Aston 50th Anniversary: Sir Doug Ellis

50 Aston Greats: Sir Doug Ellis

Sir Doug Ellis

Sir Doug Ellis received an Honorary Degree from Aston in 2007. He is one of the University’s closest friends. He is recognised as the pioneer of the package holiday industry and was Chairman and owner of travel companies such as Mato, Global, Sunflight, Jetway, and Ellis Travel.  

Sir Doug's other business activities have included electronics, insurance, farming and retailing. He was Chairman of 19 companies before relinquishing the majority of them to concentrate on the Chairmanship of Aston Villa Plc, for which he is perhaps best known today. He was Chairman of Aston Villa Football Club for 35 years and is now the Club's Honorary Life President.  He has been a member of the Football Association Council, and was a Member of its International Committee.

He is deeply committed to Birmingham, and is one of the city’s leading philanthropists. Sir Doug was instrumental in assisting Aston University to deliver major refurbishments to the Sir Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre that is benefitting the University and local community. He was awarded the OBE for services to football and the community in 2004. 

When did your connection to Birmingham start?

I remember the boys in the Navy wanting to bring their girlfriends or wives to the places that we had been. They were all saying “When I get out of this lot, I am going to bring my wife or girlfriend here” but I wondered how they would organise it. I thought that I should get into the travel business because there was an opportunity here.

I got a job with Frames Tours based in Preston in March 1946 and I learnt the travel business there, but I wanted to start on my own and I thought that the best place to start would be Birmingham.

I opened a little office in Hockley, and soon got a very good job with the Canadian Government, interviewing prospective emigrants to Canada and issuing the airline tickets - which put me in good stead. In 1952 I started tour operating from an office in Cannon Street, just off New Street.  I chartered a DC3 and in those early days it was so basic that my mother used to cut the sandwiches and I served them all the way from Birmingham to Palma! In 1959, I bought my first aeroplane (a 90-seater) and it did 27 flights a week to Nice, Rimini, Venice, Naples, Palermo, Palma, Ibiza, Menorca and subsequently, Valencia and Malaga. In the winter - Tenerife and Los Palmas.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Being the founder of the package-tour holiday outside of London, so that people in the provinces did not have to go to London to get on a package tour or fly. We went from Birmingham to start with, then Manchester and Glasgow; then Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin. I was the founder of all of those departures and was finally carrying 3,000 people a week from these cities. The travel business really made me.

How did you get involved with Aston University?

I wasn’t lucky enough to go to a university and whilst in the Navy, I envied those Lieutenants and Sub-Lieutenants who had all been to university. Aston Villa Football Club became my second home and Aston University was therefore an obvious university to get involved with and to support. Thinking of my background - that I did not have the opportunity to get a university education - if I could help those in need, then I would.

What do you think of Aston University today?

I am very impressed; it is certainly growing!

What encouraged you to support the Woodcock Sports Centre that is now named for you? 

Talking about it to friends of mine, whenever I mention ‘Woodcock’ they almost always said “Yes, I learnt to swim there”. It is very well known and important to the city. I am delighted that I supported it.

Do you have any advice for today’s graduates?

There were two things that I was taught as a boy. Firstly, “An apple well bought is half sold”. This means, whatever you buy, buy it right and it will always increase in value. This applies to everything. Secondly; there is no substitute for hard work.