Timing is everything, they say, and Doug was in the right place at the right time. Not content with providing travel abroad, he also ran executive, champagne-style sporting excursions to various events, including football matches, boxing and speedway. Within a year or two he fell out with Frames over money. At £30 a week, Doug was earning a lot more than other Frames branch managers. The company tried to reduce his wages but Doug would not stand for it. In the end he left and set up Ellis Travel Agency for an outlay of £2,500.
“I’m the founder of the package-tour industry in the Provinces – I began tour operating in 1955 from Birmingham. I was also the first from Manchester, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin and eventually Canada. I formed an alliance with three other travel agents and soon I was able to take people to Spain and Majorca.”
Doug’s business interests continued to grow and at one time he was chairman of nineteen companies. He has built a total of 600 houses in Birmingham, a block of flats and owns several shops. His 59 year-old son, Peter, from his first marriage manages his brewery, producing a million bottles a week. He has owned an electronics company, a building company, three butchers and even two farms! One of his most enduring passions is racehorses; he has bought many over the years, the most recent being ‘Newby Abbey.’ In 1976, Doug decided enough was enough and sold twelve companies in a short period of time.
Doug’s love of football eventually led him to Aston Villa. He joined as Chairman in 1969 when the club was broke. “I loaned the club £100,000 to keep the bank manager off our backs. We couldn’t buy players so we had to breed them.” Doug set up one of the first football academies or school of excellence as it was called then. “It was set up for nine to sixteen year olds and cost us two million pounds a year. When Aston Villa won the European cup, seven of the lads in the squad came from my youth scheme. The moral of the story – breeding is better than buying. That’s why the club had no debt when I sold it.”
Doug has been criticised by some fans for being miserly, but he makes no apologies for having been a hands-on chairman with ‘sensible, prudent housekeeping’ as his primary concern. “It’s hard to accept the criticism,” he says, “at one time there were as many as nine threats on my life in one day. Every day I had a threatening call and one day a huge lorry came up the drive and knocked all the trellis down here.” He leans out of his chair to point to the side of the house. “Six inch nails up the side of my Rolls. But I knew I was doing the right thing. Eventually it’s proven to be so.”
Doug is also sure that Martin O’Neill, the thirteenth and final manager he appointed before he sold the club, will prove to be the right one. With American billionaire Randolph (Randy) Lerner in charge as the new chairman, it is hard for Doug to stand by as an exciting new era unfolds. It was ill health that forced him to sell the club and retire in August 2006, after 38 years service, but it wasn’t a decision he took lightly. He always wanted the best for Aston Villa, and turned down two other serious offers before accepting Randy’s cash offer, which Doug believes will maintain the financial stability he has built at the club