In this article: The former CEO of Pendragon, now head of consultancy New World Automotive, talks about his journey from apprentice mechanic to industry grandee
What was your first job in auto retail and why did you choose it?
My first job was as an apprentice mechanic. I had long been interested in motorbikes and worked on them to keep them going. That experience helped me land that first job.
Why did you stick with retail?
I found that opportunities kept coming my way in the organisation I’d joined. The new roles always tested me and pushed me a bit further, so I suppose the industry stuck with me really!
How did you decide which career path to take?
As I learned how business worked and how the automotive industry was set up, there were lots of avenues to choose from. It seemed to me that the person I worked for always had the better job, so my next goal was always to have their role or one like it.
How did you make that happen?
I went to technical college, and in the final year of the course I studied management. This gave me an IMI-recognised qualification. I got my first management role as a Service Manager when I was 23.
How did your career develop from there?
At 26, I was promoted to be the General Manager of the dealership where I was working. A few years later, I met a couple of guys who were a lot older than me, 36 and 40, and they said they had plans to grow the business, so we bought up some dealerships together. This group later became Pendragon when we listed on the London Stock Exchange, having demerged the vehicle division of Williams plc in 1989. By then, I was the CEO and we were operating 19 car dealerships, both specialist and luxury franchises, as well as a small contract hire business. Along the way, Pendragon acquired the Stratstone brand, followed by Pinewood Computers [including its dealer management system] and Evans Halshaw. The group bought Reg Vardy in 2006 and Dixon Motors after that.
What are your goals for the future?
I still have energy to expend and some money to invest. That means I can keep doing the things I enjoy. The automotive industry is moving fast, so having plenty of energy will be essential. That can only be a good thing for me and my team.
Is there anything you would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Lots and lots. I should have moved faster and given over more responsibility to young people sooner. There are too many leaders holding on to the reins when younger people with more energy (and often more relevant experience to today’s world) should be making the decisions.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in auto retail?
There will be lots of change and with that comes lots of opportunities. Choose who you work with, and be loyal and committed to them if they’re loyal and committed to you. It’s a huge industry, and it seems to be entering a new age where the customer really is king. Make the most of it.