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Master Entrepreneur: Keith Mills

The Times: Games bid winner has a record of marketing triumphs: Master Entrepreneur: Keith Mills

“At the time, I was working for an advertising agency for both Shell and BA,” he says. “Both wanted a way to foster customer loyalty. I started scribbling some notes and came up with the idea that customers who bought petrol from Shell would win miles from BA. This was the start of Air Miles.”

Tuesday 4 October 2005

By Michelle Henery

KEITH MILLS’s background in marketing helped to turn the self-confessed “Essex boy” from humble beginnings into a prolific entrepreneur now known as “the man who masterminded London’s winning bid” for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Yet before the Master Entrepreneur of the Year joined the London Olympic bid team, he had started up more than a dozen companies in the past two decades and is best known for inventing customer-loyalty schemes.

Mr Mills, 55, was running his third advertising agency, Mills Smith & Partners, when he devised Air Miles, the British arm of which he sold to British Airways in 1987.

“At the time, I was working for an advertising agency for both Shell and BA,” he says. “Both wanted a way to foster customer loyalty. I started scribbling some notes and came up with the idea that customers who bought petrol from Shell would win miles from BA. This was the start of Air Miles.”

This concept enabled retail companies to reward customer loyalty with a common currency that could be redeemed for airline travel. Mills launched the Air Miles programme in Britain in 1988, before taking the concept to several overseas markets.

Four years later, he launched Nectar, Britain’s largest customer loyalty programme. It rewards more than 50 per cent of British households each year. He chairs Loyalty Management, which owns and manages the Nectar programme and licenses Air Miles programmes worldwide.

If he were to sell Loyalty Management, analysts say that it would be worth an estimated £150 million. Turnover in the year to September 2004 was £211 million.

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