DREAMS OF PARADISE
By David Benson
He is Britain’s highest paid car salesman. He won’t confirm it but he is reputed to earn more than £30,000 a year. Yet for Filmer Melbourne Paradise, the 54-year old American – born former director of sales for British Leyland, life has not always been so good. That name for instance.
‘Imagine calling anyone Filmer Melbourne Paradise, that’s really starting life with two strikes against you,’ he says.
‘My parents were Polish refugees and my father was practically illiterate with no formal education. But he was the best economics forecaster I ever met. He forecast the 1929 depression and went broke in 1927.’
But Mr. Paradise has come a long way since his upbringing in Wisconsin and the 1929 depression. Of his salary, which he gave up at the end of last month when his B.L. contract expired, he says: ‘It is something private between me, Lord Stokes and the Inland Revenue.’
From childhood it was obvious that young Filmer was destined for a business career.
‘I had my first business at the age of nine, it was a magazine and book distributorship that I ran with my brother. We sold out when I was 11.’
He won a scholarship to study as an economist and proved a brilliant student.
‘Man, I have degrees I haven’t even used yet.’
In 1953 he was sent to Europe to rebuild Ford in Italy.
‘It was a tough job, all I’ve ever had are dirty snails to dig out.’
Paradise got the Ford share of the Italian market up to five per cent and was awarded Italy’s Order of Merit for his contribution to the economy. Paradise quit Ford in March 1966 at the age of 47.
‘I had sound investments in the stock market and I retired.’
Then the old B.M.C. company sent for him.
‘I liked the challenge of B.M.C., here was a company with a fine technical record but in bad market shape in Europe.’
So he took the job and at his first Press conference said: ‘Just give me MG’s, I can sell any car Britain makes with an MG badge,’
Sales soared, or as Filmer puts it: ‘We pushed a lot of iron. Europe is a very fast track but I was really running Switzerland.’
When the Marina was launched, Paradise told his dealers: ‘Stick with me baby. It’s gonna be diamonds all the way.’
That prophecy may not have been quite as true as he would have hoped, but British Leyland are now in good shape and Filmer says: ‘I really finished the job a year and a half ago. When my five year contract came up for renewal I decided to go. I wanted to move away from sales but they didn’t offer me anything else. I can take yes or no for an answer, I am fairly bright that way. But if Lord Stokes had offered me a toilet to manage I would have stayed. I have a tremendous regard for that man and I’d have made a damned good job of being a toilet manager.’
There is no resentment. Just an American attitude of: ‘Don’t stay after the job is done.’
In fact, his main criticism of British industry is that too many men stay in the same job to long. ‘Five years is long enough.’
So at 54, Filmer Paradise is moving on, this time into the motor distribution business in Europe. I asked about his new job – chief executive of Giltspur Motors, Europe, a British financed company, based in Lausanne. Said Paradise: ‘Well, you know how I hate being off a payroll and how gullible I am and these smart Englishmen sold me such fantastic ideas that I just couldn’t refuse.
‘But seriously it is a big challenge to get into Europe. My job will be to buy up businesses… then we want to sell British Leyland trucks and cars. I am really putting my money where my mouth was.’