Ex-City lawyer running a ski travel company

Ian Barrie qualified in Scotland before working as a corporate assistant in the City.  After several years in-house in Dubai, he moved back to Glasgow to set up an independent specialist ski travel business called Glacius Travel. If you are organising a corporate ski trip, a stag/hen, or a holiday with family or friends then look no further!


mtl:  Hi Ian, please can you start with your legal background.  


Ian: I studied law at Dundee and thoroughly enjoyed it.  After a ski season in Queenstown, New Zealand, I spent my traineeship in Scotland at McGrigors.  It was good but I decided to go down to London for a higher salary and found a job at Nabarro, which was a bit of a shock as it was double the size of my previous firm. 


It wasn’t long before I was fairly disillusioned about my future despite exposure to good work.  I was looking at the lifestyle four years ahead of me and decided at an early stage that I wasn’t motivated by the route to partnership. The clients excited me however – I was always asking myself why they were doing what they were doing and what was the bigger picture? 


In February 2008 I signed up for a corporate ski trip with my department and thanks to this trip, my experience at the firm totally turned around.  It had been hard to integrate into the firm having not trained there, but being away without the usual issue of hierarchy was great fun and a good way to meet people.  While I was away I spoke to the ski trip concierge about the company behind the trip and the market etc and the penny dropped – I realised that it was an industry that I could feel passionately about as I enjoy both skiing and hosting.


At that point, although skiing is something that I’d always enjoyed, it didn’t cross my mind that I could make a career out of a hobby.  Starting a ski travel company was still very much a pipe dream.  Immediately upon my return from the trip, it was nose to the grindstone constantly until I lost my job later that year.  From London I moved to Dubai to an in-house role for a hotel and resort developer.  It was fantastic general experience and I randomly worked there with a former colleague from McGrigors. However the recession in Dubai followed that of London and I lost my job again six months later.   



Career timeline


1999 - 2003

Law, Dundee


2003 - 2004

Diploma in Legal Practice


2005 - 2007

Training, McGrigors


2007 - 2008

Corporate, Nabarro


2008 - 2011

In-house counsel in Dubai



Set up Glacius Travel



I decided to stay in Dubai and began working for Travelport.  Travelport owns the airline booking systems found in pretty much every travel agency worldwide. It was a demanding commercial role that set me up well as I was a legal counsel for, among other things, all travel-related areas including IP and IT. I got to see all aspects of the travel industry from the inside and learnt a huge amount about the mechanics of getting customers on planes and more generally about how to run a business.  I was also able to save a decent amount of money and my dream of doing something that I felt passionate about was slowly but surely becoming a reality.


In May 2011 I stepped away from Travelport and came back to the UK to set up Glacius Travel, with a focus on a niche service and in particular, corporate ski trips. 


mtl:  Tell us how you went about it…  


Ian:  The business plan was a serious bit of work which kept me out of mischief in the last few months in Dubai.  After draft three, I incorporated Glacius Travel Limited and worked with a fantastic branding company to help produce the corporate identity and build the brand platform.  This included determining the tone, values and principles of the company as well as a mission statement and was a mucgh bigger piece of work than I ever imagined.  Next we had a naming session, worked on the logo and developed the website (which is still and will ever more be continually updated/expanded).   


Shortly after my return from Dubai, I threw some clothes and a tent in my car and set off for the Alps to visit the ski resorts and resort operators that I intended to work with.  This was an amazing three months and a vital element of preparation. Finally I had to get through the lengthy and costly administration process of ABTA and ATOL bonding.    


Glacius has been trading since October 2011.  My first ever clients had won a charity weekend away and got engaged during their trip which made it a special booking for all concerned.  I saw it as a good sign.  Beginning trading from a cold standing start so late in the year meant that I had a slow 2011/2012 season, however we managed to get 100 people through the books, including corporate trips for SJ Berwin and Weil Gotshal, both of which went well.  We are now much busier than imagined so early on and both our corporate and leisure pipelines are looking ever-healthier by the week.


mtl:  What have been the challenges and what do you enjoy most?    


Ian:  My first season was a huge learning curve and a huge life change.  I had underestimated the cost of setting up the business and the amount of work involved in setting it up and running it.  I went from living in a skyscraper in Dubai, working 9-5 with loads of disposable cash to living with my parents and working all hours in their summer house across the frosty lawn! 


My work-load is high, it is difficult to switch off and I can’t justify not working in the evenings or at weekends when there is so much to do.  I work at least twelve hour days and everything comes at a cost.  So far I’ve been spending savings but now the business has to pay for itself. 


I love being my own boss, the autonomy and the freedom of ideas and expression - I feel very lucky.  I have never been more content, or poorer!  I thoroughly enjoy promoting and selling a product that I feel passionate about and that is such a “nice product” and I get much more job satisfaction from it than the Takeover Code could ever offer.   


I am confident that we can grow exponentially year on year as I ensure Glacius delivers a fantastic product with a very high level of service.   Because of my background as a lawyer, attention to detail has been drummed into me - a wrong date inserted in the wrong place can have drastic consquences when dealing with a corporate trip. I constantly check, check and check everything to ensure all is in order at all times. 


mtl:  How does Glacius Travel work?


Ian:  When Glacius receives an enquiry, a time is arranged for a chat on the phone or a meeting in person during which Glacius is frequently instructed to provide a proposal for the board of the client.  We then provide a presentation setting out an executive summary and then some options including information about the proposed resorts, the standard of the skiing on offer, the après ski and the accommodation, a detailed itinerary and the price. 


The USP of Glacius Travel is threefold.  Firstly the owner is an experienced and passionate skier and consequently understands what is suitable from a customer’s point of view (having been one himself). Secondly, one of the many advantages of a legal background is having that eye for detail.  Attention to detail will filter through Glacius as we grow. Thirdly, Glacius is fiercely independent compared to other tour operators as we have no ties or targets.  We deal with vetted transfer companies and chalet owners and suggest only what is ideal for you. 


It is a bespoke, personal service, a “one stop shop” where Glacius does all the hard work.  The only driving force is finding from an overwhelming choice what suits the customer best.  It helps that I have intimate knowledge of each destination and offer independent, honest and professional advice. 


mtl:  Do you have any advice after your first year of trading?


Ian:  Don’t underestimate the task of setting up a business, double the price of what you think it will cost and try to keep your spending down.   I’ve never been happier, so I would say “go for it” but although I’m on the right track, I’m not a success story yet as the business is still very young. 


I’d recommend leaving your options open and I’m glad to have left my last role on good terms.   I am lucky to have a good set of skills to offer in the worst case scenario.   This allows you to really go for it knowing there is a safety net in the event of failure. I feel very lucky and although financially I am currently worse off, I look ahead ten years and try and contain myself as I see massive potential as we crawl out of recession. 


mtl:  Thanks for your time Ian and good luck. 


Click here to see Ian’s website. 


Ian is also able to organise trips (week long and flexible dates) at short notice so do get in touch if you need help booking a ski trip.  Also, if you are a solo skier and fancy taking a ski holiday as group, Glacius is organising a Ski Solo ski trip during Easter week – do contact Ian via the Glacius website if that is something you may be interested in.


If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.


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