Nikki King OBE is a prominent business leader, a spokesperson for the road transport industry and an inspirational speaker at conferences. You may have heard her being interviewed by Evan Davis on Radio 4’s The Bottom Line or seen her on a BBC Question Time panel in Portsmouth recently.
We wanted to know how the young Nikki found herself in such a male dominated business sector and how she then made it to the very top despite all the odds.
Q: Were you always determined to get to the top in your career and would your friends be at all surprised that you did?
I had a spectacularly unsuccessful academic career at grammar school and left with 3 GCEs. I had a ball in the 60’s and was married in 1969. I then brought up the children and by the time I was 40 had a part time job as a secretary. Although I come from a long line of matriarchs who were strong women and ran businesses at a time when that was unusual, I had no ambition to follow in their footsteps.
Then, at the age of 40, my ex-husband left me with no visible means of support and everything that ate – our daughter, two stepchildren from his previous marriage, one dog, two cats and 6 goldfish so working for a living became a necessity not a hobby. I am still so grateful to that woman who took my ex although she will never know it!
I don’t know if my friends are surprised that I did well in my career or not. I think they just see me as the same Nikki they first knew – no respect there thank goodness!
Q: Educated more by the school of life than traditional academia, what encouragement can you give young females who can’t afford a University education today?
I get extremely annoyed with today’s message from education that a degree is essential for a career. I am living proof that it is never too late and life skills are far more important than a degree. Most of the skills I have used in my career in a male dominated industry were skills learned running a family. Negotiation skills, time management, multi tasking and mediation were all learned from three children.
Lack of confidence in business seems to be hardwired into all women at an early age and there are few women who have “made it” who will not admit to a small voice in their ear at 2am saying “Get back into the typing pool before they find you out”.
My advice is that you really can do anything you want if you work hard enough and the only person who lacks confidence in you is you! Get any job in a field you are really passionate about and network, work hard and you will succeed.
Q: What brought you to Isuzu in 1996 and kept you there for so long?
The journey to Isuzu started with my ex-husband. I got a job as Administration Manager with an Iveco/Ford Dealer group and seven years later I was MD of one of their dealerships and overall Group Fleet Director.
At that point I was headhunted by Lex and became their National Fleet General Manager. When Isuzu approached Lex to become their UK Distributor I was chosen to be MD of the new venture.
In 2004, I undertook an MBO of the business and we worked as a team until I decided to semi-retire last year. At that point, to secure the future of the business and ensure a reasonably comfortable retirement, I effected the sale of the business back to its real parent, Isuzu Motors of Japan and that is where we are today.
I am now the Honorary Chairman of Isuzu Truck (UK) Ltd and still involved in the business although I do not have to travel to the office every day. After all, my Japanese colleagues have always called this business “Nikki-san’s Baby” and I guess that will always be the case.
Q: Of all the cars you’ve owned and driven, which one remains your favourite and why?
My favourite car is, of course, my Isuzu 4×4 pick up – I feel so safe in it and it is perfect for my large Japanese Akita dog (in the photo with Nikki) who accompanies me everywhere I go – even to the office!
I am also a proud grandmother to identical twin granddaughters and it is perfect for carrying all the kit necessary to support these precious little bundles. However, I still have fond memories of my little Lancia Fulvia coupe that I drove when the children were small. If only the Italians could make bodywork that was as good as their horns and engines. Sadly it rusted and fell apart before my eyes – so tragic!
Q: Has the number of female employees at Isuzu risen during your time at the helm?
Whilst Isuzu Truck (ITUK) is part of a male dominated industry, 45% of my senior management team are female. This is because we have always had a strong female ethos in the company and have always done everything we can to support and retain our female staff when they become mothers. Children are welcome at the office if they are slightly poorly – every school strike day is a ‘bring your child to work’ day. Our staff have many times changed their way of working to suit their circumstances. They have worked part time, full time, partly or fully from home and job shared so they could continue with their careers during that special time. Because of this, we have not lost our precious women and they are now joining the senior management team with confidence.
A balanced board of men and women is so powerful. The men will go gung-ho for a target but the women will say “What about this person?” or “How will this department react to this?” This leads to really balanced decisions and very few HR issues.
Q: How female friendly is a career in road transportation today?
The road transport industry is one of the least sexist industries I have ever experienced. It is really proud of its senior women. The whole logistics industry is passionate about encouraging women to join and it has formed many women’s organisations to encourage and support women in their career.
Q: What more could the transport industry be doing to attract young women in future?
I’d say by being more flexible. All industries should learn that the world will not end if the right women work from home, job share or change their hours of work – it’s that simple!
Q: What are your plans for the future Nikki?
This is the exciting bit – I don’t know yet what the future holds. However, to begin with I hope to be the best Nana ever. I am also working for ITUK and will continue as their Honorary Chairman for many years to come.
I am also starting to put something back as I have some spare time and so much in life to be grateful for. I am Chairman of Auto 22 which is a social enterprise under the Catch 22 banner and, I am delighted to say, is a member of the Foxy Lady Approved garage network. Auto 22 is a series of garages in Kent that work under a Jamie Oliver 15 framework. We take disadvantaged boys and girls who train to be car mechanics under the watchful eye of fully qualified technicians in a working environment. This is really successful and I am loving it!
I also mentor a number of schoolchildren and some women in transport who are developing their careers.
The rest of my future is yet to be revealed – what fun it’s going to be finding out where I’m headed next!
Thank you very much Nikki. This is a fascinating interview which illustrates how necessity can bring out the very best in an individual who might not otherwise have blossomed in the same way.
To not only adapt to, thrive and grow to love the Japanese way of doing business but to do so in such a masculine environment is truly impressive.
We’re delighted to welcome you to FOXY’s Hall of Fame and sincerely hope the story of your career success, positive outlook and sheer enthusiasm will encourage other feisty females to follow in your footsteps in the transportation and motor industries in future.