2016 got off to a great start for us at Pendragon. We are soon to announce our 2015 year end results and at the end of January it was a proud day as Motor Trader placed me at the top of its Movers and Shakers list. Although a list of individuals, it’s not often an accolade like this is down to a single person and that is certainly the case for this one. Among the reasons for winning the most influential were some of the schemes we’ve introduced across the Group from Car Store to Move Me Closer. When you are part of a 10,000 strong team, the introduction of a new scheme is never down to an individual – it takes armies for some of the programmes we’ve implemented over the past year to take off, so praise for those is something that the whole team should revel in. What it did get me thinking was who else has influenced my career and had a hand in moulding the person that topped this list.
There was a career defining moment that instantly came into my head. It was 1994, five years since Pendragon was born and the business had gone from two BMW dealerships to over 30 sites. As the business grew exponentially, our hours became longer and harder. We pondered that there must be a better way of doing things. At that point, the US was the leader in terms of the automotive market so myself and my Chief Operating Officer, and fellow scholar of the Hull Technical College, Martin Casha boarded a flight to California on a mission to find a better way to run our business. We visited National City with its Mile of Cars and its many dealerships and chatted to dealer principals about their business, processes, products, ways of working etc. After a busy few days we pondered what we’d learnt over a drink in the hotel and concluded the answers we had come looking for didn’t exist in the traditional car dealers of America.
Our last call on the way to the airport was Mercedes-Benz of Beverley Hills. Its manager was a guy called Stephen Smyth who we’d met years earlier at a conference and had always said we’d drop in on if we were visiting. We explained the purpose for the visit and our experiences to date that had left us no closer to a solution. Steve smiled and recommended we read a book that might help us look at things differently. That book was called Zapp – the Lightening of Empowerment.
I started reading during take-off. By the time we landed back in the UK both Martin and I had read the book. What it made plain to us was all the problems we thought we had; people didn’t think like us; they didn’t do things as well as we’d want them done; we couldn’t get enough of the right people around us; they weren’t motivated in the same way we were. We realised it wasn’t lots of problems, it was just one problem . That problem was us.
From thereon in we went on a different journey to engage and involve our leadership team. We looked for the best place to help us do that and found our answers with a company in Seattle. Over the coming years, thanks to working with the Pacific Institute and its founder Lou Tice, we realised the key was not seeking to change the people around us, but changing some of our own beliefs, habits and behaviours. One of the things that we learnt, in the context of personal change, was that all meaningful and lasting change starts from within. In a corporate sense that change has to start from the top for it to have the best chance of success. This company is the best at what it does because it encapsulates its own beliefs. Lou and his team, including his UK representative Claire Howell, lead by example and helped us bring that to life within our business, improved the way we worked and empowered our team.
Looking back, that was probably the single biggest turning point in the Pendragon story. The key to learning that success is all about people, not processes, not systems and not practices. Everything that Lou and the institute were able to promote, they could with absolute clarity because Lou lived it. He walked the walk and was a huge inspiration to me. So in addition to my Pendragon team, I’d like to dedicate this accolade to the late Lou Tice.