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Kevin Gaskell inspires from the driving seat at Business Hive Live 2017

FAST-paced, focussed and phenomenally full-on, a man who has been in the driving seat of some of the world’s most prestigious motor brands shared his journey with an intimate Grimsby audience.

Kevin Gaskell inspires from the driving seat at Business Hive Live 2017

Kevin Gaskell was heading up Porsche UK at the age of 32, going on to take the wheel at Lamborghini and then BMW GB, before sharing his entrepreneurial spirit with grass roots investments - with incredible success throughout.

So how does he get the performance out of teams like the cars driven out of showrooms?

“It starts with a vision, dreaming about what can be possible,” he told Business Hive Live 2017.

“In our businesses we don’t talk about looking for another one per cent market penetration or two per cent return on assets or three per cent return on investment. 99 per cent of your people have no idea what it means.  How do they make a difference to that? They don’t know. We talk about creating something special, something extraordinary. A team of ordinary people can do something extraordinary, you invite people on a journey.”

Seatbelts metaphorically snapped on, we were ready for the grand tour.

Mr Gaskell was born in Macclesfield, and planned to be a civil engineer, winning prizes at university in Bradford. Graduating as a structural engineer, he stayed on for his MBA, and then worked in the industry, helping deliver Birmingham NEC and the M54 motorway. Frustrated with inefficiencies, he opted for another direction, joining a major manufacturing business as a management accountant.   

Reasons for getting the seat at Porsche at an age when most would struggle to pay the insurance on one were shrouded in modesty, but you suspect his drive and leadership was out in front already, having joined as a regional manager when he saw a job advert in The Times. “I was asked to run Porsche when I was 32, I was as green as grass,” he said. “Why choose me? No-one else wanted to do it. We had lost 90 per cent of sales, we had three years of new car inventory sat in fields. Of 31 brands in the UK in customer satisfaction, we were 31st. Just when you think it can’t get any worse they make you MD!”

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So how did he handle a hand break turn of business proportions with headlights on such a prestige brand when the early Nineties crash hit?

“I said to people ‘are we going to be the people steering this great brand when it goes off the road?’ No. I had been there five years and I said we can do this, we can do something we have to have a dream. It is about having a dream.

“It is about passion, being able to look inside yourself to see you are determined to make this happen.

“We had lost 90 per cent of the sales, dealers were throwing back contracts, no-one would buy one, it was not the car to be seen in as the market went into recession.  I looked into the eyes of my team and they were scared. Banks wouldn’t touch us. We transformed the business by taking it to pieces and putting it together again.

“In four years, with the same team of people, we went from 31st to number one, we went from losing 20 per cent on cars to making 20 per cent, we were the most profitable business in the UK car market. It is about releasing your passion and belief, and ability to dream. You can change the world. “They say every successful business person is a dreamer, but that’s not the same as saying every dreamer is a successful businessman. There has to be structure behind it.”

Supercar stock was furthered too, with an acquisition under his watch, having also been in a distressed state. “I bought Lamborghini for £100,000. Not a car, not the parts, the business,” he said.

Next came BMW, with the polar opposite beginning. “It was very stable, seen as the number one brand,” he recalled.

That concerned him, he didn’t want it to be about how fashionable the famous blue and white quarters were, but how good the craftsmanship and technology that lies beneath and behind was.

Could he grow a business worth £5 billion with 70,000 people?

“I said let’s go and learn from five star hotels and first class air travel. Let’s bring these ideas in to the company.

“We grew by 80 per cent, we grew operating profit by 500 per cent. My belief is ‘get better and bigger well come’ don’t chase the numbers.

“Two years into the journey as the numbers span up my board got very excited, and the ideas went around the world.

“It is not about how good you are, it is about how good you want to be.”

Since leaving BMW he has built 14 new businesses.

He has also gone on to walk unsupported to the North Pole and South Pole, and is dedicating much of his time away from the various offices he now splits himself between to raising money in memory of a younger sister he lost to cancer.

He believes there are three vital stages in achieving when building a business: commit, connect and create.

“You have to make a positive decision to do something, and you never do it on your own, it won’t happen,” he said. “Everyone has a community of people around them, let them know what you are trying to achieve and they will help you. Then create magic. Do something extraordinary, where people go ‘wow, look what we’re part of, look what we’re achieving’.”

And don’t think it is as gentle as a cruise in a 7-Series Beemer either. “If everything seems under control you are not going fast enough,” he said. “You need to be on the edge, it needs to be uncomfortable, you need to be pushing the boundaries.”   

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