Meet the MD: Mike Wheeler, Auto Styling Truckman

Mike Wheeler has manufacturing in his bones, but after 20 years in the steel industry he took a shot at his own business in Auto Styling, and hasn't looked back since. He tells BQ about his working life.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
I am the founder and Managing Director of Auto Styling Truckman.  It is my role to set the vision for the business and working with my excellent team to implement our strategy.  I am also involved in product development, exploring new markets and am currently responsible for relationship with our major clients, but this role will be handed over to our new Commercial Director over the coming months.

What is it the company does?
We are Britain’s leading 4x4, SUV and pick-up truck accessory manufacturer and distributor operating in the UK and across Europe.  Our core products are hardtops for pick-up trucks, which create a secure and easily-accessible storage area inside the truck bed. 

Commercial hardtops are manufactured in our West-Midlands factory under the iconic Truckman brand and are available for all models of pick-up sold in Europe by Ford, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Nissan Toyota and VW.  Auto Styling Truckman offers hard tops for leisure users as well as a significant range for commercial applications in off-highway industries such as construction and utilities.

What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone who has the ability to share a vision and have the confidence to let others get on and do their jobs.  They should also be able to accept when they are wrong and understand that people will often do things in a different way than they would.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Having enough time in the day!  I love what I do and it’s a real privilege to lead this company, but it’s frustrating that there’s not enough time in the day to do everything I want to develop the business.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Firstly, I always make sure I do a little bit of work when I am away to keep on top of things, then I am not worrying about letting anyone down.   In addition to my family, my passion is sailing.  I’m an Offshore Skipper and I love sailing with other people, especially those with little or no experience as it’s great to share in their discovery of the exhilaration and fun of sailing.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, just like my Dad.

Any pet hates in the workplace?
I hate inefficiencies.  Efficient and organised operations make for a productive and successful business.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We are aiming to be a truly international business supplying all the major European Pick Up Truck manufacturers, which is run by a cohesive management team and board of directors.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Trust your instincts and prove them with the numbers as it’s vital to watch the cash when establishing and growing a business.

Where did you start your career?
I began my career in the foundry industry in 1979 working as a buyer for a company called George Fischer in Bedford. It was a great place to learn how and manufacturing business works.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far
I spent 20 years in the steel industry and decided on a new challenge.  The day I left the sector I was offered two roles, one in telecoms and one with a 4x4 accessories firm.  Although the latter sparked my interest I didn’t want to work for anyone else so decided to launch my own business, Auto Styling in 2002.

In 2008 we acquired the assets of Cheltenham-based hardtop manufacturer, Truckman, which is the best-known name in the industry and incorporated the brand and its products into the business.

This led to an expansion of our factory in Brierley Hill, which we have since outgrown and are in the process of moving into a 52,000 sq. ft. distribution and fitting centre as part of a £2.7m investment.  The new building, which will also become our new head office, will operate alongside a dedicated production facility, which we opened two years ago.