Tag Archives: UK motor industry

Female Executive Directors Preferred

boardroom heelsWhen it comes to organisational health, judged by financial and efficiency metrics, the more women at the top, the better the financial returns says McKinsey & Company.

Put another way, it’s not just what you say and do but how well you do it.

Yes a male CEO can justifiably say ‘we want to employ more female car sales staff’ but the reason there are so few might be because the business isn’t perceived to be a female friendly employer from the Boardroom down.

Certainly that’s true of the UK motor industry, which is the big picture in too many female minds – and I’m talking about women in a broad context; seen as Board member recruits, staff AND customers.

So whilst it’s encouraging to hear that Lord Davies is being listened to in UK Boardrooms we’re a long way short of making the impact we need to en route to a new target of 33% of women board members at FTSE 350 firms by 2020.

That’s too far away and well short of the 50% I want to see in my working lifetime.

The Executive Gender Elastoplast

All too often however, a female Non Executive Director (NED) is the ‘tick the box must have’ Elastoplast solution. This is because an unconvinced CEO can turn to an executive recruitment agency, say ‘we need one or more female NEDs’ and they’ll supply them. This is when a CEO can also think (to himself) – ‘if she doesn’t work out/fit in, we’ve only got her for three years then I can line up another one.’

Now I’m making a female NED appointment sound easy but I’m assuming NEDs, regardless of gender, with the requisite corporate skills, such as HR, governance, legal or secretarial. Fortunately there are plenty of serial NEDs (male and female) who offer such skills and whilst they might be experts at reading Board Minutes and Balance Sheets they are not the best judges of the culture of a business. That can only truly be felt from working on a full time basis within it. And for some time within it, to hear and be trusted with honest staff opinion.

So my point here is that whilst female NEDs will tick the diversity box (and are to be welcomed in the absence of others at the top) they are not as valuable, as I see it, as Executive Directors. Female Executive Directors need to be sponsored and groomed from within, then given a mandate to change a business from a mainly masculine to a female friendly employer (where appropriate – I am writing with the motor industry in mind).

Corporate nirvana, as I see it, is when a female takes a strategic position within the Board, usually as CEO. This is when a female business leader steers a naturally female friendly business using her personal perspective and experience, influencing all aspects of the business whilst accurately predicting and addressing women’s needs and expectations.

Of course many male-led businesses do this already, such as fashion and beauty businesses where the Boards are often full of female, but businesses in my industry, the UK motor industry, seem woefully slow to understand why they might need ANY let alone MORE female Directors.

So here are some good reasons guys – and you really need female Executive Directors to transform overly masculine cultures from within.

More female Executive Board Members needed

Female Board Directors are needed in the UK motor industry because…

+ They are missing from most motor industry Boardrooms
+ They show aspiring female employees a career path
+ They act as role models for ambitious graduate/apprentice recruits
+ Women are half the executive talent out there (but need encouraging to apply)
+ They represent the gender that influences the majority of purchases (80% of cars/aftersales)
+ Women bring consensus and a more collaborative style of working
+ Women add ethical and environmental values (that may well have made a REAL difference in VW’s 100% male Boardroom)

windscreenviewSome time ago, working in a consultant capacity, in my own right, I set out to measure the UK automotive industry in terms of the numbers of female Board members and executive positions.

My intention was not to name and shame but to publish a useful benchmark to influence behaviour and raise gender matters in this area.

Sadly I was unable to obtain the Board composition details I needed re: automotive manufacturers and/or dealership groups operating in the UK so I look forward to this previously ‘secret’ information becoming public when we can all see gender composition re Executive and NED Board appointments in this industry.

Needless to say, if our FTSE goals are now to achieve 35% women on Boards by 2020, it’d be a lot quicker to simply introduce female quotas. Which is my preferred strategy now Lord Davies – one I never thought I’d EVER support but do now after waiting for too long for gender and diversity to reach the top of big businesses in the automotive industry.



Steph Savill Limited

Midlands pupil develops a motoring website with U17 appeal

As part of an ICT project at North Leamington School (NLS), William Savage was encouraged to create his own website which is now filling an important communications gap for keen car fans who are Under 17.

His idea was to create a website about the cars he likes and considers to be the most stylish. It’s called TOPCAR and thanks to help from a local web design studio, Light Media Digital in Leamington, William now has a flexible website he can keep up to date and fresh looking in his limited spare time.

His youth, enthusiasm and geographical base (the Midlands remains the beating heart of the motoring industry) has endeared him to many local car dealerships and car production engineers. This has resulted in some exciting passenger seat test drives although you can feel William’s impatience in his subsequent reviews at not being old enough to sit behind the driving seat yet…

Since launching his website in August he has test driven and reviewed the McLaren MP4, Jaguar XKR convertible, Vauxhall Ampera, Skoda Citigo and Fiat Panda.

Clearly the McLaren MP4 12C was a dream TOPCAR to review by anyone’s standards but it is also made in Britain which is another important factor in William’s book. Thanks to David Tibbetts at Rybrook he enjoyed a test drive in the supercar and his enthusiasm for the car, its design and onboard technology is evident.

In his own words, William’s experience has surely paved the way for a future career in the motor industry.

“The website is aimed at anyone of any age or gender that has an interest in motoring, becoming a car designer or an engineer. It includes information ranging from the 1000mph Bloodhound land speed challenge, the new Jaguar F Type (F meaning Fabulous that is…), hot rides around Silverstone, to Eureka Moments and the development of Motormouse (as seen on Dragons Den) and the recent Student Road Safety Awards campaigns for young drivers.”

William’s next car reviews look likely to come from the Rybrook range including the new BMW 3 series and perhaps a Rolls Royce or something very sporty… in between homework deadlines of course.

Giles Rowley, Rybrook’s Dealer Principal said “We’re happy to help William develop TOPCAR and hopefully it will take off just like Frank Whittle’s jet engine – who coincidentally also went to North Leamington School.“

Joy Mitchell, North Leamington School’s Headteacher was equally as encouraging saying “It’s good to see young creative ideas develop from the classroom. In this instance hard work and imagination have paid off to create a very stylish and informative website. This is also a great opportunity for other pupils to contribute articles to make the website unique.”

As it happens NLS won the F1 “Rookie” Schools award last May and pupils will shortly start building an electric car as part of the Green Power school challenge. So it isn’t just William who loves his motoring – NLS is growing a lot of young motoring talent which the UK motor industry needs with a view to the future.


Car sales CAN make a difference

Most marketers know to carve out a memorable niche by identifying what makes a product or service different from the rest.

Different in terms of being better, with tailored content perhaps, for a new market… or just cheaper than the rest.

In an industry used to mass marketing more than segmentation (and where the typical message is more male oriented than female regardless of the audience) this brings more marketing challenges to the UK motor industry than most. Especially when the UK’s neighbouring export market is faring worse economically than it is.

Bigger, better, best?

Despite the encouraging news that UK motor manufacturers continue to lead the UK economy in terms of job generation, car sales and exports in Q1, on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Professor Karel Williams suggested that Vauxhall, Ford, Honda, Nissan and Toyota car manufacturers will struggle for position in the UK in future. This is because they are being squeezed in the middle by cheaper and smaller Hyundais and newcomer Dacia with status seekers and business drivers buying the likes of premium BMW, Audi and Mercedes brands that they presumably perceive to be better at the upper end of the market.

This matters to the UK because most of these supposedly ‘squeezed middle’ brands are the car manufacturers we read about today, leading the UK out of recession we hope, in terms of jobs and exports.

Customer service is key…

This means there’s even more to play for in terms of customer service with Jaguar Land Rover setting a great example of how to move from mediocre to leading advantage in a short period of time. Not just car sales, aftersales (car servicing, repairs and MOT work) is BIG business for dealership groups, specialist bodyshops and independent garages alike. At all levels, there is a real opportunity for those that can do it better to distinguish themselves from the rest (and there is a lot of scope through mediocrity here) gaining the reputation for being a better business as a result.

…providing the price is right

But the price you pay for a new car in a dealership is still too grey an area for my liking.

Why should any motorist, male or female, pay less for a car because they buy it towards the end of a sales period when the salesman is more inclined to share his commission? And why should women feel the need to take a man with them to negotiate that final price for fear of being sold a lemon?

More transparency is needed here, especially when it comes to innocent motorists who don’t understand the unnecessarily complex negotiating game and end up paying more than they should for a new car, having been baffled by the complications of trading in values and car finance in the process.

More patriotic pride needed for new cars ‘Made in GB’?

Alternatively our government can ‘encourage’ British motorists to buy cars (and other goods) made in GB of course, harnessing the power of national pride which turned so many sporting cynics into London 2012 Olympic fanatics.

This is surely what we can expect the likes of France and Germany to do soon, to secure their home markets alongside competing imports.

Then we can all feel EVEN MORE proud of our UK motor industry; when buying British means fair prices and superior service levels that don’t patronise or rip off male or female motorists who want to be able to buy cars and garage services on trust.


Do girls still expect to have it all?

Well done GirlGuiding UK. I have just read some excellent qualitative (ie opinion-based) research about girls’ attitudes to careers and how they might balance this with having a family.

Do they want to be superwomen and have it all or are they better informed about their career choices than we were in the 80s?

I am particularly interested here because young women are steadily achieving better GCSE grades and university results than young men. Industries that benefit from this female talent will be those that the girls choose over others.

Let’s hope this is a wake up call to the motor industry where, at present, only a tiny number of young women are considering a career.

Here are the findings that struck me as most accurate and telling.

Girls attitudes about education and female role models

56% of girls feel that they don’t get enough advice about choosing GCSEs and A levels
57% believe that women have to work much harder than men to succeed
60% are put off a career in engineering because of a lack of female role models

Whilst the likes of Victoria Beckham, Beyonce and Katie Price are quoted as role models, few could recall a female politician other than Margaret Thatcher. Few quoted any role models from male-dominated fields such as engineering, where girls’ professed lack of interest meant that they paid little attention.

Fortunately most girls realise that celebrity status isn’t necessarily real life for everyone and are looking more to their mothers as more relevant role models. This attitude does change as girls get older however; they start looking for external role models more and I can’t think of any big names they are likely to know of in the UK’s motor industry.

What industries are girls most interested in?

The girls in the research explained that they find it difficult to know what careers are available, beyond the obvious ones that attract the youngest, such as teacher, nurse, hairdresser, vet. As they get older, girls become aware that there is a huge variety of careers, but they know little about them and are unsure how to find out more.

Few showed any interest in traditionally ‘male’ careers such as engineering, construction or trades, arguing that this is not what girls like or are interested in. Some would be reluctant to draw attention to themselves by working in this type of field – making the existing gender bias self-perpetuating.

This last sentence is particularly telling and suggests that women don’t want to feel the odd one out in what they perceive to be a male dominated industry.

For the motor industry to figure in this list (and why shouldn’t it or want to be there) the industry needs to have a more female friendly image in the minds of girls, supported by leading businesses that reflect an agenda of diversity at Board level.

This is a tall order indeed if businesses (run by men like the one I spoke to earlier today) think that marketing services differently to women is pointless, regardless of the fact that females are the gender spenders and don’t expect to be treated like men. Could it be that there are businesses that prefer their industry the way it is, regardless of the female business case?

How do girls see combining a career and having children?

‘I want my career before I have children. I don’t want to be one of them [sic] women with eight kids in a flat.’

89% believe that having children would affect their career
69% would consider deferring having children to allow them to follow their perfect career
53% of girls would want to work part-time when their children are young
43% think that girls aspire to be hairdressers because ‘some jobs are more for girls’

These are probably areas that the motor industry could be addressing if it REALLY wants to encourage more women into it.

The most challenging question for me, raised at the end of this research, is how can an increasing range of truly talented females, not just in the motor industry, gain the exposure required for them to become role models for today’s girls and young women. So that their industries attract their fair share of the best young talent, regardless of gender.

FOXY is happy to support this debate on behalf of the UK motor industry in any way it can. We are keen to introduce the UK motor industry and the exciting careers in it to women. To do this we surely need to scotch the rumour (prevalent in so many female minds) that the motor industry is still a male bastion; it needs to be seen as a future career arena for women.

Without more women in the industry, how can we ever get customer service levels to the standards that women customers expect? Women who are the gender spenders remember…

If you would like to know more, why not join the debate on Twitter using #realrolemodels or visit www.girlguiding.org.uk/realrolemodels.


A female first for Volkswagen

Great news. Volkswagen has appointed a female to the new role of Customer Quality Director on the Group’s UK Board of Management.

From 1 June Alison Jones is promoted from Head of Operations at Audi UK to the newly created role of Customer Quality Director on the Volkswagen Group UK Board of Management. Alison will direct the Group’s customer service standards and reports to Volkswagen Group Managing Director Simon Thomas.

Simon says: ‘I know Alison will relish the challenges involved in giving greater strategic impetus to our drive to deliver industry-leading customer service in all brands, at all levels and in all areas. Our future must be based on a business model that puts the customer at the centre of our planning priorities and builds our growth plans based on a strong foundation of new car purchase loyalty and service retention.’

He added: ‘As a previous Head of Contact Strategy, Customer Service and Aftersales in Volkswagen and Head of Operations in Audi, Alison has extensive experience and a deep understanding of our customers’ needs.’