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Rising Stars: Ambition, vision and courage

Far too many general managers don’t have an ambitious enough vision for their business. Sir Peter Vardy, one of the most successful car retailers of his generation, says many are opting for the easy life to get a reasonable return.

“Too many people are ticking over at 2,000 revs, but if they hit 6,000 revs they would be able to see the real business potential,” he says.

“If you want an exceptional return, then you need an exceptional vision – it takes planning and structure. And it must be shared with staff to put in place a strategy with time-scales to achieve the vision.”

Sir Peter shaped his business goals under the tutorship of his father and company founder Reg Vardy. And one big lesson helped to push the group into the retail big leagues.

“My father had a fantastic ethos and values as a businessman. But sometimes he was not courageous enough to make the big decisions because he didn’t like debt,” says Sir Peter.

“We would often drive around and he’d say ‘I nearly bought that dealership’, or ‘I could’ve bought that one’, or ‘I should’ve bought that one’. I didn’t want to get to age 66 and drive around saying those things to my sons. So I decided to take the courageous decisions, but also to commit the money, people and stock to make it work – and it has.”

Other Rising Stars judges have pushed the need for category managers to understand every aspect of their business. But while for them it’s beneficial, for the general manager it is essential.

When Sir Peter began working for his father, he was washing cars on Saturdays. He worked his way through each department spending time as a mechanic, panel beater, spray painter and salesman.

“You can’t manage the business properly unless you understand every aspect,” he says. “The pressure on a general manager comes from the business owner or the manufacturer. With the restructuring of margins you have to hit new car targets and standards to have any chance of making a decent bottom line return. But it is easy to forget used cars and aftersales and you need these departments firing on all cylinders if you are to get returns of more than 3%.

“General managers need to remember that if the business employs 35 people, 35 people have to be motivated and communicated with – it’s no good spending all your time in the sales department.”

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Part of the problem is due to the way companies handle the calibre of people the industry attracts – traditionally 16-year-old school leavers with few qualifications who become sales staff, then sales managers and, eventually, general managers. They have received no post-16 qualifications and have no other experience in running the dealership.

“It’s all about how you develop these people and how you channel their enthusiasm and passion,” says Sir Peter. “Young general managers need a good mentor. At Reg Vardy, we tried to marry them with good finance managers and regional managers to give them this experience.

“You have to get the basics right and you have to constantly revisit the process to ensure everyone is doing their job properly. Working out what staff are doing wrong and putting it right is the role of the manager.”

The general manager position is one of the most complicated jobs in any industry. In addition to understanding new/used car sales and aftersales, they need to understand law, health and safety, FSA, finance and convoluted manufacturer franchise/operational standards and bonus schemes.

“The motor industry doesn’t get recognition for the complexity of the job,” says Sir Peter. “General managers can earn £100,000-150,000, yet we still haven’t got a queue of people coming to the door. We need to do more at university level or look for commercial accountants from the top companies because, although the hours can be long, it’s a very good living.”

  • Winners will be revealed at an exclusive dinner on September 12 at the National Motorcycle Museum.

    #AM_ART_SPLIT# Our Partner

    Courland Automotive Practice is the only resourcing firm dedicated to the global automotive industry. With unrivalled knowledge of all automotive sectors, Courland has a reputation for high quality executive search, interim management and consulting services.

    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

    GENERAL MANAGEMENT Sir Peter Vardy
    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: PricewaterhouseCoopers

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