There’s a saying that it’s grim up north.
It’s nonsense, of course, and if you want proof, go to Calverley near Leeds.
Modern offices in a converted mill are home to Zenith Provecta, number 22 in the FN50 list of top leasing companies with 17,500 vehicles to its name.
Zenith, a traditional contract hire company led by Andrew Cope, merged with Provecta, an employee car ownership (ECO) specialist run by Nick Sutton, in May 2008.
Zenith has always been in west Yorkshire; Provecta was based “down south” in Reading.
The combined company still runs both offices but will undergo a rebranding in April.
Nick Sutton looks relaxed.
Having just negotiated the Leeds traffic better than ever, he thinks he’s “getting the hang of it”.
“I’m surprised how courteous everyone is,” says Nick.
“I’m used to sticking my nose into traffic and forcing my way in. Up here, people sit patiently at the line and someone immediately lets them in.”
The Zenith Provecta merger always looked like a good idea, similar companies with shared values offering different products that complement each other.
Even the main characters, Cope and Sutton, seem to be a good fit – similar enough, different enough.
Both were smart enough to not let personalities complicate the merger. Nick Sutton happily took the role of group business development director and let Andrew Cope take the lead.
“Basically, I took a back seat and allowed Andrew to get on with it,” he says. “We couldn’t both lead the process.
“It has gone very well. We expected it to take a year to properly bring it all together but most of it was completed in six months.
"After eight months we’ve almost finished, with just the rebranding in April to complete the process.”
As well as the politeness of drivers, Nick Sutton is also impressed by what he calls “good old Yorkshire thrift”.
“There’s even a bit of pride in being tight,” he says, “and I admit to cringing a little when I thought about how we used to operate at Provecta compared to the cost-efficient Zenith ways.
“This culture permeates into how fleets are looked after and we are very good at finding ways of saving customers money.”
Optimistic for the future
Efficiencies are paying dividends, with the former Provecta business set to hit 105% of its target, and full-year profits should be around £6 million for the combined businesses.
Nick Sutton is optimistic about the future too.
“Our house-building clients have been hit but many of our customers have not been affected by the downturn yet. The public-funded fleets look stable.
“I think the major shocks are already into the system, we’ve pushed capitalism to the brink and now it’s going to be a long, slow grind out of it,” Sutton says.
“But people who keep their jobs will have more money: borrowing is cheaper, mortgages are cheaper, food prices are down.
"And the car is essential because public transport is not good enough and is too costly.”
The merging of the companies has helped to validate employee car ownership schemes, which originally suffered from misunderstandings around their tax status.
Provecta battled long and hard to overcome those concerns but the ability to offer those products alongside traditional contract hire is like a seal of acceptance, of approval.
“I am fiercely loyal to ECO and I get a warm feeling when we find a company for which ECO is the right choice. But I’m not as partisan any more,” admits Nick.
“We have put a shield around our ECO specialists. We have real expertise in our ECO pod and we won’t let specialists become generalists.
"We want the best teams dedicated to the best products as the market becomes more sophisticated.
“Some of our competitors will suffer as a result of their parent companies . Their residual value losses will not be sustainable, they will squeeze margins and decisions will be based on the balance sheet. Service will suffer.
“We will help our customers to reduce costs by innovation and applying the right product, whether that’s ECO or contract hire or our brand new salary sacrifice scheme. I’m excited for the first time in years!”
Nick Sutton is far from grim when he’s up north.
Must be the polite drivers, the fresh air and the good old Yorkshire thrift.