In the first of a new series, Jon Lawes, managing director of Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, tells Fleet Leasing about his key career moves.
1993: Joined Wincanton Vehicle Rentals as assistant accountant.
1997: Became a CIMA-qualified accountant.
2001: Led the sale of Trowbridge Vehicle Rentals to Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions.
2002: Became financial planning and strategy manager at Hitachi Capital Car Solutions.
2006: Appointed general manager of Hitachi Commercial Vehicle Solutions.
2007: Became managing director of Hitachi Commercial Vehicle Solutions and a director of Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions.
2009: Hitachi Capital Commercial Vehicle Solutions won van leasing initiative at the Fleet Van Awards.
2010: Hitachi Capital Commercial Vehicle Solutions won van leasing company of the year at the Fleet Van Awards.
2011: Hitachi Capital Commercial Vehicle Solutions won van leasing and fleet management company of the year at the Fleet Van Awards.
2012: Hitachi Capital Commercial Vehicle Solutions won van leasing and fleet management company of year at the Fleet Van Awards.
2014: Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions was named leasing company of the year at the Fleet News Awards.
2015: Appointed chairman of the BVRLA’s Commercial Vehicle Committee.
2015: Became managing director of Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions.
I didn’t intend to have a fleet career.
I was after a career in accountancy when I joined Wincanton in 1993. My boss was good at letting go of things and I got to manage all the finance houses, all the credit lines, and I was only in my 20s.
I enjoyed that broader commercial role much more than the accountancy side of things.
Accountancy is a great business qualification to have as a managing director (MD).
It helps with your logical thinking and your decision-making.
As an MD, you’ve got to lead by example and be able to make quick decisions – and be prepared to make another decision if you’ve made a wrong one.
The last thing you want is an MD who can’t make decisions.
You’ve also got to inspire other people to make decisions. Being able to engage people about where you want to take the company is the biggest skill.
My advice to people starting their leasing career is to get as much broad experience as you can early on, don’t stay in one area of the business.
Then you can understand what part of the business you want to work in.
I got that because I worked in a small company and I got involved with everything.
I really understood how the business worked, cradle to grave.
I have probably been in the right place at the right time a little bit.
Being allowed to lead the sale of Trowbridge Vehicle Rentals to Hitachi in 2001, for instance.
Some people keep that very close to their chest. I learnt so much by doing that and by being involved.
I also got known by the people at Hitachi as being one of the key players, so from that perspective it was really good.
One of my biggest achievements in business has been growing the commercial fleet from 700 units in 2001 to more than 30,000 (including plant) in 2015.
We’ve achieved that through acquisition and organically. We acquired Newtown Vehicle Rentals in 2010 and 9,000 vehicles from Lombard Vehicle Management in 2013.
I’ve done about six or seven acquisitions in my time, but those were the two biggest.
Newtown was probably the hardest because we bought it as part of an insolvency situation.
That was quite tough because the customers were unloved for a little bit prior to that.
The most important thing in an acquisition is to get close to the customers, understand their needs and don’t try to force things too quickly.
I was always taught to set myself goals.
In a year’s time, how are you going to measure success? That’s not necessarily having a different role, but how are you going to make your current role a real success?
In my last job, I wanted to make that job bigger and have more responsibility.
Between 2012 and 2014, we purchased some land and built a 6.5-acre site, a dedicated commercial vehicle site, and we moved from a very small site on an industrial estate and that was because of the growth.
I had a project manager working for me, but I didn’t go to Hitachi and say ‘can you find me a new site?’ We did it all ourselves.
You learn so much by doing things like that. We delivered the project on time and on budget, which is unusual for those types of projects.
We had a strong team with the right level of experience.
Be prepared to ask for support and mentoring.
Look around your organisation and externally and see who you can learn from. You’re not going to learn everything by being right up against your PC.
Ask someone you respect to give you guidance or mentoring.
Feel that you can learn every day.
Someone told me that about 10 years ago when they were in their 60s.
I'm still learning every day and I want to learn as much as I can.
You get other people who say 'right, I know everything' but I think you can learn until the day you die and that's our approach to things.
Be bold but not arrogant. Be driven but don't mistake that for being arrogant because that won’t get you anywhere.
It’s an honour to win awards.
It’s your customers and your industry peers saying: ‘Yes, you’re doing a good job’.
But I’m not the sort of person to start waving an award around. I’m much more interested in showing consistency – ‘they are always there or thereabouts, we can rely on them, they’ve got the right culture in the company and if the chips are down they will do the right thing’.
That’s the sort of environment I like to create. If you pick up some awards along the way, great, because that’s good recognition for the staff.
The biggest thing I say to my staff is ‘we've got to create an environment where our customers trust us’.
Trust is the biggest thing about a long-term relationship. Being a Japanese company we're very keen on having long-term customer relationships.
Be open, be transparent and then you can have a long-term relationship. If you do a good job for them why would someone want to leave?
I love people - not all accountants love people in my experience.
I love talking to customers, listening to them, understanding their business, building relationships.
Not wanting to let them down because they're acquaintances and you feel you want to do a great job for them because you know them.
That's what I enjoy about my job.
In terms of being an effective leader, I found a Franklin Covey training course that I did about four years ago really useful.
It was all about understanding you as a person, what your personality traits are and how you can work more effectively with other people, what you’re strong at and what you’re not so strong at and how can you work on those things.
In the past few months I’ve done an Insights Profile. This is a self-analysis tool used as part of Hitachi Capital’s leadership development.
The most powerful thing you can do as an MD is to get your staff engaged, because if they believe in where the company is going and why you’re going there they’ll just get on with it.
I spend my time equally between doing the things I need to do working as part of Hitachi, spending time with customers and spending time with the staff.
If you spend too much time with any one of those and not the other two you’ll get in trouble.
I’ve been involved with the BVRLA since 2006.
I thought it would be a really good networking opportunity to meet my peers in the industry and to make sure we were picking up everything we needed to in terms of legislation and what’s happening in the marketplace.
Those were the two key reasons and the BVRLA is very good for those things.
I think the BVRLA does a fantastic job, it’s a really active trade association and it’s really helpful. It’s good at uniting the industry and lobbying the Government.
The biggest job I’ve had is the one I’m doing now – it covers cars, commercial vehicles and plant and that started last April.
The past year has been my toughest year, but most enjoyable. I’ve reviewed our business strategy, made some organisational changes in the business and fully engaged with our customers.
It has been really good.
The key reason I've stayed at Hitachi so long is I like the values of the company and it fits in with my ethos.
Money, in my opinion, is a satisfier. It's got to be right but the job itself, the company you work for, the colleagues and the values are what's important.
I have had chances to leave like most people would have done but I've been able to fulfil my career ambitions by being promoted and going up in the hierarchy within Hitachi.
They’ve provided that opportunity.
I haven’t got any career regrets.
I'm not really a regrets person. I think if you've got a regret why didn't you do something about it? If I had a regret I'd fix it so it's no longer a regret.
Hitachi Capital Commercial Vehicle Solutions won fleet management and leasing company of the year and supplier of the year at the Commercial Fleet Awards.