Ex-Porsche boss on how to get in fast lane

THE former chief executive of Porsche, Lamborghini and BMW has told business leaders an uncompromising approach to keeping talented staff and getting rid of “toxic employees” helped turn the famous car firms back into world class organisations.

Kevin Gaskell was addressing a dinner hosted by professional services firm KPMG at its Manchester office.

The 57-year-old Macclesfield-born businessman is known as an energetic and passionate leader and earned his status as one of the top 40 managers under the age of 40 in the UK when he turned Porsche GB from the brink of bankruptcy into one of the most profitable car companies in five years.

He went on to found CarsDirect.com Europe, which became the UK’s primary e-commerce solution for the automotive fleet sector.

Gaskell has also led rapid growth in companies including EurotaxGlass’s AG, Switzerland and Achilles Group, winner of the ‘2011 Sunday Times FastTrack’ award for the best private equity performance.

The focus of the evening to advise on how company bosses to get to know their employees and their motivations better, ensuring employees feel valued, developed and rewarded.

But he also touched on how to handle demotivated employees.

“My belief is that it’s about the journey,” he said. “It’s about saying to people come and join us and build a dream – so that we can create something outstanding and have fun along the way.

“You’ve got to have a dream. Very successful businessmen and businesswomen are dreamers. It’s about being able to paint a picture of what the future could be.”

He said that when he initially went to Prosche it was a job that no-one else wanted.

“Among the 32 car brands in the UK, we were ranked number 32,” he said. “I was asked to meet the board, so I though, they’re probably going to fire me, so I’m going to tell them what I really think.

“I went into the boardroom with a colleague – a financial man – and spent four hours standing at a flip chart explaining what I thought we should do in the business.

“When we’d finished, we were asked to leave the room. Five minutes later, they invited us back in and they said to me, ‘right, you’re now managing director’.

“I had to make some very tough decisions. The following week I fired half the company and about 50% of them were my friends. I knew their wives, their kids, their dogs. It was about driving for something we believed. We started to think outside the box.

“It was about creating a culture where people could contribute.

“When I went to BMW it had become a fashion brand. IInherited a business plan to grow by 3% per annum. In three years we grew 80% and grew operating profit by 500%.”

“Gaskell described “toxic employees as a kind of cancer. I consider them to be a type of cancer. If you inherit toxic employees you should take them out. I treated them with respect pay them appropriate compensation.”

Gaskell explained he now invests in new businesses and built the world’s biggest marketing services provider in 1,000 days.

“If you can invite people to contribute, your best people will grow and flourish,” he said. “Our job as business leaders is not be geniuses, but to be genius creators.”