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Lookers' chief executive Andy Bruce on pay changes, working hours and increasing the number of female staff

Jenna Niblock (pictured below left) and Tracey McBain (pictured below), in Lookers' digital marketing team, interviewed their boss Andy Bruce (pictured left) for an in-depth look at the company, the staff, the automotive industry, the future of car sales and the one issue that occupies his mind the most. He reveals plans for a new used car centre, personality profiling for staff, their pay and working patterns - and hints at establising the brand in the United States.

Andy Bruce took over from Peter Jones as Lookers' chief executive in January 2014.

The plc, with an annual turnover of over £3 billion, has grown from humble beginnings.

Originally established in 1908 by John Looker the company then sold bicycles, parts and accessories. They went on, in 1910, to sell Ford cars.

Since then through a smart mix of natural growth and acquisition, the company has expanded into one of the most formidable within the automotive industry, offering 31 different car brands for sale.

The business has most recently focused its efforts on developing its culture, with programmes aimed at enhancing the experience of their staff in the knowledge that this will have a positive impact on the customer experience. They are determined to break the perception of the car industry as being old fashioned.

Tell us about Lookers - past, present, future. Sum it up in 20 words if you can.

Fantastic culture, outstanding team, superb heritage and a really great place to work.

Lookers has a large presence in the UK, do you foresee expansion outside of the UK at some point? If so what regions do you think represent an opportunity?

We already have South Dublin Audi in the Republic of Ireland, so if we are going to expand outside the UK that would be a natural place for us to do so.

We have a big cultural affinity with the south of Ireland because we are so big in the North. We are looking at putting a used car operation down in Dublin.

We are doing extremely well with used cars in Northern Ireland under the Usedirect brand, and we are looking to drop that into Dublin.
We are open minded to what else we might do down there. If anywhere else as a longer term bet maybe the United States - we would probably look to work with our existing partners.

Lookers have adopted a strategy of expansion through acquisition. Will this continue and what are the challenges of this approach to brand integration?

We're always on the lookout for acquisition opportunities in both our motor division and our parts distribution business. It's important that they're the right fit strategically and financially so we are very selective about what we progress with.

Staying with branding, how do you deal with the conflicting brand aims of Lookers with the brand aims of the manufacturers on offer?

We don’t even try to compete with the manufacturers brands, we will never ever be as big as Volkswagen, Vauxhall, Ford and so on.

So Lookers, as much as it operates under one banner, i.e. the Lookers' name, it’s really in our view a collection of businesses that reflect the manufacturers brands, we are organised to represent their brand in the way they want it represented.

What makes the Lookers' team so special?

I think they respond well to the empowerment they are given, that of all things separates us.

I believe if you let your staff get on and encourage them to try things, let them make mistakes, let them learn from those mistakes, you just release all this energy and creativity. It’s either that or you just tell them what to do all the time, and that would rely on me being right all the time and that’s never ever going to happen! That’s what makes the team special.

How would you describe your style of leadership?

It's about empowerment and encouragement, making people feel good about themselves. I try to catch people doing things right as opposed to catching them doing wrong. We all perform much better when we're not waiting for the next clip round the ear!

Can you give us your personal perspective on the Customers for Life and NICER programmes? What was the main driver for this initiative when it was introduced?

I felt we needed even more focus and structure around the whole area of customer experience. The key to the whole programme is encouraging staff satisfaction in the knowledge that happy staff equals happy customers. Without oversimplifying it, that's the key to long term success. We also introduced more measurement, including surveying everyone who doesn't buy from us. I'm as interested in their views as the people who do buy from us.

What is the biggest challenge to the automotive industry within the next 12-24 months?

This is a question we get asked a lot. I think new car sales are going to show a modest rise over the next few years, and the main reason for that is we have had five years of below average sales.

The fact that new cars have been rising has a lag effect, so inevitably the maths are dictating that used cars and aftersales will go up.

So, our assumption is we are in a period of growth, albeit it’s not as steep as it has been at the more recent part of the recovery, but we are getting to a more mature period of growth.

How do you keep on top of the car industry? What publications do you read for instance?

I read a lot of the industry magazines, Automotive Management, Motor Trader - these big industry publications. I go to a lot of meetings, and conferences and pick things up. I also try and read the Financial Times as much as possible, not for specific car related stuff but more particularly to see what other industries are doing.

The retail market within the automotive industry can be perceived to be rather male dominated and pushy. What are Lookers doing to change those perceptions?

We are doing a lot of things. One is to use personality profiling to employee people.


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  • Paul Cape - 14/03/2015 05:38

    I have been preaching the need for a paradigm shift in our industry for years and i am so pleased that someone in a senior position is finally going to do something different. Something that reflects modern life and expectations. We need our employees to be 'safe' from a financial point of view so that they can give great service without fear and in terms of sales we can get away from going straight from the introduction to the close! Here in South Africa we the same issues as the UK (the industry is exactly the same only more profitable here) and with my work with VW and Audi we are also working to develop Dealers profitability in Aftersales and Used Cars. Great article and good luck to Lookers

  • Jim Smith - 16/03/2015 08:20

    I totally agree that terms of employment needs to change in the retail sector of the industry. For much too long aggressive management style has prevailed, implemented by Alpha male types. Mr Bruce needs to ensure that his senior staff can embrace and adhere to such change, lets not forget that Lookers NI have had to pay out a number of unfair dismissal claims in recent years. A change in management ethos must cascade down not up, a challenge no doubt.

  • Ally britt - 24/03/2015 14:11

    Would like to speak with Andy Bruce on my experience at Lookers Gatwick.