Peter Davenport, group managing director at Motiva Group, tells Fleet Leasing about his key career moves.
I’ve always been into cars. As a 12 year old my favourite day out was going to the motor show and collecting car brochures off as many stands as I could get on. I had bags of brochures and I’d study them.
When I was a trainee salesman at Cowies it bought a car leasing business called Interleasing and I got the chance to do some work for it, which was great. But then the dealership I worked at got sold and the tap was turned off overnight. I retained a job there but it probably wasn’t the ideal job for me.
Greenhous Stoke was a growing Vauxhall dealer and it had a sponsorship deal from Vauxhall to employ a local business salesperson and I got the role. I had to go out and talk to local businesses and it was really good. I won some customers that were leasing companies and, ultimately, one of those customers offered me a job.
I had a massively broad experience as sales manager at Meteor Group, working for its Stoke-on-Trent-based contract hire business, Multi-Fleet Services. There were only a few of us but we grew the sales and it was exciting. I was only 23 and I had a couple of sales guys working for me. One of them, Peter Clarke, still works for me today as fleet services manager.
Always grab opportunities when they come along. When Multi-Fleet Services merged with Ryland to become Ryland Multifleet I got the chance to run Ryland’s office in Manchester. I also opened an office in Stockton-on-Tees. We won a lot of local, regional businesses but the downside was we were part of a dealer group and we needed lots more cash to grow the contract hire fleet and, at some point that was going to grind to a halt, and it did.
I have worked with some great people and I have learned more from them than I ever would at university. David Bourne probably taught me more about the real contract hire business than anyone. He’s retired now but I worked with him for five years while he was MD at Ryland Multifleet. He helped me understand interest rates, residual values, the market and that you’ve got to look after your existing customers and win new as well. He was also an accountant who was focused on motivating the sales team. We used to run a summer sizzler campaign where the team could win holiday vouchers and he used to write a letter to all their partners and tell them what our sizzler campaign was and what the individual and overall target was, which I thought was a great idea.
When Ryland sold the business to BNP Paribas I got promoted to head of sales and marketing for the UK. It got re-branded Arval and it was obvious the business was going to be all put together in Swindon. It was a combination of place, time, family life and I decided it probably wasn’t going to be for me and that I wanted to have my own business.
My biggest achievement was putting that first business plan together for Motiva Vehicle Contracts in 2001 and making that deal work. It was a brand new company, brand new funding and it was really exciting. I’d probably always wanted to work for myself. It’s something that was already in my genes – my father had his own business, he was an electrical contractor. And over the period I worked for David Bourne at Ryland I got a feel for looking at the bigger picture.
I’ve always been very lucky. In fact, one of my teachers said to my father that if I tripped up I would put my nose into a bowl of cherries and that’s true. I’ve been very lucky to do something I love. It [fleet] is like a hobby to me. I love looking at residual values, looking around a van and saying “oh, it’s damaged here, should we charge the customers? Is that really fair wear and tear?”
Pretty much anything is possible if you put your mind to it and focus. When the opportunity arose to buy out our parent company in 2006 I had to think about it outside the box: what am I going to do here to make this work? I worked with lots of bankers on that deal and it was interesting to understand their views. Don’t be scared to ask if you need something to make a deal work. Don’t be frightened to negotiate and say “OK, I really want to do this but for this to work for me I need this, this and this”. When they say “OK, you can’t have this, this and this, you can just have this and this” be prepared to negotiate on the third one.
I’ve never had any career doubts. I borrowed a significant amount of money to buy the business in 2006 and I went out for a drink with one of my friends and he said “oh my god! What are you going to do if it all goes wrong?” I said: “It won’t go wrong”. My focus was very much on it. I was totally committed that it would not go wrong.
To be a good MD you’ve got to value everyone that is working with you and respect their view – be it right or wrong. You’ve got to ensure they feel their views are valued and attempt to explain why their view might work or why it might not work. Respect is a two-way street; they can’t respect you if you don’t respect them.
I’m not very good over the telephone. I normally say to anybody I’m dealing with: “I’ll come and see you.” I’ll attempt to go out and see everybody. I’d much rather get in front of somebody, shake hands with them and get some empathy around the conversation. And that nurtures opportunity because often when you first meet somebody you don’t know what it is going to turn into.
Being the MD it’s my job to come up with some good ideas but probably for every good one I’ve had I’ve had tens of bad ones and I need other people to say “Pete, we’ve thought about this. It’s not such a good idea”. But I also need them to tell me why. There have been loads of bad ideas. But there have been lots of good ones as well.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced was pulling us by the scruff of the neck out of recession. We had to dust ourselves down and say “gosh, that was a bit of a tough ride. Let’s crack on”. You’ve got to keep focused and make sure you have a plan. And have waypoints to track your progress. As we came out of recession I had a real focus on getting the funding balance right, getting the funding in place, putting the right team around us to make sure we could drive the business forward. In 2013, 2014 and 2015 Motiva doubled its profits in each of those years and our fleet size is now about 5,000 vehicles.
I took all of the directors at Motiva on a course that was organised by Staffordshire University in 2010. The main focus was continuous improvement. Now they all know exactly what it is and that there is always room for improvement.
1985: junior salesman, Cowies of Stoke
1987: local business salesperson, Greenhous Stoke
1989: sales manager, Meteor Group
1990: northern regional manager, Ryland Multifleet
1999: head of sales and marketing, Arval
2001: managing director, Motiva Vehicle Contracts
2006: group managing director, Motiva Group