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The last word: Jim Kirkwood

Jim Kirkwood, managing director, AA Drivetech

What is your biggest achievement in your current role?

The acquisition of DriveTech in 2009 by The AA and the success that the business has enjoyed since then. This has led to the formation of a new business within The AA called Driving Services which includes DriveTech, a number of other leading brands as well as the AA and BSM Driving Schools.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

My father, who told me to spend time ‘on’ the business as well as ‘in’ the business. Understand the business intimately, get to the detail of how it works, but also understand where you want to take it.

What is your dream holiday?

Life’s a journey and I like going to different places with my family. This can be as simple as an overnight stay in a Premier Inn somewhere we’ve never been. If I was to pick one place it would be New Zealand and visiting the iconic Cloudy Bay winery – you can’t beat a nice chilled glass of the stuff.

What is your favourite sitcom?

The chandelier moment in Only Fools and Horses comes to mind but more recently I think Gavin and Stacey. I can relate to Smithy!

What is your favourite film?

My recent favourite was A Good Year with Russell Crowe. I realised that many attributes of his character in the film were also mine – it was like looking in the mirror. By the end he had recognised what needed to change – as have I – and headed off to Provence, where I too have had a couple of recent holidays.

You are going to a desert island – what three things do you take with you?

Swiss Army knife, a mirror and willpower.

When did you last use public transport?

Yesterday. I took a short bus ride and a train to central London for a meeting.

What is the first thing you would do if you were made Prime Minister for the day?

I would encourage another Bank Holiday. I have a strong work ethic, but family time is important and I think in business we’ve all got really good at e-mailing and texting over the weekend with our iPhones, but we haven’t yet figured out how to go to lunch with friends or get to a movie on a Monday afternoon.

What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?

My biggest career mistake was joining Barclays. I realised that, for me, the culture was wrong and I needed to head back to a smaller, more entrepreneurial place in which I thrive.

If you won the Lottery, what would be the first thing you would buy?

A highland retreat somewhere in the wilds of Scotland. Driving back for New Year, up through Glencoe or taking the Road to the Isles still brings back the Braveheart in me and a calling that one day I will return back north.

What is your favourite restaurant dish?

I love a good steak and my favourite place for one is when I take my boat with the family up the River Thames to the Waterside Inn.

What is your favourite book?

Land’s Edge by Tim Winton. It’s short, non-fiction based on the West Coast of Australia. I’ve read the book more times than you can shake a stick at – it’s one of those where you’re right there with the author.

What is your best childhood memory?

Working from a very young age in my dad’s fish business. Catching and smoking wild salmon, smoking kippers, sorting out the turkeys for Christmas – it was great. My father had the Queen Mother and the Duke of Wellington as clients.

Which historical character do you most identify with?

Robert The Bruce.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Impatient but courteous, open and I like to think I listen. I don’t have all the answers which is why I have such a great team around me.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Be open, brave, follow your instincts and listen.

What one object couldn’t you live without?

A pen. I always have one for writing down ideas, notes, and messages to myself

Which comic superhero would you most like to be?

Tintin. A free spirit, investigative adventurer with, of course, Snowy the dog.

What is your dream car?

I love the Porsche Boxster S with its convertible roof for those long hot lazy days of summer. 

What has been the pivotal moment in your life?

In 1977, the fishing industry was going downhill fast. One Monday afternoon, my sister was reading the Glasgow Herald and turned to tell me that Napier College in Edinburgh was advertising for students to enter their business studies course.

By Wednesday I had completed the application form, on Friday I had the interview and one week later I started my journey to an honours degree and my career. That moment is as vivid today as it was then – a sliding door moment if ever there was one.

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