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Search begins for the industry’s Rising Stars

Are you a dreamer? Honda UK managing director and European executive vice president Ken Keir believes everyone should have an idea about the type of life they want to live – he calls it “creating your own dream”.

Keir, chairman of the AM/Courland Automotive Practice Rising Stars, sponsored by Bank of Scotland Corporate, says the dream is important to help future leaders achieve their career ambitions.

“I’m amazed at how many young people don’t have this – many are in their late twenties but they don’t know what kind of life they want at 40,” he adds.

“Ask yourself ‘how do you want to lead your life; what quality of life do you want?’ Not everyone wants to work the long hours, but they need to have their own career goals and work towards them in a progressive way. My advice is to create your own dream. It needs to be achievable and within a defined time span.”

The Rising Stars awards, now in their second year, honour the leaders of tomorrow; those people who will drive forward and shape the automotive industry and the company that are nurturing the talent. Keir has a definite view of the type of person who should win – someone who understands the difference between management skills and leadership.

“The industry has been guilty in the past of talking management but not taking the lead,” he says. “I will be looking for an individual with the skills to confidently lead the business and the people in a way that makes them feel good. It requires humility, authenticity and motivational skills.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# “Rising Stars is a great opportunity to give the next generation of leaders some recognition.” So, if he was looking for his own successor, what are his key criteria? “I’m not a believer in having a clone of yourself in a succession plan – I wouldn’t be looking for another Ken Keir. Essential requirements are honesty, authenticity, a degree of discipline, interpersonal skills, vision and a positive attitude.

“There are lots of highly committed people who operate on the basis that it can all go wrong. You should, of course, create an environment with a fall-back position, but you have to be positive. You also need to be able to articulate your vision in a way that people can understand and in a way that inspires them. You shouldn’t try to be a wordsmith.

“The best advice I ever received was from an individual who wasn’t that senior but who created an environment where you believed in yourself. He used little words like ‘trust your judgement’, which built your confidence. Lots of people have the ability but don’t trust their own judgement. Be yourself, think it through and trust your judgment.”

Inherent leadership skills

Are leadership skills inherent or can they be taught? Keir agrees with those who say leaders are born – he points to the person at school who captained the rugby or football team – but he also believes that most people have leadership skills, which can be developed.

“But it’s hard to teach. They have to experience good leadership and see it happening in practice,” he adds.

Keir’s own journey through the motor industry took in a five-year engineering apprenticeship and a spell with British Leyland before what he terms his “key move”. Joining Peugeot in 1984 just as it was getting together with Talbot could’ve been viewed as a risky choice, but Keir believed it was an opportunity to join a small company with big potential. He became regional director and names Peugeot UK’s respected former managing director Tod Evans as a big influence.

He took a similar decision when moving to Honda in 1989, then a small company without a UK manufacturing base. “It’s about not looking at what the company is today, but looking at what the opportunity is for tomorrow,” he says. That opportunity included setting up a car plant in Swindon and more than tripling new car sales over the 16-year period (2005: 98,344 units).

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Making a real difference

The Keir philosophy is to ignore jobs where the company is performing well, instead opting for one where he can make a real difference. “It’s not necessarily about taking a huge risk, but there is an element of seeing whether I can match the opportunity that I think is there. The only risk is if you believe you can’t do it,” he says.

His biggest error was a failure to understand the importance of a former role in business planning. “At the time I couldn’t stand it but I use the experience all the time now. It was the mental discipline that you had to go through – I didn’t appreciate what it gives you for the future.”

Keir is confident the motor industry is attracting a high calibre of new staff, despite claims from some retailers about a skills shortage. He puts it down to an image makeover during the past 10 years thanks to the hard work of carmakers and dealers.

“There are real opportunities for people all over the industry, especially in retailing,” he says. “This influx of people is down to the work that the industry does. The number of graduates we get applying to Honda is many, many times the number we can take on. And we don’t often meet people who aren’t that good – and that’s great for the industry.”

And he issues a challenge to rising stars: “The next generation of business leaders are in the industry now working their way through – that’s who we are hoping to find.”


How to enter

Are you or do you know a Rising Star? Between now and June 23, 2006, AM and Courland Automotive Practice are looking for the next generation of leaders – those who will shape the strategic direction and dictate future policies of our industry.

Now in its second year, Rising Stars, sponsored by Bank of Scotland Corporate, is a unique chance to celebrate the people who are making a difference, and to praise the companies developing the talent.

A specialist panel of senior industry directors has been set up to judge the entries. It will be chaired by Honda UK managing director Ken Keir and advised by AM editor Stephen Briers and Courland Automotive Practice global managing partner Martin Bohling.

Three finalists from four core industry sectors – retail (car sales and repairs), manufacturer, fleet/leasing and industry supplier – will be identified in six categories:

  • Marketing
  • Human resources
  • Sales
  • General management
  • Finance
  • Public relations

    To qualify, you must be under 40 and submit the following:

  • A summary of your career to date
  • A brief outline of your current role, business challenge and key priorities
  • Three key achievements which demonstrate innovation, leadership and business improvement.

    Following a rigorous evaluation process, finalists and an overall Rising Stars winner will be announced at an exclusive dinner at the National Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham on September 12.

    Email nominations and submissions by June 23, 2006 to or complete the form on the wesbite #AM_ART_SPLIT# The Rising Stars 2006 Judges

    FINANCE Jon Olsen, BCA chief executive
    Jon Olsen is chief executive of BCA, Europe’s biggest vehicle remarketing company with 40 centres, handling more than 1.3m vehicles per year.
    Category sponsor: Capital Bank Motor

    SALES Nigel Stead, Lloyds TSB Autolease
    Managing director Nigel Stead set up Autolease in 2000 after Lloyds TSB bought Chartered Trust. He has also worked for Appleyard, Velo and JCT600.
    Category sponsor: Rockingham

    MARKETING Paul Wilcox, Nissan Europe
    Wilcox, Nissan Europe vice president, strategy and marketing, has been with Nissan since 1992 and is a former Nissan GB marketing director.
    Category sponsor: Google

    HR Gill Banham, Jardine Motor Group
    Group HR director at Jardine, Gill Banham oversees delivery of HR, management training and customer services.
    Category sponsor: automotive skills

    PR Graham Biggs, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars
    As corporate communications director, Biggs heads an international team at the Goodwood head office. Biggs directed the public launch of the Phantom.
    Category sponsor: pf and pr

    Sold his Reg Vardy business to Pendragon in February and is now considering his options in the motor retail business. Highly respected by his peers, Sir Peter was named AM personality of the year in 2003.
    Category sponsor: tbc #AM_ART_SPLIT# BoS backs awards

    Bank of Scotland Corporate and subsidiary Capital Bank Motor are taking on headline sponsorship of this year’s Rising Star Awards, which recognize rising talent and leaders of the future in the automotive industry.

    The Bank’s commitment extends to the prestigious Overall 2006 award – the highest accolade of the evening, which will be presented to the winner of winners.

    Tom Woolgrove, head of motor, says, “We’re delighted to be on board this year. The Awards represent a key partnership for us, as we work closely with a variety of businesses across the automotive markets. Our sponsorship offers an excellent opportunity to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the motor sector and celebrate its continued success and prosperity.”

    Capital Bank Motor, the point of sale finance specialist which is also part of Halifax Bank of Scotland Group, is sponsoring the Finance category awarded in recognition of excellence by individuals who can demonstrate innovation, leadership and measurable business improvement.

    Rising Stars partner

    Courland Automotive Practice is the only resourcing firm dedicated exclusively to the global automotive industry.

    With unrivalled knowledge of all automotive sectors and an extensive network of industry contacts, Courland has established a reputation for high quality executive search, interim management and consulting services to the automotive leaders of today…and tomorrow.

    WEBSITE: Rising Stars online.

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