But now he reports a “sea change in attitude”, with more manufacturer sponsorship of dealer high flyers through the university qualifications route leading to BSc and MSc degrees.
Though the culture may be changing, Saker cautions against any simplistic solutions, like copying best practice of other retail organisations, a notable example being John Lewis.
“There’s a different level of customer interaction and engagement in the motor trade,” he said.
“It’s more of a marketplace environment, especially when it comes to part-exchange negotiations.”
Pridgeon added: “Ultimately, the quality of dealer management is determined by customer satisfaction and unlike most other retail activities, buying a car is not a one-off transaction; that satisfaction needs to be sustained throughout what can be years of aftersales service.”
Succession planning at JCT600
Talent spotting is one of the cornerstones of business strategy at JCT600 and according to HR director Graham Clark it makes the dealer group “industry leading in terms of leadership development (LD)”.
The company recently appointed a leadership development manager – complementing two training managers – tasked with “driving LD programmes to get quality and focus”.
JCT600 has compiled a ‘talent list’, part of which features what Clark describes as people doing a good job with the potential to become top managers, brand directors.
Just over a year ago 24 of them completed a programme at the University of Buckingham’s automotive faculty with a certificate in auto management.
“Another initiative will see two groups of 10 going to the Lake District this summer for ‘experiential learning’ with a series of team-based exercises,” said Clark.
Leadership development is one of three lists prepared by JCT600 as part of its succession planning.
This typically comprises heads of business or general managers, with some line managers.
Then there is the 35-strong management development list made up of first line leaders new to managerial roles.
“This segment arguably presents the biggest challenge because for the first time those involved are faced with the responsibility of leading people and managing processes,” said Clark.
The biggest list, with more than 140 candidates, is known as the ‘wired’ programme because those on it – ranging from valeters and technicians to heads of business – have been identified as having behaviours ‘wired’ into the company’s practices and values.
Some may be on the other lists.
Clark said JCT600’s training “dovetailed well” with its 20-plus brand partners and emphasised that course content was focused not on hypothetical issues but rather challenges that candidates have experienced and share with others on a course.
Though its three-list strategy reflects a leaning towards developing people ‘through the ranks’, JCT600’s talent spotting extends outside motor retail.
The general sales manager of a Porsche franchise, for example, was recruited from an electrical chain.
There’s also a graduate intake – three were taken into the contracts division last year – and in what’s seen as a pioneering move, the company has just recruited an 18-year-old school leaver into a
management development programme and already plans to hire another.
Both will gain an insight into different parts of the business at a selection of sites with a view to offering them a job after a 12-month assignment.
“There is good potential here – young people capable of going to university, but because of the changed climate, notably the cost of fees, they have decided against it,” said Clark.
As for the tangible benefits in all this people development, JCT600 can point to an employee turnover of 19% compared with the sector average of 30%.
“That’s ‘raw gross’ – we also have what we term as ‘regretted losses’, people you really don’t want to see leaving, and that’s around 14%, but there is no sector average for this,” said Clark.