How I survived recession

Andrew Dunn was just 22 when he sent out his firm’s first ski brochure in 1986. Today, it has expanded beyond skiing, to places as far flung as Rajasthan, turning over £20m.

Andrew Dunn was just 22 when he sent out his firm's first ski brochure in 1986, but it immediately turned heads. Black, and folding out onto six pages, the front simply read nulli secundus': second to none.

"I got a call," says Dunn. "May I speak to Andrew Scott Dunn. I said yes, who is this? He said, it's the Prince of Wales, and I said, well, hello sir. You did realise nulli secundus is the motto of the Coldstream Guards?' I had no idea, and said we'll withdraw it from production'." Then there was this cackle in the background: Dunn's friends were playing a practical joke. They found the whole idea laughable, but he had only himself to blame.

A novice skier, he'd spent more time organising parties than studying while at Oxford Polytechnic. Now he was setting up a ski business, with just a £5,000 loan from the bank. "But I'd plagiarised everyone's address book," he says. "And that was my database." Dunn cajoled 200 guests to stay in Champery in Switzerland that winter, charging £300 a head for a little ski chalet he'd leased out for CHF25,000 (about £10,000).

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"I remember because I got ripped off." Guests had to walk ten minutes "up the side of a mountain with walking chains". But he made up for it with good service, offering customers duvets at a time when "it was all sheets and blankets". He also drove from the UK in an ancient Land Rover with a roof rack full of bacon, so he could feed guests full English breakfasts, instead of the more typical burnt porridge.

Thinking before the customer does is the key to good service, says Dunn an approach that rapidly paid off. By the second year, they'd expanded to a 24-bed chalet. They took in almost 600 guests and made £14,000 profit on a £67,000 turnover. By the third year, he was running six chalets across Champery and Verbier, when the UK's largest ski tour operator Super Travel' went bust, leaving a lot of empty properties around Zermatt, Val d'Isre and Meribel. The opportunity was too good to miss, and by 1992, Scott Dunn had expanded so much that they were chartering planes. Then recession hit.

Sterling dived 25% "and then fuel prices went through the roof, which of course we were contracted into". Dunn's brother-in-law and financial director Simon was in the Southern Ocean, on the British Sail Challenge, "so I had to take things into my own hands". By then his peers were doing quite well, "so I said to them, I need some help. I can't guarantee what's going to happen, but if you lob in five grand I'll give you 1% of the firm." Nine came on board, and by 1997, the firm was turning over £1.5m a year.

Today, Scott Dunn has expanded beyond skiing, to places as far flung as Rajasthan, turning over £20m. But it's only recently that Dunn has been able to enjoy his own product. "I got viral meningitis last year. Until that happens you think you're immortal, but since then I've decided to take more holidays. I've been doing this 21 years, and realised I have the perfect opportunity to go anywhere I want."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.