A lukewarm vol-au-vent and some flat champagne hardly make up for the back-slapping speeches and nagging feeling that being somewhere else would be much more rewarding and that all this money could have been better spent on higher salaries.
But the opening of Lex Vehicle Leasing’s headquarters bucks the trend. It isn’t so much the building that is such an attention-grabber – although even that is different – but what’s inside.
Behind the space-station facade is a bold venture that is already changing the face of leasing and the way the company car market operates.
Walk underneath the orange ‘Starship Enterprise’ above the main entrance and once inside the visitor can see the company is boldly going where no leasing company has gone before.
The 85,000 square foot premises in Stockport, which are double the size of the company’s former home in Sale, reflect an innovative approach to growth that saw LVL named in November as the biggest funded fleet in the country with 168,000 vehicles.
The most recent source of its rocketing fleet size, up from 124,000 last year, was a deal with rival leasing company HSBC Vehicle Finance.
HSBC announced in November that it was outsourcing its contract hire fleet to Lex. The £440 million deal involves the sale of about 45,000 contract hire vehicles to Lex, which becomes Britain’s biggest leasing company with an estimated 168,000 vehicles, taking the crown from Lloyds TSB autolease.
Lex Vehicle Leasing takes over everything related to back office operations, purchasing the vehicles, predicting residual values, taking the residual value risk, managing maintenance, handling driver queries and dealing with disposal, with no impact on service levels.
Visiting the headquarters, the reason for its confidence becomes clear. Lex already has similar deals under its belt of varying sizes, including Honda’s contract hire operations and a seven-year £1 billion contract to run Business Partner in the UK, which represents manufacturer brands from the Ford empire.
In addition, it is also the outsourcing partner for a number of end-user fleets and is part of a massive contract to run the MoD white fleet.
So under one roof, a host of different companies and corporate cultures are represented, but with the backing of the Lex Vehicle Leasing brand – a veritable United Nations of Leasing.
It gives the building a new and exciting atmosphere, as everyone takes part in a pioneering journey, with unique challenges and opportunities.
The opportunities are the chance to grab an increasingly dominant share of the leasing market through a relatively low-risk strategy. Rather than buying brands and legacy IT systems that are impossible to integrate, simply transfer rival fleets to your white label operations, backed by a massive investment in bespoke IT infrastructure.
The challenges include how to balance the need for employees serving different leasing customers to match their ‘masters’ corporate cultures, but at the same time be an integral and active part of the Lex Vehicle Leasing community. It is a challenge the HR team at Stockport is relishing.
Jon Walden, the firm’s managing director, who has overseen the recent growth, said: ‘We have grown substantially over the past few years and our investment in Stockport gives us a world-class headquarters to manage our future growth aspirations.
‘It also provides an excellent environment in which our colleagues can work, with more than 20 acres of its own grounds and 11 acres of recreational space.
‘This move is an investment in our people and ultimately our customers. It has ended a 12-month search for a new location which best suits the future needs of our company.’
Huge investment in new systems
LEX Vehicle Leasing has invested more than £16 million in the Heathside HQ, along with £22 million on state-of-the-art IT systems.
The banks of supercomputers sit on the ground floor, glowing behind toughened glass, the heartbeat of the whole building.
Yet even here the United Nations theme continues, as the programming for the system was outsourced to India. The IT department is a 100-strong team, with 28 staff relocated from India, along with their families.
It helps the driver service team manage 200,000 driver transactions a year. With 22,000 in-bound calls a month, even a £5 variance in budgeted costs for each piece of work can have a massive effect on the multi-million pound maintenance budget.
The Journey to Heathside Park
1959: Lex acquires British and Colonial Motors which offered a new method of car acquisition – contract hire
1969: Lex acquires Controlled Cost Motoring based at Sale
1972: Lex Vehicle Leasing name introduced
1980: Joint venture established with Lombard North Central
1988: Fleetdrive purchased. Last acquisition made by Lex. All subsequent growth organic
1989: Lex wins Best Contract Hire Company, at the first Fleet News Awards
1994: Lex One-Call introduced
1996: Royal Air Force awards Lex its biggest-ever contract
1998: Halifax plc and Lex form new 50/50 joint venture
2003: Lex Academy introduced
2004: Lex Momentum fleet management consultancy introduced
2005: Joint shareholder HBOS announces plans to purchase remaining half share from Aviva