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An interview with Ken SavageBack

We recently took time out to speak to Perry’s chairman Ken Savage about how the motor retail industry has changed since he first joined – and how he sees the future panning out.

Ken SavageWhat do you think are the biggest challenges facing car dealer groups at the moment?

I think that the biggest challenges are the economy, we are only just out of a recession and it is still a bit bumpy with uncertainty over the Euro, and the aspirations of the vehicle manufacturers where targets seem to be set a lot higher than the market is able to sustain.

Some people say the market is down on last year – what’s your view?

Certainly the level of retail sales that we see in our business is lower than the industry is reporting and normally we have seen them much more in line, so yes I think there has been some pre-registration and the market being forced.

Do you think there are opportunities within this?

Yes, there are always opportunities for the switched on dealer to take advantage of opportunities to purchase but that doesn’t belie the fact that it is a tough market.

Do you think there are advantages to being privately run rather than publicly held?

I think in many cases there is an advantage to being privately held in that we have a very tight board, there are only four of us, 2 exec and 2 non exec and that means we are able to make decisions very quickly when it comes to strategic decisions or opportunities in the market, whereas some plcs have got more people to answer to – shareholders, bigger boards, franchise boards and even politics is involved.

You are young for a chairman even though you have been in the role for some time – how do you distinguish between your role and Darren Ardron, your new MD?

Darren obviously replaced Ray Sommerville who had been with the business for some time and had a huge depth of experience and so I hope that I am able to provide Darren with a sounding board and advice when he needs it. As he grows in his role, and beyond that I have always worn many hats, as finance director, as chairman, I have always tried to put in place support for Ray in the past in terms of strategy and structure, IT and most importantly making sure the money is there.

What would you say your biggest achievement has been so far?

In my career there is no doubt it was the MBO of Perry’s from Perry Group plc way back in 2001 with Paul Millard. We were in the middle of “rip off Britain” and against that environment we were trying to raise £35m to buy a business and run it. It certainly it toughens you up, there are always lots of people to try and get to say yes to what you are trying to do and you know that some will be more awkward than others, so someone is bound to want to say no and you do learn how to deal with that pressure and there is nothing better than seeing a business then grow after you have been through that pressure cooker at the beginning.

Perry’s has always been at the front of digital media and recently picked up plaudits for social media- in your view how does this fit with the traditional dealer environment?

Yes we have and I think social media pretty much reflects the way dealers have always operated. In the past you might have owner driver or a general manager engaged with the local community in attending sports and community events, these have translated into on line channels and social media. Its just a much bigger network. In terms of communicating with consumers, that started with advertising and has gone into digital advertising, email and of course the phone and social media is just part of that communication mix.

You sit on the NFDA national executive and are a director of the RMI as well as chairman of Perrys and Trusted Dealers of which you were one of the founders – what is your view on the future of Trusted Dealers given the new partnership with Auto Trader?

I think that Trusted Dealers in order to grow needed to take a slight change of tack and in a way it’s become more about marketing the benefits of buying from a franchised dealer than about just generating good value used car leads. I think that when we set it up the media were being aggressive in their pricing and to a large extent that has been improved and is seen much more as a partnership. With this opportunity Trusted Dealers will be exposed to more consumers than it ever has been before and that will help promote franchised dealers as well as promoting their stock.

What would your advice be to someone in middle management who wanted to advance their career?

My advice would be to work hard; you will get more done and your boss will like seeing you work hard. Bosses tend to like that. Then take advantage of opportunities to study, whether that’s manufacturer courses, dealer group courses or even night school at something that you would most like yourself to do as if you work hard and educate yourself opportunities will come along. If you take advantage of those your career will flourish, so start with hard work but certainly make sure that you continue to sharpen the knife.

You are obviously very busy running a dealer group and sitting on the RMI, NFDA and Trusted Dealers boards, do you still find time for motor sport?

Absolutely. I think it is important to have outside interests and to have some sort of work / life balance. Back when we were starting out after the MBO, obviously there wasn’t much time for anything other than work, but as things have progressed and the business has matured, I have been able to deliberately find time for more outside work activity and I think it is important. I could fill 12 hours a day every day with work but if that was it then what would be the point? So I think it is important that you are able to have external interests and a work/life balance in my view.

Posted by Neil Addley on 25/10/2015