Fleet News

The Last Word: Duncan Wilkes

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What has been your biggest achievement as chief executive of Halfords Autocentres?
At Nationwide Autocentres my biggest achievement was growing the fleet business by 50% over five years and winning the Fleet News Supplier of the Year award 2010. At Halfords my biggest achievement has been rebranding the entire network seamlessly while opening 18 new centres.

How would you describe your leadership style?
Consensual. It quite often takes longer to reach decisions if you do them in a consensual way, but actually you take better decisions. They are likely to be better implemented if you’ve involved all the people affected and given them the opportunity to be involved in the decision making. So the decisions are slower than if you’re autocratic, but I think they are better decisions.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
My wife. That’s genuinely true. The person who I’ve talked to the most about things over the course of the last 30 years has been my wife. There have been lots of people I’ve worked for and with, but the person who has been the most consistent throughout and supported me and put up with me has been my wife.

Who was your childhood hero?
Geoffrey Boycott. I was brought up in Yorkshire, I love cricket and I wanted to open the batting for Yorkshire and England and Geoffrey was doing that. Everything I’ve heard about him since suggests the best way to keep him as my hero is never to meet him.

What is your dream holiday?
Italy because of the food. Tuscany in particular. I’ve been once a year for the past several years.

If you won the Lottery, what would be the first thing you would buy ?
I’d buy my daughter a beautiful flat in South Kensington. I’ve just got one daughter, luckily! She’s at university, but she is planning to live in South Kensington afterwards. I’ve got to win the Lottery first though.

What is your favourite sitcom?
The Thick of It. It’s Peter Capaldi swearing a lot and being a sort of fake Alistair Campbell. You ought to see it if you haven’t.

When was the last time you took public transport?
On Saturday night. I was going to a restaurant with my wife and neither of us wanted to drive. I use public transport quite a bit because I live
in Twickenham.

When did you last feel guilty about the environment?
When you asked this question – because I drive 3,000 miles a month.

What would do if you were Prime Minister for the day?
Resign. I wouldn’t want that responsibility.

What was the pivotal moment in your life?
The birth of my daughter – it really does change your life, more than anything else. You’ve got someone else to worry about all the time in a way that you don’t worry about anybody else.

Who was the last person you received a text message from?
Our chief operating officer with the latest sales figures. But I can’t tell you the numbers.

What is your favourite film?
Casablanca. I aspire to be Humphrey Bogart, but my wife and daughter both laugh at that idea. I’ve got a trilby hat and a trench coat, but I’m never allowed to wear them.

What has been your biggest mistake in business?
The biggest mistake was doing a deal that looked like a very good deal, but actually it was with a company that turned out to be incompetent. We thought it was great that they were prepared to sign a five-year contract and pay lots of money. It was a marvellous contract until it went bust. The lesson is to check that what appears to be well-founded in a partnership actually is and that the people you are dealing with are competent and can do what they promise.

What is your best childhood memory?
Playing cricket on the beach. There’s a bit of a cricket theme to my answers.

What is your favourite dish at a restaurant
Scallops followed by duck. I find the duck goes very well with heavy red wine.

What is your dream car?
I’m happy with my BMW 7 Series.

You are on a desert island – what three things do you take with you?
A bowling machine, a cricket net and an endless supply of cricket balls.

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