Rebecca: You have had a fantastic career working for a couple of different dealer groups and different brands. Can we start with how you began working in dealerships?
Carole: Entirely by accident, which is always the most fun way. I actually trained with the Royal Ballet. A completely different background. After we moved up here from London when my husband had finished his PhD, I had no idea what I wanted to do but I’d done some work with the Arts Council from a marketing perspective at a very, very basic level. My first role was actually with Aviva as a marketing consultant. It was really, really random and I certainly did not expect the career that I’ve had today.
It’s the brilliant thing about the industry, isn’t it, that you can graft, you can work hard and there are lots of options available to you.
Rebecca: That leads nicely to my next question, which is what do you love about working in the car industry?
Carole: People. Everyday is entirely different. I’m lucky enough to be in and out of many of my 18 different businesses on a regular basis, which means at any given time I’m going to be interacting with customers or a wide range of colleagues – I have around 400 that work in my division – so there’s never a standard day for me. It’s entirely what’s going on in the business from one day to the next and I love being on my toes, I love being in the mix, I just never get bored of it.
Rebecca: I’m sure there’s a few people watching this who might not know what a franchise director actually is, so do you mind explaining what your job actually entails?
Carole: Ultimately, I’m responsible for 18 of my businesses. Each of the general managers in the business reports directly to me. GMs are very much responsible for that site to site management but I’m responsible for everything that goes on compliance-wise, health and safety, operational, performance, and, most importantly, the relationships with the brands. So I’m a custodian of the brands I represent, and it’s my job to make sure that we have a good relationship and that they’re represented as they’d expect.
Rebecca: As we’re talking about International Women’s Day, did you ever find it challenging as a woman in the car industry?
Carole: Yes, at the beginning. I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years and I think quite a lot has changed in that time. Whilst it’s been challenging, particularly in the early days, such as my first sales manager role. I worked in a Jaguar business, and I was a third of the age of most of the guys that I was managing who had come up through the ranks in the business. I really had to have thick skin, knuckle down, and make a success of that.
But I also think I’m fortunate because I’m different. I have a different perspective. I’ve never worked with female franchise directors before so I think it gives you a different voice. Once you’ve got the respect of your colleagues that can be really important in the conversation as well.
So, yeah, there were some awkward days in my early career but both with Inchcape and Marshall, they’ve both been companies where it hasn’t really mattered what gender you are. They’re very diverse, they’re very inclusive. If you work hard and are good at your job then they’ll recognise that.
Rebecca: What would be your advice to women wanting to work in a car dealership or maybe in management?
Carole: Go for it. We’re still underrepresented so there’s a fantastic opportunity. It really suits our skills in terms of better communication. I think for me, it’s important to be authentic, put yourself forward, go for the opportunity. People just have no clue how many different roles there are in this industry. Everyone assumes that you have to be a car salesman or technician. Far from it now. We’ve got people representing us from different disciplines and many, many opportunities within the company so absolutely go for it.
Rebecca: So you’ve worked with a lot of brands over the years and I’m sure you’ve got to try plenty, but what do you drive personally?
Carole: I drive a Volvo XC60 Recharge, it’s the Polestar edition so it’s got a little bit of a kick, but for me it gives a sense of that responsibility because it’s a plug-in hybrid but I don’t have any range anxiety. I can switch over. I do a lot of miles every year, all over the UK, at sites from Scarborough all the way down to Reading. It is important that whatever happens I can get where I need to be. As I said, it’s my safe place.
Rebecca: And what’s your advice when someone asks you what they should buy? I’m sure you get that all of the time!
Carole: I do but I think actually most people don’t want to know that. Nowadays our consumers are so informed that they have a pretty good idea already of what they want to buy before they even have a conversation with us. But whenever people ask I try not to get involved because the answer will always be wrong, I learnt that very early on! But consumers know what they want nowadays. They’ve done the research before they make that inquiry generally and I think it’s more about building rapport and picking up on those key benefits that are important to our customers. I try not to give out advice but listen very carefully, giving the customers what they want from a benefit perspective. What they need.