Trevor Taylor, 56, is chief executive of Toyota (GB), the Inchcape-owned UK distributor of Toyota cars and vans. He joined the company in 1987 as deputy managing director responsible for sales and marketing, after 17 years as a senior sales and marketing executive with British Leyland in its various incarnations.
Starting as national sales manager of Austin Morris, he rose to become director of sales and marketing at the Austin Rover Group and finally the group’s director of international operations before he left to join Toyota (GB). I made many mistakes in my time with the former motor manufacturing companies now called the Rover Group and hopefully learned from all of them.
Perhaps the biggest mistake was believing I could lead a committed sales and marketing team together with a loyal dealer network to overcome all the ills that existed in the former Austin Morris, British Leyland and Austin Rover companies. Another was accepting volume sales objectives which, in retrospect, had more to do with the companies’ desperate need for cash than any valid market potential.
For a time, I also mistakenly went along with the notion that the public could be persuaded to buy a product just because it was British. This all took place against a background of constantly changing senior management and company policies. In my 17 years with the group, I served, indirectly and directly, no fewer than 20 chairmen and managing directors. Major changes in the group’s organisation were successively made by most of the men at the top, not so much for long-term success, but for short-term needs.
The group was repeatedly pulled apart then put together again, creating uncertainty and loss of confidence. There’s a five-year cycle in the motor industry, from the concept of a new car to getting it marketed. But that cycle was sometimes shortened before the car was right. I probably should have raised my voice louder and longer than I did to demand a consistent strategy and a more competitive, high-quality product, although whether it would have succeeded is questionable.
Nevertheless, in the early Seventies and Eighties, along with our dealers, we convinced ourselves that despite the less than satisfactory quality of some of our cars and the increasing competition, we would overcome the problems. We were engaged in a crusade and, with the total commitment of our sales teams, we thought we could pull it off. But it was not to be.
I became increasingly frustrated with the constant changes and quality problems and left in 1987; I simply couldn’t take another reorganisation. I am glad to say that the Rover Group is now in private ownership and in much better shape. I sincerely hope that it continues that way for the people who work in it and particularly for the loyal dealer network, who certainly deserve it. As for my present company, it’s a different world. Toyota is pro-active rather than just reactive, and has a strategy for growth rather than retrenchment; for stability rather than uncertainty.
And the quality of the product allows sales and marketing to concentrate their minds on selling. Yet despite the problems at British Leyland and my mistakes there, they gave me an experience of people, practices and business problems in the motor industry – an education which I doubt I could have gained elsewhere. Above all, what I’ve learned in this business is that there has to be a commitment from top management staying long enough to see their strategic plans through and to ensure quality product standards both by self-audit and as demanded by the customer.