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Rising stars: Clear focus, clear ideas

Put yourself in the consumers’ mindset – what are they looking for? For some industry executives that question will be hard to answer because they have a lack of field experience.

Neil Burrows, Goodyear Dunlop Tyres UK group marketing director, believes young managers need a clear idea about their ambitions when they enter the automotive industry. As a marketing expert, he’s fully aware that automotive offers ample opportunities for a marketer, even if they have little interest in cars.

“If you don’t see your future in the car industry and you just want to be a good marketer then get as much marketing experience as you can, but don’t try to move up the ladder. However, if you do want to stay in the industry get out and see the trade at its sharp end, for example as area manager,” Burrows says.

“I had two stints of being out with dealers while at VW and Peugeot, and it’s time well spent. It made me realise that some of the things manufacturers do are stupid, but at the same time if they just pander to the trade all the time the industry will never move on.”

Understanding of customers’ needs is key when forming strategies. And today’s consumer wants high standards, quality service and convenience – they are not willing to simply accept what they’ve had in the past. For a marketer, getting the right message across at board level dictates how successful the company will address the big issues.

At Goodyear Dunlop, Burrows encountered a sales and marketing function that was focused more on sales than marketing. Responsible for all the brands in the group and serving all the business units, from car and truck tyres to motorcycle and the Hi-Q chain of tyre fitters, he built in new processes and brought in people to develop the right strategy to move the company forward.

“It’s been a steep learning curve, not just for me but for the company because they didn’t really know what to expect from the marketing department,” says Burrows. He has spent a lot of time demonstrating to the board where his department adds value, what he’s doing and why.

For Burrows, the decision to make a career in sales and marketing came before the decision to go for a career in the automotive industry. “The passion for cars only came from when I started driving – then I was buying the magazines and watching the motorsport,” he says. “So I thought I’d apply to all the car manufacturers and companies.”

He started at Talbot Motor Company before joining VW Group in the 1980s for a 14-year stretch working in dealer training, product training and marketing at Audi, leaving as head of marketing and PR at Audi UK. It was an active period as VW Group embarked on its Volkswagen and Audi network separation strategy and launched a raft of new models.

From Audi, Burrows joined Nissan in 1998 as UK marketing director. Two years later, following the reorganisation with Renault, he was given the opportunity to move in mainland Europe, first in Amsterdam and then Paris. It was there that, overseeing a multi-national team, the cultural differences became apparent. Take team meetings, for instance.

“If you don’t clearly explain what you are going to do at the meeting you find that the Japanese, for example, will meet up beforehand to make a decision which they expect will be ratified at the meeting,” says Burrows. “The British and Americans go to the meeting expecting to discuss and decide; the French go for the debate and they will not make any decision there and then. So you have to be clear at the outset about what you want to achieve at the meeting – and that is good management experience.”

He believes rising stars cannot limit themselves to a fixed career path – especially one that does not allow for overseas experience. “You’ve got to be prepared to go abroad or you miss out on so much.”

And he says breadth of experience will reveal unexpected opportunities. “Sometimes you don’t know what jobs and roles there are out there. Something that might sound boring could actually turn out to be really good; whereas something that sounds interesting, such as product planning which is a lot about statistical analysis, might not be what you are expecting. Working for a few different bosses is also good for experience because you pick up snippets from them – good and bad.”

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