Fleet Alliance Chief Relishes European Expansion Efforts
FOLLOWING a week in which the European Central Bank launched the latest attempt to stabilise the eurozone we hear from a vehicle hire entrepreneur who has experience of the challenges involved in doing business on the Continent.
Name: Martin Brown
What is your business called?
Fleet Alliance Ltd. I am managing director and a co-founding director.
What services does it offer? We offer overall fleet solutions aimed principally at the UK’s SME market. Currently we have over 2000 clients, who vary in location, industry sector and requirements. We manage two vehicles for our smallest client and a fleet of over 500 vehicles on behalf of our biggest client. We manage in excess of 10,000 vehicles UK-wide with a combined value of more than £200 million. We can also offer our clients advice on contract hire and leasing as well as fleet risk management
What is its turnover?
£4.5m, with the value of vehicles funded in 2011 in the region of £71.5m.
How many employees does it have? 40
When was it formed? 2002
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
After leaving Glasgow Caledonian University with a degree in commerce, I joined a vehicle finance provider – Auto Contracts – as a trainee sales person, and was promoted to be Sales Manager at the age of 23. Finally, my role was General Sales Manager, responsible for sales and customer service.
Why did you take the plunge?
Having met the co-founding directors of Fleet Alliance – I was one of their suppliers at Auto Contracts – we identified an opportunity to attract who we thought were some strong contract hire and fleet sales people to sell predominantly to the SME market. We had many years of experience, and felt that together we could run a very successful business.
What was your biggest break?
We’ve enjoyed our fair share of large business wins. Back in 2005, we beat off competition from international operators and were appointed to manage the fleet of a multi-national company with over 1000 vehicles across seven European countries which was as challenging as it was enjoyable.
If we thought running fleets in the UK was complex, a pan-European proposition brought problems we hadn’t considered. The aim of this set-up is to have a consistent policy, but how do you reconcile the fact that we have a Vauxhall and Germans have Opels? Added to the fact that tax systems vary across different European countries – it’s a minefield!
The biggest challenge was handling national preferences. One client’s French operation was adamant that our German manufacturer policy would not fly – Citroen and Renault were all that would be considered. Throw in a meeting in Milan where a broad Glaswegian accent meets Italians who don’t speak English and to say that Pan European Leasing is a challenge is an understatement. But we were able to use this as a launch-pad to attract other large potential clients.
What was your worst moment?
I would say 2008 with the onset of recession when the banks were in turmoil. The speed of decline in the financial crisis was terrifying: clients’ fleet purchases on hold, funders looking to withdraw/ reduce credit facilities. There was a period when we thought funding could actually dry up. Thankfully it wasn’t quite as severe as first thought and we managed to use a consultant to bring some new credit facilities for our client base to cover those which were reducing.
We’re still here to tell the story (and stronger), but it wasn’t without pain as we had to make six of the team redundant, something we hope not to have to repeat.
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