Fleet News

Successful legacy for retiring chief of BCA

IN every business executive's life, there comes a time when he or she takes stock and looks back at the highlights of a rewarding career. While it is pleasing to remember promotions and successful deals, a more accurate reflection of achievement in business is the legacy passed on when the executive steps down.

For Tom Gibson, retiring chief executive of British Car Auctions, that legacy is a company now at the heart of the motor industry.

It is one of the biggest privately-owned companies in the country, with 2,000 employees, a turnover of £2.8 billion and 37 sales locations throughout Europe, which between them sell 1.2 million vehicles a year.

When Gibson joined the company in 1984 as managing director, BCA had 14 locations, was only based in the UK, had a turnover of £500 million and remarketed 400,000 vehicles every year.

His success in building the business into a giant of the motor industry that can rival some motor manufacturers for turnover is just one of his major achievements in a career dedicated to the motor industry, shared between dealerships, leasing firms and auctions.

In 1954, on his 15th birthday, Gibson entered the motor industry working in a car dealership in the west of Scotland. He began an apprenticeship and then at the age of 22 moved to the rental division of Godfrey Davis, selling rental and leasing.

In 1963, aged just 23, he moved back to dealerships as a director and general manager when Godfrey Davis acquired a site near Glasgow, making him one of the youngest people ever to hold such a position.

In 1966, still only 27, he moved from Glasgow to Welwyn as managing director of Godfrey Davis Welwyn, then on to Wembley in 1971 as managing director of the biggest Ford dealership in Europe.

Three years later, in 1974, he took over as managing director of Godfrey Davis Car Hire, which at the time was the market leader in the UK, with 300 locations, before joining British Car Auctions in 1984.

Gibson said: 'I was involved with auctions all through my career, even from being an apprentice when I had to take vehicles to sales. When I joined British Car Auctions, I was privileged to inherit the opportunity to run a company that had style, flair and image second to none, having been founded in 1946.

'My major contribution was that I could develop it to where it is today and my only hope is that my successors will be even more successful.'

During the time he has been involved with auctions, Gibson has seen major changes, in particular with their perception throughout the motoring world.

He said: 'There used to be a negative perception of the auction industry, in part because of small, poorly-run auction sites. We have made a tremendous leap forward, establishing the industry as a well-run, professional, educated business.'

The vital role the auction industry plays in the car supply chain was brought into focus as the new car industry changed.

Gibson said: 'As profits from new cars have become squeezed, dealerships know how important it is to have a profitable used car business.'

Vendors such as fleets also value the importance of the auction in selling stock, but they must also recognise its role as a 'true' market, Gibson said. In the company's boardroom in Blackbushe, a small sign contains a quote from George E. Hoffer, an economist at Virginia Commonwealth University, who specialises in automotive retailing. Hoffer said auctions should be used in textbooks to illustrate economic efficiency, adding: 'The used car market at wholesale is almost perfectly competitive.'

Gibson added: 'We can have up to 1,300 people attending a sale. The growth of the vehicle market has added to greater numbers of vehicles being sold wholesale and more vendors are recognising the efficiency of auctions.'

Modern technology has married perfectly with the auction environment with the launch of services such as Live On Line, BCA's hi-tech service that uses web browser technology to deliver live video and real-time audio to remote bidders.

The specialised BCA Direct e-business service enables motor retailers to buy vehicles online. The Auction View service delivers a range of vital information for customers, including stock location, vehicle images, sale catalogues and real-life auction values, benchmarked against industry guides.

BCA has also pioneered new initiatives, such as using SMS mobile phone text messaging to promote sales and it has been at the forefront of a growing industry offering small to medium area repairs, which can add hundreds of pounds to the value of a car for relatively little cost.

In Gibson's view, this is backed by an 'incredibly strong management team' helping him achieve his key aim.

'If you are to step down, then your ultimate aim has to be to make yourself superfluous. In many cases, people make the mistake of hanging on too long.' Gibson intends to continue an ambassadorial role with the company, particularly social functions, such as golf.

He said: 'I don't think I have ever taken my full holiday entitlement in my life, so if I play golf, it may be with some customers.'

Tom Gibson career history

1954: Car dealership in Scotland - apprenticeship
1962: Godfrey Davis – rental and leasing sales
1963: Godfrey Davis Glasgow – general manager
1966: Godfrey Davis Welwyn – managing director
1971: Godfrey Davis Wembley – managing director
1974: Godfrey Davis Car Hire – managing director
1984: British Car Auctions – managing director

A watching brief as business continues to expand

ALTHOUGH he has stepped down, Gibson retains a share in the business and continues to keep a watching brief, particularly as there still remains massive potential for growth in the company, with Europe the richest prize.

He said: 'I was keen to develop the European side of the business, although any demand for auctions was stunted by the old VAT regime of the time. We had to lobby very hard for a change.'

In much of Europe before the change in tax rules, dealers were required to charge VAT on the full used price of a car. This led to unofficial private arrangements, which avoided the imposition of VAT.

But the introduction of the 'margin scheme' of VAT meant dealers only paid tax on the profit they made on the sale of the car. This encouraged a boom in dealer-based used car sales, which in turn led to increased demand for auctions.

BCA had already moved into Denmark in 1992 as it mirrored Britain in using the margin scheme before the rest of Europe.

Gibson said: 'After the VAT changes the auction network accelerated. We now have 14 locations in Europe, from Norway to Portugal. Two sites in Frankfurt and Seville will open in 2004 while another site in Barcelona is also planned.'

In the UK, further expansion is also underway with work set to start on a supersite in Bedford. Gibson added: 'There is no limit to our UK or European expansion and one day Europe will be as profitable as the UK market for us.'

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