Jon Olsen is the boss of BCA. I’ve never met him before – and I’m late.
Not a good start.
But Jon is most gracious and accepts my apologies for hopeless navigation.
It seems he likes people and likes to talk anyway.
There doesn’t appear to be any of the aloof CEO locked away in the ivory tower with Mr Olsen.
“You know, I love to walk round the shopfloor – it’s downstairs from my office – just to feel the auction floor vibe.
"It’s so invigorating. And I think it’s good for the staff to see that I’m genuinely interested in what they do,” explains Jon.
He’s a people person.
It’s not something you automatically associate with accountants: figures, sums, that sort of thing, but people?
However, it’s clear that, although he’s a trained accountant and had stints for PWC and in BCA’s number-crunching department, an ability to engage with all levels of society is one of his strengths.
However, I ask him whether a sheepskin coat is still a pre-requisite for working here.
“I think we’ve moved on from the sheepskin coat,” he responds with a wry smile.
“What we’ve not done, however, is move away from that customer base.
"Although we have now progressed to online auctions, we have a robust physical auction system that is difficult to beat when you’re shifting a lot of cars.
“Nevertheless, it’s all evolved around a core model, even if it is a far cry from taking bundles of notes over the counter.”
Jon thinks this evolutionary ability is a contributor to BCA’s market success.
“It’s a combination of doing the traditional things well and tweaking bits here and there, responding to customer demands – and maintaining customer relationships.
"I include in that our own people.”
The people thing is never far from Jon’s mind or this conversation.
Which must be good for BCA’s 2,000 employees, 500 of whom work in Europe.
And Jon thinks there are great opportunities in Europe – as well as further developing the UK market.
But Europe has potential.
“You look at the market sizes, particularly in eastern Europe where we’ve just expanded further, and there’s still a big prize to go for.
"It also gives us greater ability to help our customers sell their cars in the most profitable centres. I think that will be important.”
Turning Jon’s gaze back to the UK, I wondered who were BCA’s biggest customers?
There are five main groups, he explains: the leasing companies; finance companies; manufacturers; dealers (both independent and franchised); and the public authorities.
“Our two biggest customers, though, are the dealers and leasing companies – which reflects the industry. And they are demanding.
"They have to be – they want an extra 1% here, another 3% uplift there.
“We take a partnership approach with them. They are entrusting us with their assets and we’ve got to get the best possible price for them. There’s no room for complacency.”
Apart from rigorous self-assessment to keep BCA on top of the job, I ask Jon what are the threats to the business. What about the credit crunch?
“Clearly if consumers stopped buying vehicles it will impact our business, but balanced against this is the leasing industry, which already has cars in the pipeline.
But these things are cyclical anyway. And we’re protected because the vehicle parc always churns – if you want, we’re a bit like the stock exchange of the used car market.
"We’re a market platform reflecting current prices.”
Did Jon fear other auction competitors such as Manheim? Would they upset his stock market?
“We welcome competition,” he replies.
“Manheim is there and particularly big in the US. But we’re focused on what we do.”
Before we end, I ask Jon what remarketing advice he would give to fleet managers with owned fleets.
“It’s all about planning and when’s best to sell,” says Jon.
“Evaluate your stock, describe and price it correctly – this is important because buyer groups follow certain vendors – prepare the vehicles well, and make sure all the documents are there. It all comes down to better organisation.”
Perhaps this advice isn’t surprising from someone who was trained to organise numbers so they made sense. But with Jon, it seems to come with a human touch, too.
- Tips from the top
Golden rules for success
I’m not sure about golden rules for success, but there are three things I hang on to. It’s important to be positive – it has a huge impact on the people around you. The second is to have huge enthusiasm for what you do. And the third is to listen.
In moments of frustration, what do you kick?
Rather than kicking I tend to explode… now and then. I have a five or 10-second vent and then it’s back to normal. But it doesn’t happen often.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Be patient and let things work for you. I’m naturally impatient, but my predecessor taught me the value of patience.
If you weren’t boss of BCA do you know what you would be doing now?
I really don’t know. I’m happy doing what I’m doing.
Used auction bargain or company car – what do you drive?
I drive, like all our staff that qualify for a company car, a used example we’ve bought through auction.
If Jon Olsen was a premiership football manager, and BCA his team, what would that team be?
It would have to be Liverpool. I’m a lifelong supporter… and we’re good in Europe!
What keeps you awake at night?
Worrying when Liverpool will next win the Premiership.
What personal and professional qualities will be required in your eventual successor?
They would have to be a people person. A large part of what I do is about interacting with my customers and my staff. There’s a broad spectrum of people, too, from the buyer of 10 vehicles a month to the MD of Lex.
In your opinion, what personal and professional qualities are required in a successful fleet manager?
I think fleet managers need to be well-trained – that’s a
pre-requisite. They are facing so much legislative and environmental change that they need to be on top of their game all the time. They also need to be patient. Company cars are hugely emotive – they are often facing people with a lot of emotion!
- Olsen’s way
Now the chief executive officer of leading auction house BCA, South African John Olsen (46) qualified as a chartered accountant before moving to the UK in 1987 to join PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
But after four years there, Jon was enticed to BCA as its financial controller before becoming finance director of the UK operation in 1995.
Two years later, Jon’s fast-track career continued with his appointment to group finance director, which also included additional responsibilities for BCA’s expansion into Europe.
His role in the development of BCA’s mainland European operation was reflected in his promotion to managing director of the European operations, a position he held until May 2003, when he was appointed to his current role.
An active supporter of the motor industry charity Ben and Motability, the national disability charity, Jon lives in Surrey with his wife and two children.