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Rising stars: Strength in numbers

"The car has been one of the most fundamental changes in society – it has given so much freedom to everyone and there’s nothing in the foreseeable future that will replace it."

Peter Phillips, chief finance officer, European Full Service Leasing, at GMAC’s Interleasing division, is clear on one thing: the automotive sector offers young managers a career for life, one that is challenging and that pres-ents an unparalleled level of diversity.

"There is enormous scope for places to work and huge opportunities that will stretch individuals to their fullest potential. If you are interested in cars and have the right skills set, there is a very interesting and fulfilling career waiting for you,” he says. “This is an industry with a future, one that is a critical part of the economy."

One of those opportunities is in finance, arguably the most significant position in any business. Skills and qualifications are transferable between most industries, which is good for up and coming managers, but can be an issue for leasing.

"There are not enough young people – the rising stars – coming through into the leasing sector," says Phillips. "The industry has not invested enough in training and has relied too much on the transfer of skills sets from the ‘big four’ accountancy firms. It’s up to the industry to put its house in order by creating career development paths to give people the opportunities."

Phillips started his career as a management accountant trainee at Dunlop and then Granada. He joined General Motors in 1988 after answering a job ad at Vauxhall – "I’d driven Vauxhalls through choice previously” – which enabled him to mix his two loves: cars and finance.

While at GM, Phillips was the finance director for the Epsilon platform in Germany which was responsible for the development of the Vectra. So was he simply the bean counter?

"The media always blames the finance guys for cars not coming to market in their original form, but you have to balance the customer’s needs with what the company can afford. Bean counting is important because you need to know what the profit from your investment is. That contributes to the pricing, the positioning of the car and its specification."

But that’s only part of the job. Good finance directors have the capacity to develop a wider vision.

They have to be able to interpret numbers and have the capability to turn them in to a strategic view of the business. Numbers are only the tool – it’s what done with them and how the findings are sold to senior management that is the critical part.

Phillips spent four years in Germany, and, before that, three in France. He rates the decision to work abroad as his best career move, and urges young managers to take advantage of any opportunity to travel or work outside the UK.

"Working abroad opened a huge new world both professionally and personally. It shows you that there are different ways of doing things and enables you to learn from the best of each culture," he says.

"But you have to be sensitive about how to apply different thinking in other countries. You can’t just go in with a ‘this is the way it shall be’ diktat, you have to appreciate how to sell it and understand why people react in a certain way. A lot of my role was about selling what we were trying to do and it’s very difficult to do this without the experience of working abroad. The automotive industry is close to being a global market so it helps to learn the differences that drive peoples’ behaviour."

In 2001, Phillips moved across to GM’s leasing division, Interleasing. He now heads the finance function of the European business with 1,200 staff and assets exceeding $2bn. His current role is focused on integrating the Interleasing European businesses to provide pan-European services to clients as well as local services.

"Customers are looking to the industry to provide a one-stop shop, striking pan European deals, and the industry is still racing to catch up. We are at the forefront of that. We need to drive towards a common approach which will produce a fully integrated business, whether it’s looking at how to get residual values setting right, pricing, invoicing, or systems."

He’s also responsible for the strategic direction of the finance function for the full service leasing group, identifying challenges and keeping an eye on competitors.

"Technology means the transactional side of the business will become considerably smaller and the analytical side will become more strategically important – we need to be able to take advantage of the opportunities whenever they come."

CV

1981-1983: Dunlop Aerospace, trainee accountant
1983-1986: Granada TV Rental, management accountant
1986-1988: Granada strategic planner
1988-1990: Vauxhall comptroller, sales and marketing
1990-1993: GME (Zurich), European pricing manager
1993-1994: GM Austria, financial controller
1994-1997: Opel France, CFO
1997-2001: GME (Germany), FD, mid-size/large cars platform (Epsilon)
2001-2003: Interleasing, CFO, company secretary and HR director
2004-current: GMAC European Full Service Leasing, CFO

Rising Stars: the judges

Roger Putnam, Ford of Britain, chairman

Adrian Joseph, group sales & marketing director, Trafficmaster

Stuart Dyble, PAG & Ford of Europe VP of communications

Nick Smith, Inchcape plc global HR director

Neil Burrows, Goodyear Dunlop group marketing director

Sarah Sillars, Institute of the Motor industry chief executive

How to enter

Are you or do you know a Rising Star? Between now and February 28, 2005, we are looking for the next generation of leaders – those who will shape the strategic direction and dictate future policies of our industry.

To qualify, individuals must be under 40 and already excelling in their field – whether retail, repair, manufacturer, supplier or fleet/leasing. Awards categories are marketing, sales, learning & development, finance, HR and PR.

Following a rigorous evaluation process, finalists and an overall winner in each category will be announced at an exclusive Awards lunch in London on April 21, 2005.

To be considered, you need to submit:

  • A summary of your career to date
  • A brief outline of your current role, business challenges and key priorities (150 words max)
  • Three key achievements which demonstrate: innovation, leadership, measurable and sustained business improvement

    Email nominations and submissions to risingstars@courland.com by February 28.

    Rising Stars: in association with Courland

    Courland Automotive Practice is the only ‘exclusively automotive’ resourcing firm providing executive search, interim management, middle management recruitment and consulting services to the worldwide automotive industry – www.courland.com

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