Acorne plc...

our people

Richard Gyselynck, Director

Richard Gyselynck

In 1989, Acorne was born out of Richard’s love of flying and a desire to share the experience with a wider audience when he launched the UK’s first ever nationwide experience voucher for flying lessons.

Richard graduated in Geography from Downing College, Cambridge. He began his career with Price Waterhouse, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in 1979, before joining his family business - Wycombe Air Centre - which he subsequently sold to an MBO in 1999.

As Acorne developed its experience day business, Richard identified an opportunity to work with Richard Branson’s Virgin Voucher in 1999, offering Acorne’s flying lessons as the perfect redemption partner for the innovative brand. This initiative developed into Virgin Experience Days, for which Acorne successfully negotiated the brand licence and continues to manage both brands, working closely with the Virgin Management team.

More recently, Richard led the successful negotiations to acquire Leisure Vouchers from Whitbread plc and Exhilaration from, and continues to be involved in the overall strategic development of the company.

Richard’s passion for flying hasn’t diminished; he still enjoys flying balloons, holds a fixed wing licence and has chalked up an impressive 25 years in the Territorial Army.

Andrew Dent, Director

Co-owner of Acorne, Andrew has over 35 years’ business experience. He studied at Imperial College, London before beginning his career in the motor industry in 1975. He went on to launch contract publishing and publishing services businesses in 1983, which he later sold to private investors and WPP Group respectively.

Andrew’s passion for flying led to his developing a voucher for helicopter trial lessons in 1987, through which he was introduced to Richard Gyselynck. Andrew subsequently acquired 50% of the company and joined the team, working closely with Richard to develop Acorne into the major gift card and experience brand business it is today.

Beyond Acorne, Andrew has a number of other business interests, in companies engaged in aircraft leasing and operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs/drones). His love of flying continues and he holds both fixed wing and helicopter pilots’ licences. Back at ground level he enjoys riding his 1200c BMW motorcycle around Europe.

John Fleming, Chairman

John brings a wide experience of business management, mergers and acquisitions to the Chairmanship of Acorne.

Having qualified as a chemical engineer at the University of Cape Town, he worked in the industry before joining multinational management consultancy P-E Consulting Group.

John became CEO of the company’s South African subsidiary at the age of 31, leading a management buyout and building the company from 30 to 350 employees before completing a sale of the business and emigrating to the UK.

In London, John purchased boutique mergers and acquisitions business, Chesham Amalgamations, which specialises in SMEs and he successfully ran this business for 20 years.

John has served as a non-executive director on the boards of UK, Dutch, and South African based multinationals. He has also chaired the Child Welfare Society in South Africa.

Paul O’Brien, Managing Director

Paul is responsible for the day-to-day running of Acorne and the strategic development of its markets, services and products.

Paul joined the business in 2005, steering Acorne from annual sales of £6.5 million to £27.5 million and developing a diverse portfolio of experience days, vouchers and gift card brands.

He has extensive senior management experience in the retail, consumer and leisure sectors including Rolls Royce Motors, Kurt Salmon and Ben Sherman.

Paul was a Director at Silverstone Circuits between 1995-2005 where he developed the driving experience business from its racing school base into the UK’s leading provider of performance and specialist driving tuition.

Paul was Chairman of ARDS (The Association of Racing Drivers’ Schools) from 1994 to 2014. He has a BSc in Economics from the University of Wales.

Away from the office, Paul is busy restoring the historic orchard at his Northamptonshire home and after many tune-free years, still teaching himself the acoustic guitar.

Chris Smith, Marketing Director

As Marketing Director, Chris is responsible for the strategic marketing and buying functions at Acorne PLC.

Chris joined Acorne in 2007 when the company acquired Leisure Vouchers from Whitbread PLC. He brings more than 20 years voucher industry experience to the business having worked for a voucher promotion agency before joining Whitbread PLC as Retail Development Manager for Leisure Vouchers in 1995. During his time with Whitbread, Chris also held senior marketing roles within the restaurants and hotels divisions including the Beefeater and Premier Inns brands. He was part of the team responsible for negotiating the company’s early adoption of the Nectar customer loyalty programme.

At Acorne, Chris has overseen development of the company’s online and mobile presence which includes ten corporate and retail web sites for the company’s experience and gift card portfolio.

Chris has also developed Acorne’s buying capabilities and grown the product portfolio from 300 to over 1,500 lines. Today Acorne is known for its innovative product portfolio, securing exclusive offers, brand partnerships and experience packages.

Chris graduated in Business Studies from Middlesex University. He has a Post Graduate Diploma from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and has recently completed the Advanced Development Programme at The Cranfield School of Management.

Outside Acorne, Chris manages an under - 12s football team. He also keeps his own foot in, playing in a weekly nine-a-side league.

Dave Cunningham FCA, Commercial Director

Dave joined Acorne in 2012 and combines the role of Financial Director with commercial responsibilities to ensure the company remains profitable across its range of products. This involves leading the senior management team on all financial aspects of company strategy, target setting, monitoring product performance and technical and system enhancements to improve efficiency.

In 2012, Dave led the technical team in implementing a new Supplier Verification System to deliver improved financial security and processing efficiencies to Acorne’s suppliers, numbering over 700. Dave graduated from Heriot-Watt University with a BSc in Chemistry and Maths and in 1989 qualified in accountancy with Deloitte Haskins & Sells (now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers) and spent time working for the company in Johannesburg. On his return to the UK he worked with computer audit division of Coopers and Lybrand before taking on the role of Finance Director at Silverstone Circuits.

During his time at Silverstone, Dave developed the ticketing database and seating systems for the British F1TM Grand Prix. He was also part of the commercial team who successfully sold the circuit operating rights to the global marketing services group Interpublic in a deal headlined at over $100 million.

Prior to joining Acorne, Dave ran his own accountancy firm, specialising in the event organisation industry.

In his spare time Dave enjoys playing squash and golf.

Sam Roberts, Operations Director

Sam joined Acorne in 1997, coming from a background in the engineering industry, and brings to the Board an in depth knowledge of Acorne’s products, processes, suppliers and customers. From its modest beginnings in small offices at the Wycombe Air Centre, Sam has played a key role in ensuring Acorne’s delivery capability has kept pace with its growth and diversification.

As Operations Director Sam’s responsibilities include Customer Service, Administration and Fulfilment, premises and facilities and the management of retailer partnerships. Her focus is on delivering excellent service and products to our B2B and B2C customers and ensuring that lean, efficient processes underpin our profitability. As part of her leadership development, in 2012, Sam completed the Advanced Management Programme at the Henley Business School.

A winner of the coveted Virgin Star Award in recognition of her work in 2006, Sam has enjoyed the ultimate Virgin experience by holidaying with Richard Branson and family on his private island, Necker, no less. On a less exotic note, away from her extremely busy role at work she enjoys travelling with her husband.

Our brands

We manage a portfolio of key brands in the market place, including:

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