John Hays is the founder and Managing Director of Hays Travel, the UK’s largest independently owned travel agency recognised as one of the Sunday Times’ Best Companies to Work For in the UK.
Born in Seaham, Co Durham, John was educated at a local grammar school before studying Maths at Oxford and completing an MBA at Manchester Business School. Returning home in 1980, with no industry experience and only a desk at the back of his mother’s children’s wear shop, John worked hard to get his travel business off the ground. After a couple of years in Seaham, John set up his second shop in Sunderland, where the Hays empire has its headquarters today. The move involved a huge investment of £130,000, but by subletting to other offices the company managed to expand and the number of travel agencies grew steadily to about eight by the early 1990s.
In recent times, the company has comprised 37 shops in the North East, call centres in Sunderland, Newcastle and Stockton, as well as a homeworking division of over 300. John also runs the Hays Travel Independence Group, a consortium for independent retailers who want to benefit from the company’s back office expertise and buying power. As of 2014, the company employs over 1000 people, with an annual sales turnover exceeding £650m.
John’s personal business success has been publicly recognised in recent years. He won the 2002 Wearside and Durham Business Executive of the Year award, was crowned the first Entrepreneur of the Year for the Entrepreneurs’ Forum in 2004, was included in the Journal’s 500 Most Influential People in the North East for 2008, and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the travel industry’s 2008 Agent Achievement Awards.
John was honoured by the Hall of Fame in 2010.