Bob Grace spent some 30 years in Jaguar Land Rover, starting in the Automotive Industry at the age of 16 and working his way to become President of JLR China from July 2010 to July 2015. In October 2019 Bob established his own business offering personalised travel, Not Just Travel Bob Grace, as a franchise business within the Hays Group.
Having travelled extensively over the years, and lived in many different countries, coupled with over three decades of working with luxury brands delivering high service and experience, he feels that he is well placed to develop travel experiences that will excite the senses.
Bob shares in this episode the way in which he decided to get back into working life even though he didn’t need to financially, his views on working in China, how much he pays his children to help with his marketing, and the response of his mother when he invited her to Windsor Castle.
We learn about actual the costs and revenue targets of taking on a franchise, what to look out for when one is self employed, and why a franchise can be an ideal solution to self employment giving the excitement of autonomy without the risk of going it alone.
Given the experience he’s gained over the years working with and in China, Bob has also joined Asiability as a Partner, where the purpose is to enable good commercial and philanthropic partnerships between U.K., E.U., and the People’s Republic of China (see Asiability.co.uk).
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Welcome to The Silver Fox entrepreneurs howlers stories of entrepreneurship, told by mature men who have started businesses later on in life. My name is Jim James and I'm your host. I'm speaking with Bob Grace, who is the former CEO of Jaguar Land Rover in China, the retired family Uber driver, and now a franchise holder of his travel business. Bob talks with me and shares about the actual costs of becoming a franchisee business in China, and his mother's reaction to his being awarded on OBE. Stay with me and enjoy our conversation. Bob grace, welcome to the den. You and I knew each other, sort of through China really an evolve in automotive, please share with us, you know about yourself, your history, and where you are now.Bob Grace:
Working, I'm 58 years of age, I live in Stratford on Avon in the Midlands, I'm married to a lady from Argentina called Veronica and we've got five kids from nine years through to 16 years of age. And I left school at 16 with pretty much nothing consider the qualifications and but then joined what was Landrover in in my mid mid 20s. In the customer service organization, and then over over the course of 30 odd years with the different owners of that company. I traveled around the world lived in multiple locations from Central and South America, across China, and then more laterally into into Germany. And throughout that whole period, I've lived live with my with my family, they've been on the journey with me. And the jobs have predominantly been sales and marketing oriented.Jim James:
And yell us, you know, you you left China recently came back to the UK. And then ended your time at JLR. Tell us about the transition, natural retirement a bit early for retirement, maybe what was the reason for coming back and stepping out.Bob Grace:
I mean, the main the main reason for coming back to the UK was I've got an elderly mother who was not in the crisis of health, and felt that having spent quite a chunk of my life overseas, it was only only fair to my mom to spend that bit of extra time closer to her she she struggles with the latter stage of life and the transition back to Europe and then you know more laterally to the UK was amazingly easy to be honest with you. The kids took it in their stride they they adapted to the new environments, both in Germany and here in the UK. I guess the biggest shock really is is the weather. British weather that we all enjoy. Haha, takes a bit of getting used to particularly when you've got a lot in life. Who loves the cabana.Jim James:
The cabana, we've also found since moving back from China, the girls can't believe just how wet England is, especially this winter has been pretty crazy.Bob Grace:
Oh, yeah, absolutely.Jim James:
And then you came back with with JLR. But you no longer with JLR. Share with us. You know what happened is a transition then.Bob Grace:
You know, when you're when you're a young lad, you dream about the future. And you dream about some point maybe getting married and having kids. But one of you know one of the other items that was on my on my wish list was to be in a situation where by the time I got to 55 I'd like to be financially stable enough to have a choice on what I do. And fortuitously, having joined jlr in the mid 1980s, I had a final salary pension scheme, which is with its weighted government. When I got to 55, I started to ask myself some questions in terms of what else did I want to do with my life but a young family? And to keep it simple. I talked to my financial advisor, and he puts the numbers on a table and said, Do you realize how simple a choice you're going for yourself? You earn this, you've got this pension, you've got these investments, make a choice in your life, you know, life's too short. And that's exactly what I do. When I discuss it with my wife. I made the choice that say actually after 33 years of corporate life, it was time to go and do something else. And I you know amicably separated with with JLR and then decided to take a year off.Jim James:
And what did you do with the year after then, because you had it. Yeah, I think five years in China right? And for that you also were awarded an OBE most deservedly so what did you do when you came back in terms of with a year off?Bob Grace:
It's amazing, actually, you know, one of the things that I that I discuss with their colleagues who've done similar things or friends who've done similar things is, there's no hours left in the day, you're just so busy doing a plenty of things, whether it's looking after the family, looking after the garden, playing a better golf, going to the gym, doing stuff that just fills the day, I never found myself ever bored or twiddling my thumbs wondering what to do for the next hour or the next few hours. And actually, I was kind of getting quite comfortable in doing nothing inJim James:
commas as well and well deserved after 33 years in corporate life, pretty demanding. And you, you know, you really pioneered and grewJLR jlr massively in China. So a well deserved break. And then what was the the reason for if you like, giving up being not bored, you, I mean, plainly, we're enjoying life and the need to get back to work. So why why decide to start a business at this age,Bob Grace:
I always dreamt of what it would be like to be your own boss with your own business. And to be frank, one of the things that inhibited me doing it was the pension package, I didn't want to jump out and risk my pension package. Because I knew that it was like golden handcuffs. Now that I've made a decision to exit and had sorted out the pension dynamics, I tripped over an opportunity, really by chance. I'm on the subscription list of the National Exhibition Center where they do all the concerts and exhibitions and so on. And, genuinely, one day, I got an email telling me about an upcoming exhibition for franchises. And it just caught my eye, I started to read about it. And there was a list of potential franchise options. And one of the last ones because they were only in alphabetical order was tourism. And I clicked on tourism, thinking about what we're looking at here. And I came across a franchise for a company called Not Just Travel. And that's the company that I ended up buying into a franchise, which is part of a strong group of people that just bought all the Thomas Cook stores out of administration. And I'm two months in, nine weeks in actually to be very specific,Jim James:
Oh, really just so quite recentBob Grace:
And enjoy enjoying the journey so far.Jim James:
Until it's what in terms of the process, evaluating becoming a franchisee, which is quite a change from, you know, running an automotive business in China? What were some of the reasons you decided to go for a franchise and opt for that? And what was your criteria for choosing this one?Bob Grace:
The issues that I really considered was I wanted to be in an industry that was offering a service, I wanted to be able to work from home, I wanted to do something that interested me. I wanted, I wanted a franchise that allowed me the flexibility to work the hours that I want to work, or that I'm not, I'm not at anybody else's beck and call. And the attractiveness of this not just travel franchise was it takes a number of boxes in terms of I like traveling. I've traveled massively, I've been to nearly 70 countries, I've lived in five different countries for you know, nearly 15 years of my life. It's got such a wide variety of travel opportunities from the single, you know, theater break in London through to collect protein, and everything in between. I found it I found it just, you know, an interesting opportunity to be able to help people on a one by one basis and put a smile on their face.Jim James:
Yeah, lovely. And then in terms of, if you don't mind, can we talk a little bit? What is it cost? Because what do you get for the money because I read that in America, some 55, 60% of all businesses that people start later on in life are either franchisees, or acquiring an existing company, as opposed to starting from scratch. SoBob Grace:
So I've got a number of packages, so I've got to start with initial investment of about 10,000 pounds for the franchise to about 30,000 pounds for the franchise. That's just to buy into the into the franchise itself, I chose their illegal package, which is about 15,000 pounds. And then on top of that you've you've clearly got to account for the hardware that you need to buy setting up your office, etc. So probably all in I've spent, you know, low 20s in terms of investments in the business thus far. And for that, I get access to the parent company's systems so the parent company's haste travel. And so I've got all their systems on my on my PC here at home, wow. And with all of their supplies, and it's literally hundreds of suppliers that are available to me. I can take payments online through their systems. They give me a ready made website, which now is just been updated to include a live booking portal within that website so customers can actually used to talk to me, or they can choose to go online through my portal and economies themselves direct. And they offer quite extensive training. I've done a week head office in November. And I'm going to Cyprus for a another week's training in about six or eight weeks time.Jim James:
Yeah, gotta hate the training. Good. Can you nominate where the training takes place?Bob Grace:
Oh you can choose? Yeah, you can choose a number of locations. And the one I'm doing is called the Millionaire's retreats. So it's, you know, five star resorts giving you the chance to be trained, but also to experience the type of holiday that you're trying to sell to clients as well, at the same time,Jim James:
Right. That's really valuable,Bob Grace:
As well as, as well as talk the talk. Yeah.Jim James:
That's fantastic. And in terms of the the sort of sense of being a team, or being part of a, do you feel like you're one person sitting in your home office with all this infrastructure? Or do you kind of have like, the normal if you work in a big companies, you know, better than I do, you know, teams and departments and, and some sort of sense of being colleagues with other people.Bob Grace:
I mean, a couple of things, I'd say would be one, certainly for the first year, you get a coach, who's a more experienced travel consultant, the same as me, but she'd been doing it for three or four years. So Rain, Rain's, my travel travel, travel coach, I can call her whenever we spoke about half an hour ago, and we spoke late last night. And we've got a Facebook portal, which is used by all the travel consultants. So like phone a friend with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Yeah. Strange, obscure inquiry, you can just go to the Facebook page, post your question, and you'll get quite a few responses pretty quickly, because clearly there are people out there that have done this job for a lot longer than iclip. They're more than happy to share their experiences. And then you've got a head office team based down in Bournemouth, who are also very accessible, very willing to help. So does it feel like a family? Yeah, absolutely. I don't feel like I'm lonely Bob sitting in Stratford on Avon, I do feel that I've got a whole whole team. That's very easy.Jim James:
This sounds like an amazing, amazing way to start a business really, and, and in terms of payback ROI. You mentioned this figure about 15,000. What would you expect in terms of sort of a return on investment or payback for that initial investment?Bob Grace:
Okay, my first, my first target, is they set your financial threshold for your first fiscal surprise calendar year. And if you hit that financial target in the first year, they give you a franchise fee back?Jim James:
No, oh.Bob Grace:
You know, so that wasn't the major, you know, that wasn't the prime reason for wanting to take this franchise. But clearly, you know, if we say we're not motivated by money, I think we lie to ourselves. Yeah, yeah, that one target is there. So, you know, in terms of in terms of revenues this year, I mean, if I, if I do, in the order of half a million revenue, in my first year, I'll be very happy.Jim James:
And then in terms of, on a practical side, if you've got your own business, and you're billing your own clients, and you're logging into zero wherever you get the cash in your own bank. How's that working Bob? Do they, everyone pays, because you mentioned before about it's backed by after it's under they pay you monthly? Or do you build the clients?Bob Grace:
No, everything's, everything's processed through head office. So the head office payment system is used to accept the MasterCard, Visa card, American, Express card, they process it all, they then issue all of the invoices to the customer, the end customer, and then I get monthly commission statements, and I get monthly payments, and then the commission is very much linked to when the person travels. So if I'm booking somebody who wants to travel, say November 2020, there, my commission will be paid x weeks before November 20.Jim James:
And in terms of the kind of habits that you're now adopted, because when people start businesses, there's all sorts of requirements for, you know, kind of initiative and self discipline and self motivation. How can you maybe share for yourself obviously been very successful in the corporate world? How are you finding it different or the same now that you're running your own business as a franchise?Bob Grace:
It's interesting, you know, one of my daughter said to me the other night that while you're working so much, you know, you don't spend any time with us. And maybe maybe I'm missing a little bit of a trick here that working from home was supposed to mean that I did spend a bit more time with the family. But I'm in the startup phase, and I'm quite eager to put 100% effort into it to get it off the ground. You know, I can, I can find myself getting sucked into spending far too much time on social media. I mean, I've got a Facebook page, and I paste, paste a lot of offers onto onto my Facebook page and respond to the inputs that I get from customers, I spend a lot of time developing issues for my for my website. And a lot of times so to follow these for customers, and the right way where you can get really addicted to social media, you know, the different platforms Facebook, you know, most most guys have out sort of age dabble with Facebook. I mean, for me, before I started this business, I was just looking at it as a new source. Now, I'm very proactive on it in terms of creating my own business Facebook page. Yeah, it's very, very easy to use, you know, I was on a Facebook course two days ago, learning how to get more from it. Because, you know, it's a very, very small platform. Yep. And most of us just dabble with it, really, we just, you know, touch the surface. I think the second Instagram, you know, my kids laugh at me with Instagram. I got an Instagram message just before Christmas. And I was away from the home and I couldn't find in Instagram, how to find the message. I didn't even find my 13 year old. And so he said, I don't find the message. Are you still the old man, you do this, this this. And sure enough, I did it and the message popped up on the screen. So it's a bit of a learning a learning journey, you know, just spending a lot of time going to networking meetings during the local BOI network, which is network International, Business Network International, sorry, to, you know, to reach out and have more contact with other small businesses, and get referrals and try and build up my custom customer base with max. I've been on Instagram course. And I'm going on Facebook and Google, of course, in the next couple of weeks as well.Jim James:
So it sounds like you're really having a lot of fun. Yeah.Bob Grace:
That's my, it's my baby. You know, it's my small business. And, you know, it's never going to it's never going to make me a multimillionaire. But I do know, he can make it give me a nice, a nice steady income, it's low risk. And if tomorrow I'll wake up and say I've had enough of this, you know, I end up writing off 20 grand, which isn't, you know, isn't that insignificant amount of money, but it's not also at the end of the world? You know?Jim James:
Yeah, yeah. And would you say it sounds like so far, it's always been a textbook case of, of managing one's sort of career and transition which is amazing, and inspirational. What? Others any things that you'd say that have not gone quite according to plan. Bob, what are there any things that have come up there have been unintended or that have thrown you a bit of a shocker?Bob Grace:
Or so mthe only thing that I would answer on that would be that I'm very conscious that I'm spending too much time at the desk. And I need to get out to the gym, I need to get out and play golf, I need to get out and walk the dog. And I need to make a life balance, work life balance, and closer to where it was when I wasn't working, rather than closer to when I was in corporate life. And I'm kind of feeling like I'm falling into the trap of behaving like I'm in corporate life, when actually, I'm in total control of my own destiny, I can spend the hours I want to spend, obviously, give myself a kick in the backside to say, hey, go into the crawl, walk, make sure you get up a little earlier and go to the gym for an hour, just to keep that that sort of dynamics, healthy.Jim James:
And are you in terms of sort of health and relationships. You mentioned about you know, you've got an Argentinian wife and the five kids. How they sort of responded to the transition that they're in? Presumably, they'd love for you to take the year off and made it semi permanent until they've all gone away? How can you share any sort of tools or conversations thatBob Grace:
my 13 year old that I mentioned a minute ago, he's an Instagram King, so I created a contract for him to be my social media director. There's a bit of a joke, but he likes to help me with with Instagram and Facebook, you know, he's kind of given me a lot of, you know, verbal, verbal help, but not a lot of physical health at the moment, but every day when they come in from school, how many books did you do today? Where did the people go to? You know, and I'm now you know, they're out helping me deliver leaflets and brochures and this. They're excited that dad's doing, you know, do some real work again, he's not just being the lazy old man at home was thereJim James:
As I asked my 12 year old this morning, if she fancied working on the on the podcast editing, and she said, you know, but 'I already get pocket money. So you know how much you get to pay me?'Bob Grace:
Of of my kid 10% of my commission to help me on on social media, and what does that really mean that and how do you promise me that you're going to pay to me and,Jim James:
yes, getting savvy, they're getting savvy. Nice. So has there been a change in their culture at home Then do you think now that you're self employed compared to corporate life?Bob Grace:
Yeah, I think they are more conscious now about the noise levels in the background, that if I'm on the phone talking to a customer, they can't just burst into the study and start, you know, hitting me with 1000 questions and screaming outside the door and stuff like that. So, you know, it's not, you know, their kids, I mean, their kids make a lot of noise. So I have to occasionally give them a little bit of a prompt and a reminder, but it's a learning journey. It's a learning journey.Jim James:
Yeah. And in terms of the, the sort of business and you mentioned about other other people, sort of our age, I'm 52. have many of your sort of cohorts on the golf course, or ,do you not, do you find many people are stepping out into their own businesses? Now? Are you kind of a bit of a pioneer in your in your peer group?Bob Grace:
Yeah, I think it might be my, you know, reasonably close peer group, most of them are still enjoying the freedom, I'm probably the only one that's taking a break, and then gone back in and bitten the bullying done something himself. And maybe that's just because I've, you know, lived in corporate life, and maybe they haven't experienced the same corporate pressures that I saw. And maybe they also don't have the financial wherewithal to be able to take a risk and invest 20 grand or so.Jim James:
Right. So they're still working, in termsBob Grace:
Some are still working, but some have decided to take their pensions, invested with a financial advisor and enjoying playing more golf, than than I'm currently able to play.Jim James:
Right, right, that you obviously, well, you're driven obviously, or as you wouldn't have accomplished what you did. In China actually, just talk a little bit about what you were doing before in China and, and maybe also talk about a trip to the palace, what would be two or three things you learned from your time in China, Bob? Because obviously, you were there for five years, build, build JLR. any insights you'd like to share?Bob Grace:
I think without without it being another hour of the podcast, I'd say Firstly, you've got to have a plan, you've got to have some idea of what it is you're trying to achieve in China, you've got to build some strong relationships with some trusted Chinese people. And they need to be trusted partners in China, you've got to have some balls about you to go for it. Because it is, it's a hell of a roller coaster of a journey China, it can eat you as well as as well as Fiji. And, you know, you need to have your wits about you, you need to be very cognizant of your own integrity, and make sure that you look after your own personal integrity, because there's many opportunities for your integrity to go out of the window. You've also kind of got got to recognize that you're in the business I was in, it was like hanging on to the tail of a tiger. The Tiger was running faster and faster. And you've got to find a way of hitting the pause button and getting out of the business for a period of time to give yourself a chance to take stock, recharge your batteries, because you hear lots of examples of people who do get jobs in China getting botox, the machine just concerns you know, the target, because it's just an order of magnitude of business that probably most people wouldn't ever believe until themselves. Yeah, I run into butter experts who've got I've got this veneer of you like flying for 48 hours, 72 hours, they run around, they get lots of PowerPoint presentations, and then they leave thinking are we are no China. But actually, as you know yourself, you know, you've got to understand the culture, you've got to understand the history, you've got to understand wangechi and the way business is done in China. And you've got to keep your nose clean and do the do the job to the best of your ability within within a legal framework.Jim James:
Yeah, yeah. And I found after 13 years there, that the pace would would suck you up. And you really really had to keep an idea and a balance of where what you could what you could manage it as an insatiable appetite for almost everything in China.Bob Grace:
I mean that in that in that connection, I've recently joined as a partner with a company called Asia, Asiability. consulting firm that's specializing in helping British SMEs find access routes into China. But on the reverse, also helping Chinese companies build relationships here into the UK, doing coaching, mentoring, helping develop strategies in both directions.Jim James:
That's fantastic that you're going to continue bringing that skill set. How will you reconcile that with the travel then because then do you end up with these kind of legacy experience and networks and then your newborn excitement? How do you think you might balance those two things out?Bob Grace:
I think at the moment, it's still a bit of a journey. If I'm honest, I mean, I haven't gotten the I haven't got every T crossed and every I dotted I've agreed to get involved in in a couple of Coaching projects, I'm yet to see how they how they pan out to be honest with you, and, you know, I'm not gonna let the business fall by the wayside. That's, that's my my call to five. But I will bite off some of the coaching opportunities as as I see them interesting for me. And as I see that I can add some value to them.Jim James:
So well, can I just ask you as a result of, you know, your endeavors in China? Or maybe you've built a lot of community outreach work as well for JLR in China? I remember seeing that in China Daily adverts, for example. And you and you were awarded an OBE. So just maybe just give us a 30 second. What was that like, as one of the few people that will have been to the palace to collect?Bob Grace:
It was a shock. Really, I mean, I was on I was in the car on the way home one night in Shanghai with my with my driver. And I got a call from the British ambassador in Beijing to say, hey, 'you've got some nice news for you. You know, the Queen's you know, at this day, this honor upon you.' And I was completely gobsmacked. No idea. And the nice bit about it, I guess. Well, the first nice bit about it was actually that that, that week, my mum was in China visit us for a holiday. So as I got home, I was able to, you know, clearly tell my tell my wife, but then I was also able to go and tell my mom face to face. AndJim James:
yeah, that's pretty special.Bob Grace:
And probably, you know, what's, what's the I was proud about it? It was kind of, you know, on steroids. By the time I told my mom, she was like, blown away by it.Jim James:
Oh, yeah, of course, must be,Bob Grace:
you know, for a more elderly person, it's, it's probably more impactful. I guess the other bit with my mom, which kind of almost there brought me brought me to tears really was when I, when I finally got the details of going to Windsor Castle to get it, you're allowed to take three people. And I said to my mom, I want to take you my wife and my oldest kid. And she said to me, no, no you need to take your second oldest kid as well as the first kid. Because I'm at the end of my life in, It alters a formative age, she'll get more impact from it. I love to be there. She said, but hey, use the opportunity to expose your daughter to that that environment rather than than wasting it on an old lady, which kind of Wow, I found incredibly humbling, you know, and the experience Yeah, it was a it was a fantastic day out, you know, to meet the queen and to enjoy all of that. pomp and ceremony money. it'll, sit there in the memory bank for a long time. So what in some ways I get a little bit embarrassed about it? You know, I don't normally talk about it overtly. I don't really use it that overtly. But sure, me and my wife and the kids and my mom, a very proud that the whoever it was determined that I've done something special that could deserve that kind of an award.Jim James:
But congratulations on such a graceful return to the UK. If our listeners would like to hear more about you get in touch, where can they find you?Bob Grace:
Yeah, I'm based in Stratford on Avon. My web address is Bobgrace.notsjusttravel.com. And I'm more than happy to receive people on there or they can send me an email at Bob.firstname.lastname@example.org, or they can give me a call on 81789867211 I'm able to offer a full range of travel services from business trips through leisure trips, weekends away, Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, the fury boxing in in America, and anything in between more than happy to offer help to any of the silver foxes.Jim James:
Great then maybe you'll find a way to offer middle special discount or or an extra cup of tea at the airport. Well, thank you. I watched you and we worked sort of in parallel in China, and you've accomplished great, great things there. And you're doing the same here. So thank you for sharing your time today, and sharing information in a great inspirational story.Bob Grace:
Thank you, Jim. Enjoy.Unknown:
Thank you for listening to this episode of The Silver Fox entrepreneurs howlers. We're aiming to share information and inspiration for mature men with enterprise. Now if you liked the show, please rate it as it really helps and share it with other people that you think will find it useful too. My name is Jim James, and I look forward to being your host for our next show coming up soon. subscribe so that you don't miss the next house.