Archive : The Filmer Paradise interview

Motor magazine interviewed Austin-Morris’ Home and Export Sales Director, Filmer Paradise a year after the creation of mothership British Leyland Motor Corporation.

The American offered some fascinating insights into the running, and the ambitions, of the corporation. First published in August 1969.

Filmer Paradise interview: setting the record straight

Filmer Paradise
Filmer Paradise in 1969

Filmer Paradise was asked about the organisation of the sales side of the Austin-Morris Division.
 ‘We’ve been taking the various areas of our operation one at a time starting in the administration and organization area. We’ve been engaged in a pretty massive re-organisation of people and functions that’s just about completed. We’ve brought the average age of our top executives down considerably and we’ve injected a substantial amount of retailing experience because we felt we didn’t have enough of it in the past.

‘Hand in hand with that, we’ve been looking at the largest area of manpower and methods, which is the supply organization, and we’ve brought in a first-class systems expert who is busy trying to get our paperwork down to the easiest possible arrangements that will allow us to service the distributors much more rapidly. In that connection, we are doing, for the first time, the kind of short-term analysis and sales planning that’s getting the production programmes which we request from the factory much more attuned to customer requirements – distributor requirements – so that we can get out the right vehicles to the customer with the shortest possible delay.

‘The programme, working together with our sales planning and analysis unit, is producing very sensitive market readings. We’re getting 10-day reports that are extremely accurate. It’s amazing how well dealers and distributors are performing. We’re getting 100 per cent returns and they check out with very, very small deviations from the official statistics when they’re available from the SMMT and computer services.’

Paradise on BLMC exports to Europe

‘As you know, this company has traditionally exported a much larger proportion of its production than any other UK manufacturing company. We bring in a lot of exchange and we are trying desperately to feed all the export markets we can while we stay alive in the domestic market where we make most of the profit we need for new model investments.’

Paradise discussed relations between the Austin-Morris Division and its distributors, and he laid great emphasis on improved methods of communication.
 ‘We have put a lot more life and give-and-take into the communication channel. There’s an Austin and a Morris Distributors Zone Committee and they send the Chairmen of those committees to discuss problems. We’ve turned it into a very active and extremely frank two-way street.

‘Every time we can, we have the Zone meetings here at the factory so that I can participate and some of the other lads can spend more time on them than they would be able to do if they had to go further afield. Whether we like it or not, we haven’t always been able to operate at our planned capacity because of various interruptions to production due to internal and supplier disputes.’

How to weather the storm of strikes

‘You know the recent record of the industry, and it’s rather distressing. It’s particularly distressing that those strikes must affect exports. When we have fall-downs like that, we’ve got to spread production around, but the home market has to get first consideration. We’ve put a tremendous effort into reassuring the whole distributor organization about the reliability of their supply so that if they make spending plans, they’re not wasting their money – we can come through.

‘We have a tremendous customer goodwill, so we’re very concerned to raise every aspect of our performance, whether in trivial things like the supply of literature to the more important things like after-sales service and our warranty and parts provision. We’re making an effort to be as good as, or better than, our American based competitors and I think we’re succeeding.

‘Everyone appreciates that Donald Stokes is one of the Great Ones. So it’s a lively outfit and we’re not hampered with bureaucracy. We keep it thin, and it works!’

Our field offices will be staffed by merchandising people, used car specialists, business management specialists – things our distributor organisation has never enjoyed in the way of services. The company simply has to give more assistance to the distributor and dealer if we are going to do our job well.’

‘We’ve done a great deal of sales training to raise the quality of our field staffs and we’re amplifying their number. We’ve created the Austin-Morris Marketing Institute and we’re stepping up all our training whether it’s principles of dealer management, retail selling, primary and advanced courses.’

Getting the price right

Another very important area was in the pricing of new cars.
 ‘We’re doing much more sophisticated kinds of financial analysis. When we bring out a car like the Austin Maxi, we are now able to produce a very detailed competitive evaluation in which we take every product feature and price it. One of the more interesting things we were able to do in presenting the Maxi, in fact, was to show that, with its full standard equipment, it was still better value than its major competitors.

‘Fully equipped, it came in under their prices with similar equipment – to the extent that you could have bought a similarly equipped car from them; you couldn’t get everything, of course , as you can’t get a fifth gear or a fifth door on most of them. That’s helping us to re-align our pricing structure and make sure we are fully competitive. There are two or three people working full time on this kind of analysis now.

‘In the past there has been a certain amount of criticism, mainly justified, about what was popularly called badge-engineering, but it actually worked out pretty well for the customer. He really shouldn’t complain because what it’s led to is an excessive number of outlets selling largely similar cars, which resulted in fairly heavy discounting on behalf of the consumer. The criticism was probably fairly justified and to give our people a real earnings potential as well as to nail down what we think is an appropriate share of the market, we are constituting three franchises in the Corporation, one of which is called the specialist car franchise and incorporates Jaguar, Rover and Triumph.’

Creating very different Austin and Morris models

‘In the Austin-Morris Division, we are developing two completely separate franchises which will have differentiated products as we proceed through the product planning cycle – so that instead of selling the same kind of 1100, they will be selling different looking, and perhaps even different powered, cars in the same price classes. We’re spending a lot of executive time on the product planning process.

‘We shall have a much more profound approach to power and trim options and to derivative models, although we are not going to get into the American kind of frenzy, where the number of different permutations of an automobile not only confuses the customer, but confuses the company as well! There’s no point in our spending all the effort and money that we are spending on improving our efficiencies and then messing it all up again by getting a hopeless products mix.’

Filmer Paradise was asked whether, following the dropping of the name Riley, other marques would go too, he replied: ‘No, at the present time we have no plans for discontinuing other franchises and this specifically applies to Wolseley and MG.’ 
But there would be a greater difference between parallel models, bearing different make names. The substantive Austin and Morris franchises would be differentiated from one another.

Flexibility around small cars, and the Mini

‘…not necessarily 100 per cent where small volume cars are involved. It doesn’t really pay to develop two completely different automobiles in the small volume class, but the general principle will be to differentiate. We’re staying flexible because if we proliferate, we won’t be able to stand the cost, but they will differ at least in appearance, probably in power, probably in package size and features.

‘We could say that everything that one of our competitors, say General Motors or Ford, might offer, you’ll be able to find in the Austin range; and you’ll find another group of interesting automobiles – different from Austin – in the Morris range.

‘With these, and the specialist franchise, the long-term objective of British Leyland is to arrive at 50 per cent of the market. It seems like a big position, but when you remember that we are the General Motors of England and that General Motors in the United States arrives at 55 to 60 per cent of the market and that Fiat in Italy, which can be compared to us in many ways for range and variety of models, typically run 65 to 70 per cent of the Italian market, we don’t really feel that 50 per cent is an unattainable objective. In April we hit 43 per cent as a group – and we’ve still got to work out our full cycle of new products.’

Austin-Morris: unlocking its growth potential

‘As for the Austin-Morris Division, I got my tender neck way out to hell and I’ve said that we are going back to 35 per cent. It’s not as easy as it once was, but in April we were up to 32.3 per cent without any new products.

‘We’re going to be increasing our media budgets and we’re going to try to get more money into newspaper and magazine advertising. We have a big budget, but not enough of it gets into media where we think we can be relatively effective. You’ve probably noticed that some of our grandmother type of advertising is disappearing; we’re coming out with some fairly sharp and competitive professional advertisements.

‘We’ve tried to analyse the ingredients that have made our cars successful. Some of the cars have been with us for quite a while – the Mini, 1100, 1300 and the BMC 1800 are familiar ranges – and we’re staying with what we think are their intrinsic and attractive features to the British public. We’re not dancing around with gimmickry – we’re trying to repeat and repeat and repeat what we think has made the appeal of these cars so wide.’

Sharpening up the advertising

‘We’re briefing the agencies more adequately, getting them into our planning much earlier and tightening our standards of what we’ll accept. It’s a little hard to work with us, we’ve raised our standards so much. If the advertising fellows want to pick up the billings, they’ve got to produce! It’s really quite exciting. They’ve put fresh young teams of creative people on our account and the results are excellent. I don’t get any more telephone calls from Lord Stokes saying: ‘Who the hell authorised that?” He likes the advertising, and he’s a pretty severe critic.’

‘We had this lovely Mini ad – with a beautiful girl caressing it. We’re trying to pull out of the cars what people really see in them rather than reach for things you can’t identify with the product.’

‘We want an Austin and a Morris group who are in competition – not who are being managed by the same ownership.’

‘In addition, we’re putting a lot of emphasis on promotion in small ways. We can’t overwhelm the distributors – we’ve all got to grow up together doing a more attractive job – but we had a very successful Mini campaign in March and we had contests for the most original Mini presentation in the showrooms – camping, nautical or anything else the dealers could think of. The response was amazing and raised our penetration in that month. The market went up 14 per cent and Mini’s went up 28 to 30 per cent. And we put on another very successful promotion on the two millionth Mini, including these rear window stickers – ‘Don’t play rough. I’ve got 2,000,000 Mini friends’.’

Giving the workforce a say

‘For the first time in the history of the company we had foremen in to see the presentation of the new car. We sent Maxis to every area of the factory and we even sent models for the employees of all our suppliers to have a look at. We’re concerned with morale and enthusiasm as much as the concrete organizational things.’

‘We’ve pumped a lot of gas into the organisation since the new management arrived and I think it is fair to say that most distributors think their franchises look a lot more valuable than when we started all this activity.’

‘There was an old sales-versus-production atmosphere round here that we’ve killed absolutely. Everybody is on the same team and I think this is a great tribute George Turnbull’s real executive ability. He really knows how to bang people into a team and the morale here is quite different.’

Austin-Morris sales team pulls its weight

‘We’ve organised a proper product planning and policy committee and, without wanting to be immodest, I can tell you that the sales personnel are among the more active members. In our marketing services, we include sales planning and analysis and market research; and with this and what we learn about the forward plans of our competitors, we make product proposals. Nothing gets by that the sales area isn’t happy with. We’re gong to be left with no excuses soon – we have to do our job! There’s nothing more invigorating than selling new products. The name of this business is novelty and we haven’t had enough of it.

‘The only other car that has the personality or the staying power of the Mini is that German insect, and the 1100, 1300 and 1800 are also technically advanced. Minor changes have let us keep them fresh and in good demand abroad. There’s a kind of British reaction against too much debasing of the currency and I don’t think people are too happy to have heavy depreciation bills because someone decided to freshen the product every 18 months. We think we can live in the export market without matching that kind of pace.

‘Obviously there are very few places in the world where a car is of the age, even if of the sound reputation and value of, say, the Morris Oxford, is looked upon as desirable. On the other hand, there are people in markets similar to the UK who are looking for that kind of car. You couldn’t sell them in Belgium, but you could in Denmark. When I was in Europe, we eliminated a lot of product offerings because it makes no sense to have small numbers of cars with complicated spares systems all over the world, so we cut out over 30 models.’

Morris Minor continues to win friends

‘Another car that sells very well in Denmark is the old Morris 1000. They like it for exactly the same reasons that rural people do in this country. Sturdy, trouble free, well trimmed, very strong – they appeal to people who take care of cars. People who own Morris 1000s wash them every week. The Danes are like that so we sell a lot of them in Denmark.’

On styling, Filmer Paradise has this to say:
 ‘Styling is kind of good luck and God bless you! You do what you think is right for your major market, which has to be the UK. You are looking at current, competitive offerings and trying to find out or imagine – both – what they’re likely to look like in the three years that it will take to get them out; and you try to style up to that kind of trend level and hope for the best. I don’t think we’re going to do an awful lot of high styling. We’re not coming out with extremes. The Maxi is a pretty good example of the kind of styling we are likely to do. We’re not going to get into big overhangs and we’re certainly not going to produce odd looking models like some of the French cars.

‘Cars are not necessarily intrinsically outstanding when it comes to styling alone. It’s really the way you go at it and the way you sell it. If they’re ugly there’s nothing you can do; but if they’re reasonably styled, then it’s up to you.’

Too many showrooms in the UK

He agreed that the Division had too many outlets and said that they were having a look at this aspect. ‘We are obviously not going to have so many retail outlets, but we are going to find a useful way to employ every good aggregation of capital management and facilities that’s already working with us. We’re not about to make gifts to our competitors of capable merchandisers of automobiles.’

One of the happy coincidences of over proliferation has been that you can get BMC service pretty damn near everywhere. We can keep that kind of happy situation if we think it necessary, by appointing service dealers who are not sales points. The fellow who climbs out from under a car to take care of his customer is one of the most convincing salesmen in the world. The tendency of motorists to look for the little mechanic is still very much with us and we’ve got to pay attention. There’s no reason why he can’t be a service dealer.’

‘There’s a lot moving and the spirit is good. Turnbull is a helluva guy. He’s at least as good or better than any automobile executive I’ve met anywhere in the world. He’s 43 years old and he makes you feel ashamed of yourself. He’s so bright and capable that it’s a great pleasure to work with him – and everyone appreciates that Donald Stokes is one of the Great Ones. So it’s a lively outfit and we’re not hampered with bureaucracy. We keep it thin, and it works!’

Keith Adams
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  1. Good old Filmer, he did far more for Datsun, Honda, Fiat, Renault and Toyota than he ever did for BLMC. Your local garage selling Austin Morris MG and Wolseley had no interest in being merely BLMC service centres, so they gave up their franchises. The obvious answer was to sign up to dealerships for foreign manufacturers, looking to enter the UK market. Many never looked back.
    Perhaps it’s a case of, Filmer Paradise my part in the downfall of BLMC?

    • It was a changing world & the BLMC management had their heads berried in the sand just when the needed to look ahead.

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