Interview: Mel Dawson, managing director of ALD Automotive
Actions speak louder than words – it’s not exactly a new code to live by, but the amount of hot air often expelled by business people looking to claim how fabulous and groundbreaking their company or product is suggests that it’s not a concept followed as often as it should be.
There’s no danger of that happening at ALD Automotive though. One of the biggest and most successful leasing companies in the country, and the world for that matter, it makes no grand claims for itself, offers no grandiose sweeping statements of intent. It just gets on with the job.
The actions do speak loudly, though. In the last four years its fleet in the UK has grown by over 50,000 vehicles from 72,000 to 123,000 vehicles. And that has been achieved through organic growth, not acquisition. On top of those figures, it will be relocating at the end of this year to a smart new purpose‐built office complex just outside Bristol.
Clearly things are going extremely well. One of the core elements of this success is the people who work for ALD, and the length they have been there. Since moving to its current offices, following a management buy out in 1995, many of the employees have been there all along. The management team, headed by Mel Dawson, are similarly long serving, and it’s that quiet confidence born of long‐acquired experience filtering down from the top that makes the company what it is.
While ALD might not be the most bombastic when it comes to telling everybody what it is up to, that not to say it is conservative or old fashioned. The company has been a market leader in telematics, having started the ProFleet programme way back in 2003, and so it now has huge experience in what businesses want in terms of journey and vehicle data management.
And Dawson says there is a huge amount of work going on, mostly behind the scenes, to ensure that what the company offers its customers is market‐leading.
“We are constantly looking at everything that we do, taking every business practice apart to see how it can be improved,” he says. “So although on the surface, at the level at which our customers deal might seem the same, in order to get to that point there has been a huge amount of back office work going on, whether it be dealing with customer queries to ensure response times are quicker or developing an enhanced payment process to ensure our dealer partners are paid more efficiently when they deliver one of our funded vehicles.
Everything has to be looked at constantly to ensure that every element of the proposition works well, with the result that our customers get even better service.”
Dawson believes that only when you know your customers’ operations at a granular level can you really help them to improve their fleet operation.
“In the leasing industry, there’s far too much emphasis on the rental price, and not enough on usership or the total cost of ownership. It’s all very well for a business to think they’ve got a great leasing deal at, say Åí300 a month for a car, but if that car is only being used 60% of the time, then about Åí100 of that rental is being wasted. So our job is to understand what a business, and its employees, needs in terms of vehicle provision, and advise how they can do it better.
“Over the years, thanks to our telematics provision and the fact that we have seen how fleets operate down to a very detailed level, I believe we’ve become good at doing this, and at acting in a very consultative way.”
In the future, the challenge will be to take this even further, Dawson believes, to offer a complete package of solutions for all mobility needs. But that’s for the mid‐term.
The next steps are what will happen when ALD move lock, stock and barrel into its new building. The new offices will have a high proportion of electric charging points, for example, because the firm believes it needs to offer its staff and visitors all manner of travel options.
Obviously it is an exciting change, and almost 300 staff are certainly looking forward to the smart new surroundings, but we talk about the dangers too.
“As a company, we pride ourselves on our customer service.
Those high standards come about because the various departments in the company link together extremely well. We’ve been in this building for 20 years, and so everyone knows how everything operates, and where to go and who to speak to when an issue needs dealing with. When you move into a new building, you have to ensure that process is not affected.
“So we have been spending a huge amount of time planning this, so that the move enhances the way we operate, allowing our employees to work together even better to deliver for our customers. I’m confident this will happen, but it is something we are very aware of.”
It all goes to suggest a business that is quietly confident in the way it goes to market. A huge year for ALD beckons.
But don’t expect much trumpeting or fanfares while it goes about it.