

These are things I do less of now in Europe, so it was an opportunity to get back to the floor. It was also an opportunity to understand customer needs in this key market better, up close.

While Irma was still an invisible threat back in August, we did get a close up view of flight demand for events including the solar eclipse and the Floyd Mayweather vs. Connor McGregor boxing match in Las Vegas.

Carol and I came back with a deeper insight into the challenges and rewards of our US business, and of our team.

As for the kids, two weeks spent at a US summer camp in the Florida Keys was a terrific experience – something they will remember for the rest of their lives. And we managed to take some time out of the business to travel in Florida as a family.

All-in-all, a summer very well spent and only marred by the destruction since wrought by Irma. Let’s hope that the rebuilding can be quick and straightforward for everyone affected. I’m looking forward to seeing for myself when I head out there again at the end of this month.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.