Paul Philpott, president and chief executive officer of Kia Motors UK and Ireland-designate, is remarkably laid-back about making history as the the first non-Korean appointed to such a role at any Kia subsidiary in Europe.
He’s currently COO of Kia Europe, based in Frankfurt and seemingly unfazed at uprooting a family to take up a new job.
Then again it is at his old place. Philpott was MD of Kia UK until shifted to Germany in 2009 and he’s clearly relishing the return for a 1 July start, thoughtfully hanging on to a house a sensible commute from the automaker’s Weybridge, HQ.
Since 2007, when Ceed One was launched, Kia UK has gone from selling 30,000 units a year to an expected 64,000 this year – 225,000 to 350,000 in Europe.
“That’s a sizeable change. Koreans used to lead every market but, having headed the UK turnaround, and set things up for Michael (Cole, current UK MD) to carry on, I have had success in Europe and now have the confidence of Korean management to make an important organisational change,” he told just-auto on the sidelines of the new generation Ceed launch in Spain.
Kia needed to start with a major market and “I guess I’m less risk!”
He suggested any UK company expanding into South Korea would initially have its own nationals at the top. A couple of Korean’ co-ordinators’ will remain to help with language and cultural issues though Philpott noted that English is increasingly the business language in Korea.
So he goes from looking after 25 markets to two with 180 dealers or so in the UK alone. Ten years ago, Kia UK sold 16,000 units, 30,000 or so in 2007, and expects 65,000 this year. Philpott reckons it’s “half way there” – he’s eyeing 100,000 as a mid-term goal. The company is on track to do that within five years, it’s “got momentum”.
“The move comes as part of Kia’s plan to strengthen its global representation and management in individual markets as part of its plan for the further development of its global activities,” the Hyundai Motor affiliate said as it announced 45-year-old Philpott’s move at the beginning of April.
Brandon Yea, president of Kia Motors Europe. said: “The Kia brand is now Europe’s fastest growing thanks to Paul Philpott and he knows very well that we are determined to strengthen local management at all our subsidiary companies in order to become a truly global automotive organisation.
“This promotion is putting an individual with specific local expertise into a role that we have previously filled from headquarters in Korea – as we have developed our operations around the world. Now is the right time – in our best performing market in Europe – to change our strategic focus and I cannot think of anyone better than Paul to take on this duty.”
Philpott initially spent 12 months in the financial sector before joining Ford in 1988. After nine years in UK sales and marketing, he moved to Toyota as general manager of marketing.
He was appointed marketing director in 1999 and in 2003 became commercial director with responsibility for all of Toyota’s commercial operations in the UK before moving to Kia.