The huge sales organization of British Leyland’s key Austin Morris division, the old B.M.C., is just emerging from its most traumatic shake-up since the original Austin-Nuffield merger in 1952. In less than four months every single department head has been replaced by a younger man, in some cases promoted over the head of his old boss, and in only two instances imported from outside.
Yet so skilfully and tactfully has this sensitive operation been carried out that not one resignation has been reported. The man responsible is Filmer M. Paradise, the American who was formerly Ford’s top man in Italy, and who joined B.M.C. in June, 1967, to rejuvenate its European sales force. Now he is director of sales at Longbridge.
“Unlike my approach in Europe “, says Mr. Paradise. in his rounded mid-West accent, “I really felt that my reputation preceded me here at Longbridge. I think people were expecting a revolution. They were certainly uneasy. It was a situation which would not have been served properly by barnstorming in and throwing my weight about Everybody was expecting a lot of firings. Morale was low and I had to nurse it carefully.”
So instead of getting rid of people Mr. Paradise began a massive series of interviews with existing personnel. “I was looking for the kind of people ready and able to do things that had never been done before. The pleasant thing is that I found so many.”
From it emerged an eight-man team with an average age of only 38 compared with its predecessors’ average of well over 50. Mr. Paradise himself is the oldest, at 50. Then comes 48-year-old Bernard Bates, director of home sales. Export sales director Michael Trodd is 44, vehicle sales manager Michael Heelas is 40. Programming and distribution manager Henry Jelinek is 36, organization and administration manager Douglas Pittaway is 34, financial controller Tony Aston is 30 and the youngest in the team. John Gorton, Mr Paradise’s personal assistant, is 27. With the exception of two they are all former B.M.C. men. Mr. Jelinek and Mr. Aston came, from Ford. Says Mr. Paradise:
“We are most reluctant to keep concentrating on any one company (both British Leyland and Rootes have raided Ford extensively in the past 18 months). There are times when we wish that the other automotive companies in the United Kingdom were more capable so that we could find some of our key people there. That there is pirating in the automobile industry is a very natural thing. Ford trains droves of young people who cannot advance. But the fact is that you cannot get anyone to come who doesn’t want to move. These people at Ford have made their own appraisal of British Leyland and they have come to the conclusion that Austin Morris is a growth company offering fine opportunities.”
Mr. Paradise is at pains to explain why one of his best men is not to be found in his top eight. Bert Lawrence, 33, was recruited from Ford Europe two years ago to join the American as his general sales manager in Lausanne. “He is one of the most able young Englishmen I know anywhere in the international automotive business.”
Mr Lawrence has been given the task of attempting to reorganize Austin Morris’s 5.000 retail outlets. It is a job which Mr. Paradise admits will take him several years. Although Lord Stokes’s decision to retain both Austin and Morris franchises and to give them entirely different model ranges has taken off some of the immediate pressure. there are still too many dealers. Market representation teams are being organized to tackle the whole of the United Kingdom. Thev will produce a Doomsday Book, similar to Ford’s recent operation, listing every detail which can conceivably influence car sales. On their findings Mr. Paradise and Mr Lawrence will make their decisions. Already the distributors have been called in for several long pep talks bv Mr. Paradise, his staff call it “indoctrination “.
Whatever the title these talks, and particularly their directness, have made a profound impression on the distributors. Just before he left for the Geneva Motor Show on Friday Mr. Paradise called a meeting of every distributor in the country. Only 12 failed to turn up. When he introduced a system of 10-day reports requiring distributors to complete the most detailed returns of stock and sales three times a month, he achieved a 100 percent return. Confidence lost in the lean times of 1966-67 is flooding back. The Mini is selling better than ever and the 1100-1300 range is now the best seller in the United Kingdom with 14 per cent of the total car market. From a 28 per cent market share in October the division as a whole now holds 31 per cent. Mr. Paradise is adamant that within two years this will be over 35 per cent and this in a market where a maintained one per cent improvement is considered outstanding.
“When the boss arrived last November morale could hardly have been worse. Today nothing is impossible. If he says 35 percent is possible then that’s it,” says a member of his staff.