In September 1967, The Times talked to ex-Ford man Filmer Paradise and got him to spell out BMC’s plans for European sales and production.
It’s an interesting snapshot of BMC’s huge market ambitions on the eve of its takeover by the Leyland Motor Corporation.
In the two short months since his appointment as ‘Mr BMC Europe’, former Ford executive 48-year-old Filmer Paradise has taken the group’s whole European operation firmly by the scruff of the neck and shaken it so vigorously that in the words of one of his new colleagues.
‘When the pain subsides you realise that the sheer irreverence of this man for the establishment is the best thing that has happened in BMC for a very long time.’ – a BMC manager on Filmer Paradise
His first action on arrival at the Lausanne headquarters of BMC Europe set the scene for what was to follow. Senior members of the small team were assembled expecting the standard pep talk attendant on a new boss’s appointment.
Instead, they were greeted with this outburst: ‘I plan to double our European sales in the next five years so if any of you guys want out, now is the time to tell me. There’s a quiet job waiting for you back at the home base. If you decide to stay there is still no guarantee that you will make the grade.
‘We are going to push more iron in this market-place than you ever dreamt was possible. We are already late in mounting an operation of the magnitude warranted by the capacity of Britain’s biggest automotive outfit and we’ve got to move like hell to make up for lost time. OK, that’s it. I shall be in my office if anybody wants out.’
Ultimatum duly set…
Nobody did. But there are some who now admit they thought they had made a mistake during the next busy days. Today, they joke about these early misgivings. They are now clearly caught up in the backwash of infectious enthusiasm and wholesale slaughtering of sacred cows that follows fast-talking mid-Westerner Filmer Paradise’s (above on right) every move. And move he does.
At least one nervous Continental competitor has instructed his field reps to report back as soon as Paradise surfaces in their territory. Paradise himself scorns secrecy and the opposition, which is trying to keep tabs on him makes him even bolder: ‘Gee, there’s nothing I like better than competition-locking horns with a worthy opponent.
‘Selling cars is like fighting a battle and, right now, this is the hottest battlefield in the car industry’ – Filmer Paradise
‘Selling cars is like fighting a battle and, right now, this is the hottest battlefield in the car industry. That includes America. Those guys back home don’t know they’re born. I’m the guy BMC picked to do the job. I don’t know how they operated before and I don’t want to. In fact, the less I know the better. In that way when I step out of line -and boy have I stepped out of line already – I can always make with the surprise and say, No! Really?’
He is already ready for a head-on collision with Longbridge’s establishment over its stubborn retention of a proliferation of brand names. But even he sees the danger signals flying on this one and carefully restricts his criticism to export fields. He talked frankly about his plans to increase the present payroll of BMC Europe from 39 to 100 within the next four months.
‘We are late,’ Paradise said. ‘We have no time to start from the bottom and train. We are stealing skilled automotive sales people wherever we can find them.’
He is doing it with advertisements like the following, which appeared in Swedish newspapers recently: ‘Are you a better man than your boss? Are you blocked for promotion?’
That brought a flood of applications which he is still sifting. One of his first actions after appointment was to put an end to the existing arrangements under which field representatives in Europe covered their territories from the United Kingdom. Field offices are already planned for France, the Benelux countries, Denmark, and Germany. Wherever possible they will be staffed with the nationals of those countries. All of this will cost BMC a great deal of money. Will the result warrant such an outlay at a time when BMC is labouring under a £7,500,000 loss in the first six months of the current financial year?
Turning around the European losses
‘Spare parts, that’s the key. I shall cover the entire cost of the European operation by the increase in parts sales. This is the most profitable bit of automobile exporting. Sales of new cars are so competitive in the export field that there’s very little profit in it, unless you’re somebody like Fiat whose export efforts are backed by a core market in which they hold 80 per cent. But if we follow-up our sales with a well-organised parts and accessories business we are in the gravy.’
Beneath the brash and what, to English eyes at least, seems to be a typically glib, smooth-talking, cigar-chomping American approach, Paradise is a realist. He knows that in the end he will stand or fall on the sales he achieves. His only concern is that the decision-makers will go along with him for long enough for him to make the changes necessary to produce results.
The long-heralded new Austin Maxi will not be around before autumn of next year. He is convinced that this is the car to spearhead the European assault. In the meantime, he is determined to show that much can be done with the present machinery if it is freely adapted to European tastes and hints that changes to be announced at the Motor Show will go a long way towards helping him.
The aim: double European sales in five years
Paradise himself may not appreciate this, but much more than a successful European campaign hangs in the balance.
Since its shattering losses last winter, BMC management has shown itself more receptive to change – indeed, there are many at Longbridge and Cowley who are convinced that such a salutary lesson was needed to push the sometimes still reluctant partners of the 14-years-old merger into one enormous but infinitely more accommodating bid.
Filmer Paradise: ‘I plan to double our European sales in the next five years.’