Monday Interview: Giles Wilson, chief financial officer at John Menzies

CFO sees huge ASIG acquisition as key to group's growth after some turbulence.

Having taken on his current role in June, Wilson says John Menzies has started to find a pathway to growth and see its strategy bear fruit. Picture: Greg Macvean
Having taken on his current role in June, Wilson says John Menzies has started to find a pathway to growth and see its strategy bear fruit. Picture: Greg Macvean
Having taken on his current role in June, Wilson says John Menzies has started to find a pathway to growth and see its strategy bear fruit. Picture: Greg Macvean

In his five-plus years at John Menzies, chief financial officer (CFO) Giles Wilson has been based both in the south-east of England and the Middle East, but has now settled in Edinburgh, the site of the group’s headquarters to this day.

It started out in 1833 as a humble bookseller, and has now grown to a core distribution arm covering some 150,000 miles each day to make deliveries, and its aviation arm that handles more than 1.2 million flights a year.

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Wilson took on his current role in June, in the run-up to the announcement in September of a “transformational” proposed bumper acquisition of US aviation-services business Aircraft Service International Group (ASIG).

He jokes that it’s been an “interesting” start to the role, but despite some inevitable long days, insists he is passionate about the John Menzies business and the potential of the $202 million (£166m) deal.

Wilson says: “We’re extremely excited by the opportunity and we’re really looking forward to bringing ASIG into the Menzies family. This is going to become a core part of our business going forward.”

He adds that it sits “right in the sweet spot” for its expansion plans. “We did a lot of work last year in developing the strategy … and I was involved in quite a lot of that behind the scenes.”

Wilson, formerly the finance director of the group’s aviation division, says the transaction is “a real step-change” for the arm and “ticks all the boxes” on its five-pronged strategy.

A key aim is to accelerate complementary services, and Wilson shines a spotlight on the deal adding fuelling to its offering for airlines, saying this fits “very neatly” within this target.

Other strategic aims include concentrating on key customers and pursuing hubs and bases. Wilson says the deal, which is set to create one of the largest airport-services companies in the world, strengthens key global hubs including Heathrow and Atlanta – “which is by a lot of measures one of the largest airports in the world” – and increases its airports to 208 from 149. It also opens up opportunities in five new countries, and Wilson says there is plenty of room to expand its wings further, with aviation “still a very fragmented market”. Turning to its distribution arm, he acknowledges the challenges amid the decline in print media, but nevertheless sees potential, with the group looking to win further deals along the lines of the three-year national contract it has secured with WH Smith.

With Menzies expecting the ASIG acquisition to be materially earnings-enhancing in the first full year, at the time of the announcement analysts at Shore Capital said that if it concluded, it would position the enlarged group “for growth in earnings over the short, medium and long term”.

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In terms of response to the deal, Wilson says existing and new shareholders have “all taken it very well”. It’s certainly a welcome response after repeated shareholder calls for changes to the business including the separation of its aviation and distribution arms, something the group seems to be taking more serious moves towards, especially given the recent appointment of Rothschild & Co.

Wilson studied civil engineering, then trained as a chartered accountant at what is now PwC. Describing himself as an “accountant at heart … with some business acumen on the side” and fascinated by “what makes things tick”, he left practice on qualifying and has been in industry since. Roles pre-Menzies include senior finance positions at listed tobacco firm Gallaher Group, and privately owned property company Commercial Estates Group.

The married father of two jokes that having grown up a family of housebuilding-focused entrepreneurs born and bred in Portsmouth, even his prior move to London was to some of them almost a move overseas.

His move to Dubai to open a regional office came on the back of his work on emerging markets, and he spent ten months there, characterising it as an “amazing” experience for the whole family, with Edinburgh now looking set to be their base for the long term.

He stresses his optimism for the firm and insists the core principles of its strategies are now well embedded in the business and starting to bear fruit. “We’ve started to find a pathway to growth and meet those objectives. I am now doing the job that I want to do. I feel proud of what we at Menzies are hoping to achieve.”

30-second CV

Born: 1973, Portsmouth

Education: Churchers College, Petersfield; degree in Civil Engineering from University of Surrey, Guildford; Chartered Accountant, qualified with PwC.

First job: Accountant Coopers and Lybrand (PwC)

Ambition while at school: To work, to get a job

What car do you drive: Land Rover Discovery

Favourite mode of transport: Car

Music: 80s

Kindle or book: Book

Reading material: Newspapers

Can’t live without: 
My family

What makes you angry: Not much, except where there is a misjustice of individuals

What inspires you: Successful entrepreneurs

Favourite place: 
Walt Disney World

Best thing about your job: The people