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Rising stars: Clear vision - it’s a winner

Paul Philpott, the overall winner of the first ever Rising Stars, had just one chance to pick up the award.


Paul Philpott recieves his winner's plate from Delma O'Brien, Ashridge director of corporate communications

“I’m 40 next year so this was my one-off shot to win this,” he says. The upper age limit for entrants to the AM Rising Stars, in association with Courland Automotive Practice, is 40.

The Toyota (GB) commercial director for sales, marketing and aftersales has enjoyed a 17-year career in the automotive industry after gaining his finance degree in 1986, sponsored by a bank.

But one year in financial services was enough to persuade Philpott his future lay elsewhere.

Fuelled by a love of cars – “the car is central to daily life and everyone has a view about it” – he joined Ford’s sales and marketing graduate programme in 1988 and was with the company until 1997 working for influential chairman Ian McAllister in various sales and marketing roles.

In 1997 he was headhunted by Toyota GB to help improve its marketing and focus on brand development – Philpott calls leaving Ford the “hardest decision” he’s had to make.

“It is the market leader and I enjoyed a nine-year career. But I wanted to see how another major automotive company performed with potential to grow,” he says.

In 1999 Philpott became Toyota marketing director, and was promoted to commercial director in 2003 with responsibility for sales and marketing; he added the aftersales function in 2004.

During that time he has seen Toyota move from niche player to the UK’s seventh biggest carmaker (not including its Lexus premium brand), with consistent year-on-year growth in sales and market share. Since 1997, UK new car sales have risen 75% to more than 121,000 units, taking Toyota’s total car parc to 1.1m, while brand loyalty is 52% and rising.

Toyota’s emphasis is markedly different from Ford. At Ford, Philpott was educated on analysis, planning, measurability and accountability. At Toyota he has added long-term vision, the importance of respecting people and teamwork – there is less ego at the Japanese company.

“I have been lucky to work for the best American and the best Japanese car companies,” Philpott says. “Ford showed me how to succinctly form an argument and about being decisive and the importance of effective implementation. The philosophy of continuous improvement is a key learning from Toyota – there is always a better way of doing things.”

The industry’s instant sales measurability through the DVLA and SMMT registration system lends itself to ongoing analysis. It’s something Philpott both loves and hates. With figures available every day it can dupe companies into making too many short-term decisions. “You can get sucked into worshipping daily sales,” he says. “Yet we all revel in it and it makes things exciting because we can measure daily and on such a detailed level.”

Short-termism is not a Toyota foible, however. “I’ve learnt about long-term planning and establishing a clear vision. Toyota focuses on meeting the short-term elements of the long-term plan to achieve its strategy,” Philpott says.

Compared with the Rising Stars judges, business leaders who are shaping strategic direction and dictating future policy, Philpott has one noticeable gap in his experience – working abroad. It’s something he acknowledges and is keen to address. “There is a growing opportunity for Toyota in Europe and the US, and I’m willing to work anywhere as long as I can learn from the market I’m in as well as make a contribution to that market.”

At present he speaks no foreign languages – would that be a barrier? “I’m not afraid to learn and have a go, but the business throws up so many challenges. Doing it in a foreign language would add to that challenge, without which perhaps I couldn’t fulfil my ambitions or contribute to the maximum extent.”

And while not ruling out other opportunities, Philpott is keen to stay at Toyota: “I’d love to go abroad and get the experience and then come back as managing director of Toyota GB.”

He adds: “I was very impressed with the calibre of finalists in the Rising Stars which underlines how strong the industry is in terms of people. It’s been a challenging few years so it’s good to see so many talented people rise to the top. Winning this award is also a reflection of the people I have worked with and learnt from.”

Category winners – in their own words

Marketing: Finbar McFall Range Rover brand manager, Land Rover

“It’s great to be recognised amongst this group of peers.

“I’m lucky enough to be working with great products – if you can’t create a good marketing strategy with products like the Discovery and Range Rover Sport, then there’s no hope!

“I work with a great bunch of people, and, although it seems to be the buzzword of the moment, we are genuinely passionate about what we do. How many times do you hear people claiming to be passionate about things, and you think ‘yes but are you really?'

“Land Rover is a brand that invades you – you end up not being able to understand why anyone would want any other product!

“We have a really good set of leaders and that’s what I feel really grateful for and why I feel fortunate to work for Land Rover.”

Human resources: Claire Farnell Human resources and customer relations manager, RH Patterson & Co

“I’m flattered that I’ve achieved this level of recognition, but it would not be possible without the support of our directors.

“I’ve worked with unsupportive directors in the past and found it both frustrating and unrewarding. “But at RH Patterson & Co they really encourage me to come in with fresh ideas. I like to think outside the box and they like that. They have given me the scope and breadth to push forward – not just within HR, but also to develop with other facets of the business.

“Working with other departments has given me more credibility and become more commercially aware. “This has allowed me to see what challenges and barriers our managers face and gain their respect as result.”

Learning and development: David Allison Programme director, Centre of Automotive Management, Henry Ford College

“The Rising Stars awards has been an extremely interesting process.

“The award isn’t about me, but about the team at the college. They are outstanding, so picking an individual to award seems unfair.

“I have a very supportive management team, which have allowed me to try new ideas. I don’t believe that training provides a competitive advantage, but rather it is the application of that training, which gives a competitive advantage.

The next big challenge is to convert those organisations that simply see training as a cost. To make them see that the successful application of training benefits both the individual and the organisation as a whole – everyone wins.”

Public relations: Fiona Pargeter Product affairs manager, Ford Motor Company

“I was delighted and a little surprised to have won the award, given the strength of the other candidates.

“One of the reasons I wanted to work with Ford, was the sheer size of the organisation. With one of the country’s largest in-house public affairs teams, the vastness of the issues we deal with is incredible. The breadth of experience I have gained is invaluable, and I know that Ford’s public relations department has proved to be something of a training ground for many PR professionals, now in other car companies.

“Everyday is different. I come into wok thinking ‘what challenges will I face today?’ But that’s what makes it so exciting, when I see Ford covered positively in the media, I get a real buzz.”

Finance: Nooren Hirjani Finance director, Rockingham Motor Speedway

“I am thoroughly delighted to have been awarded this accolade, but it belongs as much to the Rockingham team as a whole, as it does to me as an individual.

“I think the Rising Stars awards are a great idea and look forward to AM and Courland Automotive Practice building on the momentum of this inaugural event. In my capacity at Rockingham, I am also responsible for sales as well as human resources.

“My philosophy has always been people first, and profits follow. This approach is fundamental to both our own people and our customers.

“It’s all about bringing people with you, rather than dragging or pushing them. It’s a subtle but important difference - but this way, we move forward together and positively.”

Chairman’s Commendation: Andrew Walker Fleet Auction Group

“I was exceptionally pleased to win the Chairman’s Commendation and I thought the whole process was brilliant.

“To be questioned by people of this calibre and to be made to really think got me fired up. To receive recognition for what we are doing as a company, to get that stamp of approval is a real boost.

Fleet Auction Group could have gone down the easy route but we have remained true to our principles.

We believe big changes are needed in the industry and although it’s a big wheel to turn, someone has to start it off.

Hopefully in four or five year’s time things will have changed in the industry for good, and we will look back at this period and our business strategy as being an important catalyst in that change.”

Without experimenting and taking risks the rewards won’t come

David Richards, Pro-Drive chairman

“We apply the same principles learnt from our motor racing side, throughout our diverse team of people. I see AM Rising Stars as the award for the organisations that create this young talent – without which it is difficult for the talent to come through.

“We have a very different view of developing talent. Our principle is to look for people that really stand out in one particular sphere.

At Pro-Drive we focus and nurture talent.

“The larger the company, the more the tendency to become risk-averse, encouraging clones and staying with what’s known and comfortable. I’d rather take risks; employ extraordinary people and manage the business around them.

“Having identified people who will compliment the team we have a rigorous assessment programme to ensure people are open to change, not frightened by the challenge and rise to the occasion. Our role is to look for people who stretch us and our boundaries. We then apply differing approaches to nurturing their talent.

“There are three key points to ensuring a successful team – nurturing talent, the freedom to explore and an effective support process.

“To nurture talent, putting people in the right environment is vital. This entails allowing the headroom to explore new ideas and approaches. The larger the company, the harder it is to put this into practice. But it is key that people experiment, that they are allowed to make mistakes in an environment where we can afford for them to fail. This may mean they are given projects away from the normal business, that they are outside the comfort zone. This brings results right across the board, from finance through to creative.

“In addition, we run a mentoring process throughout the business. Even our race drivers receive feedback via 360º appraisals with the engineers after an event. The openness of this environment has really upped our game.

“We strive to look for people who stand out, not necessarily fit in. Know that talent needs to be motivated and take risks in order to gain exceptional people you get exceptional results. And remember, if we are not prepared to take risks, the rewards won’t be there for us at the end.”

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