Fleet News

Face to face: Andrew Cope, Zenith Vehicle Contracts

DESPITE thriving in a computer environment, Zenith Vehicle Contracts still places a heavy emphasis on old-fashioned principles such as customer service in its bid for sales growth. Managing director Andrew Cope speaks to Fleet NewsNet.

More than 130 years ago, with Britain's industrial revolution in full swing, a new mill opened for business. Its chimneys fired two years later, in 1868, with coal being hauled by horse from nearby Calverley, Leeds, as its rooms were filled with weavers, working in the first mill in the area to run power looms.

After 137 years, Holly Park Mills still stands, but its machines and weavers have long gone. Its redesigned interiors contain the new British industry, focused on service and technology.

Among them is leasing and vehicle management firm Zenith Vehicle Contracts, whose focus on service-led business, backed up by high technology, contrasts sharply with the history of the section of the mill it occupies.

But for managing director Andrew Cope, who has headed the company since 1999, service is the new growth industry. Zenith was formed in 1989 by a team of eight people and has enjoyed steady growth, despite the recession-hit 1990s.

The business developed on the back of the 'driver is customer' ethos, which prompted the launch of services including cash-for-car, personal contract purchase and internet-based fleet management.

It expects its fleet size to reach some 12,000 units this year, of which 7,000 will be funded vehicles. Last month, the company marked a key milestone, when its fleet size passed 10,000 units for the first time.

Among its major customers is Asda WalMart, along with payroll group Morepay, Geopost and Target Express.

As managing director, Cope is also a shareholder of the business. He was one of three directors and four managers who bought a stake in the company for an undisclosed sum last year.

It marked the culmination of Cope's career with Zenith, after he joined the company at its launch as sales executive, moving through in 1994 to sales and marketing manager, then sales and marketing director in 1997, before taking the MD's chair in 1999.

Cope said: 'Our key words are independent, innovative, service and quality. We believe customers want a relationship with people, so our style of management avoids mid-layer account managers.

'We strip out layers between customers and the highest levels of management and while the senior team gets new business, it also takes direct responsibility for making sure that customers receive the service they were promised. People look to be treated as individuals, not as a number.'

His eagerness to ensure direct relationships with customers has encouraged steady organic growth of 15% to 20% annually, but also bred a determination to avoid the traditional Achilles' heel that could damage a growing business which claims to be focused on service.

Cope said: 'We operate on key performance indicators that introduced a bonus level when they hit 90% satisfaction. This will be moving up to 95%. There are 64 staff working in the building and a management team of seven, but we do not have answerphones or voicemail.'

He added: 'A lot of companies fall down because when a contract is won, it passes to a different team. Instead, we give control to each person as though they are a little business unit. We will grow the organisation by the service ethic. Our service commitment means we are demonstrating to the world what we are doing.

'We need to be more vigilant and do more about service- related issues. It is about management and not having a call centre approach.'

A number of new services are planned to continue the steady growth the company has enjoyed, backed by continued investment in state-of-the-art technology.

A new all-employee car scheme service, called Zenith Newdrive, has been developed. It offers all staff at participating companies a fixed-cost motoring solution, including servicing, maintenance and road tax, over one to two years with a mileage allowance of 12,000 miles a year.

The firm has also developed an employee car ownership scheme reconciliation model, which automatically handles the complicated financial calculations involved in operating structured personal leasing schemes.

Zenith can already offer web-based fleet management and reporting and hosts many of its key business documents and guides on an intranet system allowing employees quick access to important documents.

Incredibly for a relatively small business, and considering the high-quality of the result, its web-service package has been developed in-house by a small team of dedicated staff.

However, Zenith has turned to outside experts at times, such as for its latest investment – a new residual value prediction model that can use a vast historic residual value database to analyse current predictions and assess their accuracy.

Because of the way the business has been structured, using technology to its fullest extent while maintaining direct links with the customer, Cope argues it can grow without risking its levels of customer service.

He said: 'We could grow to 20,000 vehicles with 100 staff and still operate in broadly the same way, although I think 20,000 is a threshold. In terms of employees, 100 is a historically controllable number of people.'

And there is still plenty of room for growth. On the floors above the carpeted and pristine interior of Zenith's offices is the bare wood floor of an empty machine room little changed from when the looms were removed decades ago.

It offers fantastic views across the Yorkshire countryside and will be developed to offer a rest area for staff in reward for their commitment to high service levels. It is an inspiring view, while the rugged interior emphasises the immense changes the building has witnessed over the centuries, from wool to wireless networks.

But for all the technology that Zenith can offer, Cope believes that the business relies first and foremost on its people, just as the wool industry did when Holly Park Mills was first created.

He added: 'Technology is just a facilitator to managing cars more efficiently. It allows you to transfer data more quickly, but it shouldn't transfer responsibility from management. Service is the new commodity. In our business, if you don't see service as your commodity, then you are wrong.'

  • Name: Andrew Cope
  • Job title: Managing director
  • Born: October 18, 1964
  • Career history: 1987: Bramall Fleet Services
    1989: Zenith Vehicle Contracts, sales executive
    1994: Zenith Vehicle Contracts, sales and marketing manager
    1997: Zenith Vehicle Contracts, sales and marketing director
    1999: Zenith Vehicle Contracts, managing director
  • Hobbies: rock climbing, playing guitar. Also involved in various groups, such as Business for Sterling
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