Vauxhall-q&a.gif” vspace=10 width=120>Vauxhall can be confident about its future under the stewardship of new managing director Kevin Wale, writes Mike Duffy.

He is a manager with an impressive record for taking on diverse challenges with General Motors and achieving ambitious targets set by the global car maker – and even higher personal goals.

Wale is one of several high-profile Australians who has proven himself on the international stage.

After attaining a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree from Melbourne University, Wale went on to further studies at the General Motors Institute in the United States.

He started life as a ‘bagman’ but then emerged from the finance field to earn the important role as marketing director of GM’s Australian affiliate Holden.

There were no shortage of those who predicted Wale would have difficulty making the transition from the conservative suit, white shirt and striped tie world of numbers to the flamboyant but rock-hard environment of vehicle sales.

Aussie franchised dealers – not renowned for their tolerance of those who speak any other language but their own – immediately warmed to his approach and his management style. By his very nature, he was analytical. But he was to prove a manager prepared to be flexible and one with obvious flair – and redoubtable ability.

Kevin Wale

a manager prepared to be flexible and one with obvious flair – and redoubtable ability

Holden’s market share tracked upwards while Wale was in charge of sales. His focus and expertise encompassed the local Holden Commodore large car range and also important imports from Europe, plus trucks from Japan – and that was good enough for GM, Holden and the dealers under his direction.

In 1998, his corporate grounding complete, Wale was appointed executive in charge of General Motors’ Asia Pacific operations, based in Singapore, working with GM’s alliance partners to achieve a good geographic coverage throughout the region.

The task was broad ranging and tough: to take responsibility for the general management and implementation of strategies and policies of GM’s operations throughout the region.

The job called for expertise across the management spectrum including sales and marketing, strategic planning, product planning, e-business and communications.

Although daunting, the 46 year old could draw from his experience in a variety of positions at Holden, including director of finance and strategic planning, comptroller of Holden, comptroller of Holden’s Engine Company and manager of pricing and operations analysis.

Earlier he had worked for the GM Corporation’s finance department in New York – a two year stint during which he would have come to the attention of those who shape careers.

Today he finds himself tidying up in Singapore in readiness for his move to England and promotion to the position as managing director of Vauxhall Motors.

He also will be vice president of GM Europe and serve as a member of GM’s influential European Strategy Board. interviewed Kevin Wale about his new job at Vauxhall.

How do you see the job as MD of Vauxhall?

My task is to build and continue the Vauxhall brand and volume potential in the UK.

It’s pretty clear and pretty simple. It’s the traditional job that goes with taking over a strong brand organisation – improve its brand, improve its volume and improve its profitability.

What do you know about Vauxhall?

To be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time getting involved in detail. I’ll do that when I get over there. I think it’s inappropriate for me to get too closely involved before I am over there.

Vauxhall’s results have been pretty solid in recent years. Profits before tax have been solid for the past 10 years.

How will you approach the job?

The first task is to learn from the existing management – who, incidentally, have done an excellent job – understand the environment in which we are working and take decisions from there.

It really is an evolutionary process, to listen and learn and understand what the opportunities are and what the challenges are, and take it from there.

I am not in a position to comment further.

How would you describe your personal approach of management?

My personal approach is to have a very clear strategic view about where we are heading over the next four to five years and understand what key success factors need to be in place to achieve those objectives.

Within that, you do have to remain flexible on execution while remaining true to your long term principles.

I like to have a clear strategic plan in front of me.

What happens on Day One?

The first thing I would want to understand is the strategic plan for Europe and Vauxhall and to understand the direction they are heading at the moment.

How long do you anticipate it will take to formulate your own priorities?

In all honesty, I would expect to take the balance of the year to understand the environment and the priorities people are working on and start to work on what I think are the key issues.

Then there is a definite process you work through depending on how you want to proceed.

Do you know many of the Vauxhall top management?

I do know some of Vauxhall’s people. Holden has worked closely with Vauxhall for a long, long time on marketing strategies and systems.

I have spent a lot of time at Vauxhall over the years.

I’m probably more familiar with members of the European Strategy Board including [former Holden president and managing director] Jim Weimels who is vice president of manufacturing and [former Holden manufacturing director] Rod Keene who is involved in the Powertrain joint venture between Fiat and GM based in Italy.

What part will you play in strategy planning throughout Europe?

Europe runs the same way as the other four GM regions. We have a regional strategy board responsible for ensuring we have the appropriate strategies for the region.
With the changes in Europe with the European Union and consolidation of industries, it becomes even more critical to have a solid European strategy.

I will be a member of that board and will participate in formulation in strategy for Europe, which should be a lot of fun.

There’s a lot of consolidation going on in Europe. We all have some work to do to get some better results and it will be good to be part of that.

I would like to assess for myself what the opportunities are and what the issues are when I get there.

To comment at this stage would just be speculation.

Ask me more at the end of the year.

Author Mike Duffy is Motoring Editor of The Advertiser and the Sunday Mail, Adelaide, South Australia

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

The world’s car manufacturers: A financial and operating review

Vauxhall Corporate Profile

General Motors Strategic Review (download)