Fleet Leasing

How I got here: Nick Brownrigg, Alphabet

Chief executive Nick Brownrigg Alphabet

Nick Brownrigg explains why he finds the marketplace 'like rocketfuel' in his 'how I got here' entry. 

 

Career timeline

1980-1984: Bsc Hons in Production Engineering, Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University).

1984-1986: fleet sales role at Austin Rover.

1986-1988: In Interleasing’s graduate entry programme.

1988-1989: regional sales manager at Interleasing.

1989-1992: southern regional director at Interleasing.

1992-1994: major accounts director.

1994-2000: sales and marketing director.

1999: Interleasing bought by General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC.

2000: managing director, Interleasing UK.

2002: AMP 163 Advanced Management Programme, Harvard Business School.

2003: CEO European Full Service Leasing, GMAC International Operations.

2005: Interleasing changes name to Masterlease.

2005: CEO GMAC Global Full Service Leasing (Masterlease Group), GMAC Financial Services.

2010: vice president (Ally Financial), GMAC International Operations.

2012: commercial director, ACM (interim role), BGL Group.

2013: CEO pre-owned vehicles, Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ).

2016: chief executive officer, Alphabet GB.  

I didn’t intend to go to university.

After my A Levels I went straight to work at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) erecting the equipment for scientists to come and play as they designed nuclear fuel cells.

It was really interesting but my boss at the time made the point that it was going to be career limiting.

He had a conversation with me which kind of went ‘you’re too bright for this job, if you’re still here in September I’m going to fire you, go and get a degree’.

 

I studied production engineering and I was a student technician apprentice for Austin Rover at the time, based in Oxford.

I did four years, what was called a thin sandwich course, which gave me my degree but it gave me 22 months of experience on plant, as we called it, which was a mixture of the factory floor, technical college and office work.

I worked a broad range of departments during my apprenticeship.

 

I was dealing with people at the coalface of the business.

When they saw an apprentice walking around in a white coat with a clipboard they tended to be a bit rough from a sense of humour point of view.

At one point I turned round and there were 15 of them walking behind me mimicking me. I just burst into laughter and said, ‘come on guys, give me a chance’.

Handling that and getting them to accept me was just as important as the academic skills I learnt at college.

 

Once I’d qualified I left engineering within a short space of time, primarily because I couldn’t get into the field I wanted to.

I got intothe commercial environment and at the age of 25 got my first job in fleet sales.

I picked up a patch which was the southern counties and parts of London and

I started visiting major fleet operators and our dealers.

That was my introduction to the sales and marketing side of the business and I discovered it was something I was good at.

 

I then joined the graduate entry programme at Interleasing.

They took on 12 people and I was the only one who survived the year.

They gave me a target to sell 200 cars and I immediately thought ‘I can do 400’. I carried on focusing on larger fleets whereas my colleagues who were maybe newer to the industry were working on small fleet business.

I cracked a sale and leaseback deal with a Unilever company for a couple of hundred cars in one go.

I kind of worked it from the higher end, I tried to sell to the finance director or the HR director rather than the fleet manager and I had some success.

 

At Interleasing I could see right the way to the top of the business whereas at Austin Rover I could see one or two levels up and then it got a bit grey.

It was at that point I knew I had ambition. I’m a self-admitted workaholic and working in a smaller business gave me focus.

I could see where I could get to and how. It was success-orientated; if you were successful at what you did then typically you got offered the next opportunity. 


When I got the MD-ship at Interleasing I was a little bit over confident.

I think you can be under or over confident. If you feel under confident don’t be, you probably can do it. If you feel over confident don’t be, you probably cannot do it as well as you think.

Always work at improving your knowledge and then almost certainly you’re going to be able to do it because if you’ve if you have drive and knowledge you’ll be able to take something new on and succeed.


I learnt more from Len Clayton (former CEO of Interleasing) than I thought possible.

He was a good planner who liked to work in detail and that helped me.

I learnt the benefit of adopting some systems and structures. He was part of getting me to go back to university which was a big plus because it broadened my knowledge base.

He was assertive so when we had difficult situations he held to his judgement and I could see the value of that.

 

Becoming European chief executive for GMAC’s international leasing business was a huge step.

I had a reporting line of 10 MDs who disagreed with my appointment so it was both the biggest anti-climax and the biggest promotion I’d had.

It was a real challenge. I set up a meeting with all the MDs to understand the issues they were facing because I knew nothing about managing businesses in Europe.

They found that refreshing and that was the beginning of a sense of co-operation. Within six months it started to become fun and I absolutely loved that period.

 

When Len Clayton retired I succeeded him as group CEO.

At his retirement lunch at Claridge’s he said the role of the CEO was primarily to ensure you’d got the right people in place. I’ve hung onto that.

I think there is a job to be done where you set direction and then, with that direction set, you must ensure you’ve got a highly driven, talented team of people in your business to get there because you’re not going to do it on your own.

 

We hit the financial crisis in 2009 and the private equity firm that owned a 51% stake in GMAC got into financial difficulties.

We ended up having to break up most of the international businesses and sell them. This included my business, Masterlease. I then spent two years working in a reverse M&A (merger and acquisition) capacity.

That was a very different job which was incredibly rewarding despite the fact that the circumstances were very sad.

 

Following that, my time at GMAC needed to come to an end.

That was the first time since I joined Interleasing all those years ago that I was in the job market looking for the next thing.

I am someone who committed himself to a single organisation for a long time, I had a great career path with them so no regrets, but it was an absolute shock when the roof caved in on GMAC in 2010.

When I left GMAC, for probably the previous eight years the level of international travel I’d had exceeded 150 nights a year out of the UK.

It was a brilliant aspect of the career in many respects but there is a consequence to that when you’re bringing up a young family.

I’d primarily worked in South America, Latin America, North America, Australia, Europe.

When I stepped out of GMAC one of the things I said to myself was, ‘I’ll try and find something a bit more local this time’ and I got offered a great role for an insurance group called BGL, based in Peterborough.

 

The day I started at BGL I got a call from a recruiter about another job I’d applied for with Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) in the used vehicle market.

They asked me to take a call with one of ALJ’s directors. I agreed and having listened to what he was looking to achieve it was hugely inspiring.

I took the decision to go back to working internationally, but this time permanently based in Dubai rather than in the UK.  

That was hugely interesting and again got me into areas of the world I’d not worked in like Morocco, India and Turkey, three interesting places. That was very different.

 

A phone call from a headhunter led to me coming back to the UK.

I knew Alphabet had some pretty dynamic people in it, I could see the strength and commitment to the forward vision the group had and the strength of the parent BMW Group.

You couldn’t ask for more and it made me realise I was hungry to come back to the leasing industry.

 

You can’t do this without drive and ambition otherwise you just level out. 

I had loads of drive to take that journey to group CEO for Masterlease but I’ve got every bit as much drive today running what I think is a fantastic business here in the UK.

The energy is created in a different way.

Here, working in a single business environment, you’ve got the contact with the people and the customers and the marketplace, and the combination of those three is like rocket fuel for me, I just love it.



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