In this episode, we meet Kevin Gaskell, Former CEO of Porsche, Lamborghini and BMW on Transforming customer experience, driving extraordinary results, and daring to dream.
Kevin, who is currently Chairman of ITS Technology Group, is an experienced executive and sought-after conference speaker in the fields of leadership in challenging environments, creating extraordinary teams and building high performing companies.
As MD of Porsche GB he led Porsche from close to bankruptcy to the UK’s most profitable importer within 5 years, while as MD of BMW (GB) he helped improve sales by 80% and profitability by 500% during his 4 year tenure.
His company ‘The Inspired Leaders Group’ supports business leaders and their teams as they navigate the route to growth and success.
He is also an adventurer, having walked unsupported, with his son, to both the North and South Poles and recently rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in world record time.
In this episode we talk about:
- How he transformed the customer experience after taking the reins at Porsche;
- His method of Commit, Connect and Create when driving extraordinary results;
- The simple act of daring to dream; and
- His incredible story of crossing the Atlantic in an ocean rowing boat.
Connecting with Kevin Gaskell
You can reach Kevin via LinkedIn.
Books and resources mentioned in the episode
- What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School – by Mark McCormack
- Close to the Wind – by Pete Goss
- Inspired Leadership – by Kevin Gaskell
“So 10 minutes later, they invited us back in and said, ‘Right, we made a decision. You are the new Managing Director, and you are the new Finance Director. That is the plan, make it happen.’ And honestly, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was completely surprised. I went out of that room and I thought, ‘What do I do now?!’”
On how he turned Porsche around
- We had three years unsold new car inventory, and you know, Porsches do not improve by sitting around for three years. We were losing 20% on everything we sold. We had no cash. And then the killer was in terms of customer satisfaction, out of 32 brands in the marketplace, we were number 32.
- So we got our first board meeting together and I appointed really quite young people into this board, it was all their big step up. And we sat there and said, “What should be our focus?” And we realised that it was all about customer satisfaction. People are not buying a car when they come to Porsche, they’re buying an experience, and we’d lost that experience.
- Two weeks after I took over, we fired half the company, we just stripped out cost, which was a terrible thing to have to do. I knew these people. I’d been there for five years, and I went back into my office and locked the door and I cried my eyes out. I just fired half my friends. So it was a terrible thing to have to do.
- You enter the building with an electronic pass, but depending on your grade you can only go into certain areas. So I took all the locks off as I want everybody’s ideas, and everybody to contribute to this.
- Very quickly we worked out a comparatively small number of people in the business had never driven the vehicles. So we went to a driving area with a bunch of cars. Everyone in the company drove the cars so everyone could get excited about what these vehicles were.
On changing the way Porsche dealt with customers
- We recognised that we couldn’t give clients or prospective clients the kind of service that they deserve at a motor show. So we had an Open Day at the Factory and told people that we’d spend time with them and hundreds of people came. And over the next three or four years, we got smarter in how we invited people and giving them a better experience the first time around.
- So I would ring up a journalist, particularly those in the middle-ranking media. And I would say, “Hi, my name is Kevin Gaskell. I’m Chief Executive of Porsche. When was the last time you drove one? I’ve never driven a Porsche. Would you like to borrow one? Sorry, who is this? Are you serious? Yeah. Would you like to borrow a car? Yeah, I’d love to. Okay, here’s the deal. We’ll deliver it to you. You can keep it for a week. But you have to drive it back to the factory and interview me at the end of it, that’s the deal. Once they were in front of me, I’d tell them about the brand. And what they could see was we weren’t really this arrogant, Germanic brand that the media had made it out to be. We were a bunch of very passionate car enthusiasts who loved what we were doing and who were changing the business. And that transformed the perception and four years later, we were number one in customer satisfaction. We were the most profitable car business in the market.
- We made heroes of people. When they did extraordinary levels of customer service, we actually shared it. So it was about living the words, walking the talk, actually showing to the customers that we cared about each and every one of them.
On the confidence to deliver his plan
- It’s pretty radical, but the CEO of BMW was a guy who I knew and respected. I got to know Tom Purvis pretty well. I called him up and I said, “Tom, would you give me an hour of your time?” And he said yes. I said I wanted to come and talk to you about what I’m going to do with this business. Three or four hours later, and he said, “Kev, great plan, you’ve got to do it.” And that was the first point of confidence-boosting or reinforcement
- The second really came from the team itself because we had a rule in the business that you speak openly. If you think something’s not working, say so. It’s much more difficult to listen and accept than it is to tell someone to do something.
On getting people to be honest
- There’s one version of the truth. So I invited some dealers to join our management board. Some people said to me, “You’re crazy. These are our dealers. They’ll find out what’s going on, they’ll find out we don’t know the answer to everything.” I said, “Yeah, great. Because if our dealers are successful, we’re successful. I’ve got dealers who’ve been doing it for 25 years, they know this industry inside out.”
- I was very selective about who I invited; I invited people who were going to come and give me wise counsel and those who were honest with me.
On defining the goal first
- Most successful businesses don’t do what they were set up to do. So they started a business with a dream. And then many businesses more often become bureaucratic and everything slows down, and they kind of lose sight of why they were there. So my approach is to go the other way around.
- At Porsche, we said, “What should success look like?” And we said that we should be number one in customer satisfaction. And the guys around the table agreed, but said, “We know, we’re number 32. We’ve no idea how to get to there.” But that’s the plan we set out to build. So it was daring to dream that we’re going to number 1.
On daring to dream
- I can walk into a business and say, “What’s your plan?” And they would typically say that they want 3% growth. I say, “Let’s play a game. Let’s imagine what you could do. If I gave you all the resource in the world, how would you grow this business at 30% in the next year?” And they immediately start thinking of profit. And their first reaction is to cut costs. I then say that I’m talking about growing revenue and their reaction was that it’s impossible. I then say, “Okay, let me make it easy for you. Forget the 30%.” You see them relax a bit. “300%. How do you grow this business to 300%?” At first, you see that fear in their eyes, and then they start to laugh. But I tell them that I chair 2 companies growing at 400% and they’re not startups. It was because we dared to dream about what was possible. And we did things differently. And we got into markets that we didn’t previously believe we could get into.
- So I say to these teams, “What would you do?” We kick these ideas around. And you know, some of these ideas are crazy. Fine, but capture them anyway. And we’d come up with 10 ideas of how they could really go to a different level. And then I’d ask, Which of those ideas are not in your control? What’s the prioritisation? Because you start doing those things you’ve just told me and you’ll get a transformational improvement in your business.”
On his model of commit, connect, create
- The Commit part is how good you want to be. Because you should be world-class. There’s no reason not to be world-class at anything you want to do.
- The second is to Connect. How do we connect everybody to this dream, to this commitment? And we share it, we talk about it, we talk openly about it within the business. And we build a 1000 day plan. What are we doing today, tomorrow and the day after? That gets the heart rate of the business up, we start ticking faster because we’re looking at day by day by day.
- And then the third piece is to Create. And I call that Creating Magic. It’s when everyone in the business knows what we’re setting out to achieve. In business, you can have a little piece of magic. And so we try to gather these little pieces of magic. And we talk about them and get excited, because I believe I can do that.
On the distinction between motivation and inspiration
- I’ve never met anybody who wants to do a bad job. I really haven’t. I’ve met a lot of people who are doing a bad job. But that’s mostly because they don’t know what’s expected of them. So I work on the basis people are incredible.
- They say great leaders develop great leaders. And our job, as business leaders, is to create leaders at every level in the organisation. The great leaders inspire other people and they do it by saying, “We know where we’re going. That’s the commit. We have a plan to do it. That’s the Connect. Now I’m inviting you to be inspired and create magic. And that is about realising that you can do this, we can make something that’s extraordinary.
- Most motivation is typically a short-term thing; you’re unhappy, you get paid more. Great, you’re happy. But you’re motivated for three months and then you forget you had a pay rise, and motivation goes away again.
- So we work really hard to make sure we’ve got a team of people who are inspired because they want to be, and they have a lot of fun and get a lot of satisfaction from achieving what we set out to commit to achieve.
- If people don’t share that dream, no problem. But I help them go somewhere else. Because if you’re in my business, this is where we’re going. Don’t waste your time with people who waste your time. You aren’t going to change some people, so recognise it, invite them to go find their own dream. And it’s not a bad thing; I’ve got a lot of friends who I have taken out of the business. They’re still friends, they’re doing other things where they’re having a lot more fun than they were in my business.
On interrupting negative patterns
- Stop, turn your phone off, turn your laptop off, go somewhere quiet for four hours. And work out what success looks like for you 1000 days from now and write it down. Take four hours, only four hours, most people never stop and do that.
On lessons learnt from rowing across the Atlantic
- We got used to the big storms and we got big waves and we got used to them. We capsized once and I got thrown out of the boat. But you climb back in.
- So we had a team meeting about how we can go faster. And we talk about honesty in the business, there are five of us in the boat, four of the guys are in their 20s, one of them is a Team GB triathlete, one of them is one of the top indoor rowers in the world, the other two are really strong boys. And there’s me in my 60s. So what we decided was to swap the shift rota and I would become the support to all of them. So food, drink, engineering stuff. That was quite a dose of reality because I actually felt quite bad, but I couldn’t row at the same intensity as the others. And this is the thing in business, sometimes you realise it. People in the business are far better at doing things than you. Don’t pretend that you can make decisions to tell them how to those things better, because you can’t. What you can do is create an environment where they can excel.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- Believe in the future because we will always find a way to improve our business and to improve our lives. I don’t believe the doomsayers, I just don’t believe them. Yes, I do believe that climate change is an issue, but I also believe that mankind is sufficiently intelligent that we will deal with it. We need to deal with it. Don’t believe the doomsayers – life is exciting!