In an age and an industry where executives scramble to climb ever higher up the corporate ladder, it is refreshing to find someone who has found a rung on which they are more than happy to stay.
Jeremy Thomson, 50, has been managing director of Mazda UK for almost 10 years and he has no plans to move anywhere else. In some quarters it is considered that executives have to move onwards and upwards but Thomson does not believe that staying in the same place displays any lack of ambition or motivation, far from it.
“I can’t imagine a more rewarding job being the managing director of an entrepreneurial national sales company.”
“I can’t imagine a more rewarding job being the managing director of an entrepreneurial national sales company,” he said. “We have been able to create a culture that is very special in the way that we engage with the customers and the dealer network. The UK Is the best performing market for Mazda in Europe.”
Thomson was speaking to just-auto at the UK press launch of the new Mazda CX-5. He rarely misses a launch and engages as easily with journalists as he does with customers and dealers. This year he received the prestigious Outstanding UK Leadership award from Autocar Magazine.
While the Mazda UK operation is the pride of Europe, it wasn’t always so. Thomson Joined Mazda in 2001 from Ford in a fleet role before progressing into the top marketing and sales positions and he was appointed managing director in 2008 just before the financial crisis hit.
Those were challenging times for the brand in Britain. “That was really a case of being thrown in at the deep end,” he said. “Trading conditions became very difficult as the exchange relate tumbled from JPY240 to the pound to JPY120 and by 2012 we hit a low point with annual sales down to 25,000 from a high of 50,000.”
Building morale was important. “We got through that by fully involving and motivating staff and dealers. It is my aim to get everyone at Mazda UK involved in all aspects of the business. We do not outsource – any customer or dealer who calls will speak to someone employed by us who has full knowledge of our products. Everyone drives a Mazda, even our interns.
“I enjoy all the day-to-day business, interacting and engaging with customers and dealers.”
“I enjoy all the day-to-day business, interacting and engaging with customers and dealers. I visit the entire dealer network every six months along with my senior management team and being in the job for almost 10 years now I believe this helps bring continuity to the brand and the way we do business. It also makes me more accountable to the network, dealers know that when I ask them to do something they can take me to task later if it doesn’t quite work out for them – they know they are not going to have to deal with someone different every couple of years.”
The success of Thomson’s management style is reflected in surveys by the UK’s National Franchised Dealers Association which gathers dealer opinions of manufacturers. They have put Mazda firmly into the top six of OEMs.
There are plenty of challenges ahead for Thomson. He said: “We still face the headwinds of exchange rates. Unlike other Japanese or Korean carmakers we do not have local assembly or free trade agreements. All our products are sourced from either Japan or Thailand so there is a 10% tariff on everything we bring into the EU. That’s why we have to concentrate our effort towards higher margin business. For example we do not do any daily rental business because it would be too expensive for us. We concentrate on retail and user chooser fleet business.”
He added: “It is important to keep the dealer network sufficiently motivated and renumerated particularly as the brand moves towards the premium market. Mazda was once a Ford discount brand with a Mazda6 typically GBP1,000 cheaper than a Ford Mondeo. We are now on parity with Volkswagen brand vehicles and we are achieving this with a modest fixed marketing budget.”
Mazda’s UK market share is 1.5%, broadly in line with the brand’s global share. However, Thomson believes that it should do better. “With the products we have got Mazda deserves a much larger share, at least as big as the Korean brands and I would like to be part of that growth.”