Kevin Gaskell

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Kevin Gaskell. Kevin has led the iconic brands, Porsche, Lamborghini, and BMW. After driving the turnaround at Porsche and leading five years of record growth at BMW, he was recognised as one of the UK’s top 40 leaders. Kevin founded a dot com, Epyx Limited, which became the market leader for automotive e-commerce. As global CEO of the Eurotax Group, he led his team to integrate 30 companies and to create the world leader in automotive data. During his career of founding start-ups, driving turnarounds and leading major brands, he has built over £3 billion of shareholder value. He has led transformational growth at 14 companies and now acts as chairman to a number of growing businesses.

You only go this way once, so make the most of it. Get out and live your life. Do things, which are exciting and interesting.

In this week’s show Kevin tells us about why he turned down the opportunity to become a professional cricketer & how this decision helped him set out to help people become successful. He talks about the big corporates he has worked for, the businesses he has built and his discipline for working and fitness training.

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Podcast Transcript

This week Maria interviewed Kevin Gaskell, award winning business leader, entrepreneur, team builder and corporate trailblazer.  Kevin has led the iconic brands, Porsche, Lamborghini, and BMW. After driving the turnaround at Porsche and leading five years of record growth at BMW, he was recognised as one of the UK’s top 40 leaders. Kevin founded a dot com, Epyx Limited, which became the market leader for automotive e-commerce. As global CEO of the Eurotax Group, he led his team to integrate 30 companies and to create the world leader in automotive data. During his career of founding start-ups, driving turnarounds and leading major brands, he has built over £3 billion of shareholder value. He has led transformational growth at 14 companies and now acts as chairman to a number of growing businesses.

Maria:    

Kevin Gaskell has led the iconic brands, Porsche, Lamborghini, and BMW. After driving the turnaround at Porsche and leading five years of record growth at BMW, he was recognised as one of the UK’s top 40 leaders. Kevin founded a dot com, Epyx Limited, which became the market leader for automotive e-commerce. As global CEO of the Eurotax Group, he led his team to integrate 30 companies, and to create the world leader in automotive data. During his career of founding start-ups, driving turnarounds, and leading major brands, he has built over £3 billion of shareholder value. He has led transformational growth at 14 companies and now acts as chairman to a number of growing businesses.

One of Kevin’s companies was recently recognised as the best private equity investment of the year. Another was reported as the seventh most innovative company in the world. Kevin recently published his book, Inspired Leadership, which he humbly describes as the only leadership book you will ever need to read.

Kevin, wow. Welcome.

Kevin Gaskell:        

Hello, Maria, great to talk to you.

Maria:              

Thank you. I don’t know where to start. There’s so much. So I’m going to start with something I haven’t mentioned. People may not know this, but you’ve had a career as an international cricketer. Could you tell us about that?

Kevin Gaskell:   

Yes, I played a lot of cricket.

Maria:     

Tell us more about that.

Kevin Gaskell:

Well I played at school. I actually went to school in Wales, and then from playing school cricket, you end up playing county cricket, then you play North Wales, and then I played for Wales. I played for Wales. Then I had an opportunity to become a professional cricketer with Lancashire. I actually turned it down. I decided to go to university instead. I was very lucky. They chased me whilst I was at university, and then Derbyshire chased me. I went in the necks for a while, but I realised when you’re playing with your icons, I mean I was in the necks with Clive Lloyd and these kind of people, I wasn’t good enough. I knew I wasn’t good enough to make it to the top, top, top echelon. So at that point, I said, no, I’ll play for fun, but I’m not going to try and be a professional. That’s when I stopped my ambition as a cricketer. I played village cricket for many years and enjoyed it very much.

Maria:  

That’s actually a huge decision to make. I didn’t realise that you had made that decision and decided that you weren’t good enough. I imagine that a lot of people out there don’t make that decision. That’s a harder choice, would you say?

Kevin Gaskell:

Yeah, I think it is. I think there are times in life when you have to be very honest with yourself, and ask yourself what is your own ambition. What is my dream? What is it that I really want to do? I wanted to play cricket even though I was playing at school, under 18 level for Wales. I was never going to play for England. Big decision, but the right decision. I played for fun. I enjoyed it for many years, but I don’t know.

It’s the same in business. I look at people I work with now, and you try to analyse what people’s skill set is. Make sure that they are having the opportunity to contribute in the best possible way. I see that as a part of being a leader, helping people to become successful. That’s what I set out to do, help people to become successful.

Maria:         

That’s a wonderful purpose to have. You’ve focused very much actually on the automotive industry. You’ve had great success and you have great expertise in that area. Do you think that the challenges for leaders are the same across all industries or is automotive a bit different?

Kevin Gaskell:             

No, I think that leadership is leadership. I think it’s completely transferrable. I spent 15 years driving automotive business, and then I walked away, and I spent the last 10 years building technology companies. The skills are completely transferrable. The challenges are similar. You have core business challenges and they relate to performance and sales and revenue and cash flow and all of that good stuff, but underlying all of it is what is our vision of success? How is our team going to achieve that vision of success and my job is to make the team successful, to give them the chance to be successful, so I see it as entirely transferrable.

Maria:            

Excellent. You mentioned the technology and your first foray into that was Epyx Limited, your dot com. How did you come to create that? What was the need that you saw in the market?

Kevin Gaskell:      

Well it was a bit of a story in as much as I had tired of working for big companies. Now I was running BMW GB. It was a 5 billion turnover business. I had an opportunity to go over to America, to go to Japan, to go to Germany. I just didn’t want to do that. I’d had enough of big businesses, and this thing called the internet was coming, and it was starting to really change the world, and the motor industry didn’t see it. At the time, the motor industry was far behind. I thought, I’ll go and do it

I was approached by some American backers, who I spoke with and I shared my dream that we could use the internet to transform the way that the motor industry operated. They were kind enough to put a lot of money available. I walked away. There was some very funny stories around that I’d had a nervous breakdown, all sorts of things, because people couldn’t understand that I’d walked away from this fantastic role, which it was in BMW, to do something that was absolutely start-up. It was me and a telephone.

I spent three to six months building a small team. Then we realised that our idea of retailing cars online, helping dealers to retail cars online, wasn’t going to work, because the dealers weren’t ready for it.  So we looked at the market and saw that the big brands at the time wanted to retail cars, so there was Virgin Cars, the AA, the RAC, Marks and Spencer wanted to come in. All these people wanted to retail cars, but they didn’t know how. We knew how. We also knew how to trade cars. We knew how to service cars, support cars. So we created a virtual trading platform, which we directed firstly at the fleet sector, so the big fleet operators saw our platform as a way of improving their efficiency. It was adopted very quickly and the business grew really, very quickly. We rapidly grew. We became pretty much a monopoly in the UK. Then we went into Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, so the business just flew. We kept the business for six years before a very large company came along and bought it from us.

Maria:     

Fantastic. That’s brilliant. Did you find that you had any skills gaps yourself going from being in business and leading business, and then becoming an entrepreneur effectively?

Kevin Gaskell:       

Yeah, absolutely. I mean the biggest challenge is cash flow. The biggest challenge was going away from the balance sheet of BMW to the balance sheet of a dot com. It’s just a massive shift. I always joke that I didn’t learn how to run a business until I was a one man band. It’s a very different skillset than running … I had 7,000 people at BMW, say X billion of revenue, 7,000 people, but it’s a very different challenge than when there’s just you, and you’ve got to create revenue, and you’ve got to motivate clients to work with you even though you’re a very small business.

Since then, I’ve built 14 companies since that day. I transfer those skills into big businesses now. I take them back in. When I speak, a lot of what I speak about is helping big companies to become more agile, more effective, more efficient, more proactive, and actually more entrepreneurial. It’s taking that skillset back in. But I had to step out to learn it to bring it back in. That’s why I humbly say this book’s the only one you need, you know, my book, Inspired Leadership, because after everything from the big company, learning in there, and everything from the small company like that, I put the two together.

Maria:       

Fantastic. We will make sure that people have a link to the book so that they could buy it, because that is the only book that they need to read, so we’ll do that for you.

Kevin Gaskell:             

It’s the only book.

Maria:   

Excellent. Excellent. You were also global CEO of the Eurotax Group. For those of us who don’t know anything about the automotive industry, what is the Eurotax Group? What does it do?

Kevin Gaskell:

The full name of the group is Eurotax Glass’s. In the UK, we owned Glass’s Guide. It provides automotive data, so everybody knows the used car guide that the car salesman has in his pocket, now he has on his smartphone, but it’s about used car retail prices where it started many, many years ago. This business is 100 years old. But then, there are so many other dimensions of data that, frankly, the internet platforms now need. They need car specifications, need car sizes, need repair times. They need part prices. There’s a whole plethora of data sets for any industry.

What we built was for the automotive industry. It seemed, to me, again, I was doing this in parallel with running and building Epyx. It seemed to me that the world was crying out for a data source because the online platforms were coming and they needed to power their platforms. We created a global data business in Eurotax Glass’s. Again, that was a huge learning, because we integrated 30 companies, some small, some big, but they’re all over the world, with different teams, different personalities. It was a case of identifying a common vision that people living in Australia and people in Sweden and people in North America and the people in the UK could all buy into. By doing that, we created this company, which was hugely successful.

Maria:         

Fantastic. You mentioned that you’ve started 14 other companies. That’s incredible. It’s incredible when somebody starts one company and makes it a success, but you’ve started 14. Which of those-

Kevin Gaskell:                    

Now let’s be careful. I haven’t started 14. I’ve started about six, but I have, with seven or eight other entrepreneurs, I’ve gone and helped them to build their businesses.

Maria:              

Okay. Thank you. Of those six companies that you started, which is the one that you are the most proud of?

Kevin Gaskell:             

Oh which of children do you like the most?

Maria:   

Very good answer. Very good answer.

Kevin Gaskell:                

They’re all very different. I mean I have one at the moment, which we started six months ago. We haven’t launched it yet, but I genuinely believe that’s going to be the biggest business I’ve ever built. I haven’t launched it yet, and I’ve got customers falling out of trees at the minute. We launch that in February. I’m really, really excited about that one.

I mean Epyx is obviously is a great story. We had a dream. We were a bunch of guys who had never run our own businesses before. We built this thing. It became the market leader. It was very successful. We sold it very well and put me in a very fortunate position. I came home and told my wife, “That’s it.” Sold the business. I’m retired. I’ve been with my wife for 35 years and she said, “Yeah, right.” Half an hour later, I started another business. That one was great fun.  Eurotax was a massive challenge. I have a company in South Africa right now, which I got involved when it was just about to fall over the edge and we built that back to be a global business again. It’s a fintech business. We do payment technology. They’re all so different. You learn from each one. You transfer the skills from one to the other, but you learn new stuff from each one.

Maria:      

What drives you to keep creating these new businesses, to keep helping other companies? What keeps you going? What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?

Kevin Gaskell:                      

Well helping other companies is usually because people call me and say, “Help! I’ve got a problem. Help!” I’ll usually give people advice on the telephone and support assistance, and then some just pique my interest. It’s not about scale. It’s not about size. Sometimes it’s about sector. If it’s something I haven’t been in before, that’s interesting.

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the fresh challenge. I do challenges in my business life. I do challenges in my private life. You only go this way once, so make the most of it. Make the most of it. Get out and live your life. Do things, which are exciting and interesting.

Maria:          

I think we can safely say that actually you definitely make the most of it, and talking outside of business, you’ve actually walked both the north and the south pole. You have climbed some of the world’s highest mountains. How do you fit that in, the training, and actually the planning, and then doing it? How do you manage that?

Kevin Gaskell:           

The training, you have to be pretty regimented about, particularly when you get to my age. I’m no spring chicken anymore. Every day, I do some training. It’s the first thing I do every morning and people who I work with know that I’m not really an early morning person. I’m not, but 10:00 is kind of when I start work. Before that, I will do a couple of hours training and I will either do a cycle ride, or I’ll drag tyres around the woods, or I’ll go in the gym, or I’ll do other things. I’m doing a lot of rowing at the moment. The next challenge is a rowing challenge so I’m doing an awful lot of rowing at the minute.

I fit that in by being absolutely disciplined about it. I’m very lucky in that I work for myself, so if I want to start work at 10:00 in the morning, I’ll start at 10:00 in the morning, but I typically walk out of my office at 10:00 at night, because I enjoy what I do. My office is at home. So, I walk out of my office at 10:00 at night. I have no problem with discipline. When I go in the office, I close the door. I’m at work. My family know that. I mean my kids have left now, but people don’t come in, Kev’s at work. That’s it. I’m pretty ruthless on time. I don’t waste time. I don’t watch TV. I don’t play golf. I just do what I enjoy doing. Work hard. Play hard.

Maria:   

That’s amazing. I love the fact that you’re promoting that work hard ethic, because so many people these days think that they can have success, have it quickly, without putting that work in. Those of us who work really hard just want to shake them and say, “Listen. Wake up to reality. You have to put the effort in. You really do.”

Kevin Gaskell:     

Do you know, somebody told me a long time ago, “Kev, do you know the secret to success?” I said, “No. (I was young) No. What is it?” He said, “I tell you what. Call me in my office at 11:00 on a Friday night and I’ll tell you.” And I went away and scratched my head. That stayed with me and that’s true, because today’s Friday, and if you call me at 10:00 tonight, I’ll be at my office. I don’t feel that that is any kind of sad or difficult situation. I’m doing it, because I love what I’m doing. I’ll be in there building a business. I’ll be in there writing my next book, whatever it is, but I enjoy it.

Maria:       

Okay. So how do you fit in, something that I know about you, you play in a rock band?

Kevin Gaskell:                      

Yeah.

Maria:      

So how do you fit that in? Tell me. What do you play?

Kevin Gaskell:        

So I play guitar. We started together in about ’95. What’s that? 23 years.

Maria:       

A long time. A long time. You started very young, as a boy.

Kevin Gaskell:       

Yeah. You know, we get together about once a month to practice. We’ve been playing for 20 odd years, so we know each other particularly well. The guys are very talented musicians. I’m far and away the weakest in the band. The guys are very talented musicians. A number of them have been professional musicians. It’s just great fun. We turn up to a gig somewhere, and we’re just a band. We don’t talk about cars. We don’t talk about business. We talk about music, and we play, and we have fun, and people dance, and it’s just great fun.

Maria:      

We are going to have to know about the next gig, because we’re going to have to come-

Kevin Gaskell:    

You’re welcome.

Maria:   

Definitely. That sounds amazing. Fantastic. You’ve been quoted as saying that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. Can you expand on that for me?

Kevin Gaskell:        

I sincerely believe that people are incredible. If you give people an opportunity, then they will go out and they will deliver something extraordinary. That’s, for me, what leadership is about. My job is to create the culture and create the opportunity for people to be successful. You know, there’s a great saying that, “Everybody is 5% genius.” Sometimes you don’t know what that 5% is. But everyone’s 5% genius.

My argument in business is if we can clearly define where we are going, what the objective is, what success looks like, and I mean clearly define it, and we don’t talk about numbers. It’s not 2% return on sales increase, or whatever it is. It’s what will we look like when we are successful, and in three dimensions, we describe that, and I can share that vision with the whole team, and I can invite people to contribute to that vision by having a very simple plan. We have very simple plans in our business. Then that allows people to express themselves.

If you want people to do a good job, then give them a good job to do. Give them something where they feel they’re contributing. For every 5% I can pull together, I can build a genius. If I get 20 people going in the same direction, I’ve got a complete genius. I work so hard at building an executive and a management team who share that passion, and share that vision, to encourage people within the business to express themselves, to do things in a way that is different.

We always say, in our businesses now, the businesses are relatively small. You know, my biggest business employs 50 something people. It’s a small business, but cash is always tight. We always say, “We’re not going to outspend our competition. It’s not going to happen. What we can do is we can out think them.

We encourage people to be brave, to dare to dream, as we say, to actually look at what success could be like and then shoot for it. We do it in a very controlled manner. This isn’t all just well let’s get down in a scrum and let’s all push and see what happens, but it is about sharing that passion. It is about making it simple. It’s about making it clear for everyone in the team to contribute. That’s what I talk about. I talk about how do you make that happen.

How do you actually make a business to go from I had a business I took over that was a position 32 in the market. In four years, we took it to position one. People say, “That’s impossible.” I say, “It’s not impossible.” What we did was encourage everybody in the organisation to understand where we were going, and then give them the freedom and the flexibility to go and make it happen. People are incredible. They know what their job is better than I do. Give them a chance to do it.

Maria:    

That’s brilliant and I want to talk about your speaking. How did you start speaking to audiences about your experiences? Where did that come from?

Kevin Gaskell:      

Oh it came probably about five years ago, when a friend of mine said, “Listen, Kev. I’ve been let down at a conference. I need somebody to fill an hour talking about branding. Would you please do it?” This was kind of a panicked phone call. I said, “I’m not a speaker. What am I going to talk about?” He said, “Well you can do the BMW story.”

So I went in. I talked about what we did at BMW, how we reset the brand image and what we’d done to change the business. There was a speaker agent in the audience, who asked me, “Who’s your agent?” I honestly said, “Agent? What’s an agent?” “Oh well, we can get you speaking.” I said, “I’m not a speaker. It kind of grew from there. I did a couple, and I did a few more.

Then I actually work hard to create a presentation that could be applicable to different industries, because I have worked in automotive and tech and in data and landscape gardening and marketing and, and, and, and. As I say, the skills are transferrable. My joy is going in and helping a team to become super successful, giving them the skills to be leaders, sharing with them the experiences that I have found in building now so many companies, actually work again, and again, and again. This is not super complicated stuff. It’s about doing the right things at the right time. It’s about having the mind-set to create a culture for success.

Maria:  

Excellent. I’ve got one final question, and this is a big one here. Somebody’s bringing you in for a 45 minute keynote speech. You have got such expertise. How do they get the best out of you? What do they need to do to get the best out of your time with them?

Kevin Gaskell:         

The first thing they need to do is be absolutely clear about what they want. I always ask the client, if you were to stop somebody who’d just listened to me for 45 minutes, if you were stop them at the door and ask them to say three things that they got out of that speech, what do you want those three things to be?  They will tell me they want it to be, they want people to be inspired, to believe that they can do it themselves and to have a structure. They’re often the type of things I come across. I say, “Great.”

The way to get the best from me is to be absolutely clear about where you want your business to be, to not try and drown me in numbers. The numbers are the score. They’re not the game. It’s a difference. But to be very honest with me about what the challenges are that they’re facing. Then let me go away and work hard to pull together the appropriate structure, but also the appropriate stories, the case studies, the examples that I’ve got for my business, to show people that they can do this. They can achieve this.

I watch people through the speech, I watch their eyes, as they open up and they engage. They get excited. They come to me after the session, “You know what? I want to go back to the office and do that. That’s great. That’s great. That’s great.” That’s what I want. I want people walking out of the door and going, “Yeah, we can do that.”

Maria:   

Kevin, that has been fantastic. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure having you.

Kevin Gaskell:    

Thank you very much.

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