Meet the MD: Andy Alderson of Vanarama

Meet the MD: Andy Alderson of Vanarama

Andy Alderson is the CEO of Vanarama, heading up a team of 170 staff. As the UK’s largest van leasing supplier the day-to-day running of the firm can leave Andy pretty busy, but he took some time out of his day to catch up with BQ...

What does your role include?

I am the CEO and although the role has changed substantially over the years as I have built my management team and board. However, although the scale of the role is bigger some fundamentals haven’t changed. I am responsible for the mortgages of all my staff (now over 170), and it’s a responsibility I take very seriously.

My focus is to ensure the business is sustainable, to do this I spend most of my time on strategy and managing risk. Today, I’m less involved in the day to day running of the business as I have a strong team around me, but I never lose sight of what got us to where we are today.


What is it the company does?

We are the UK’s largest van leasing supplier and our stock position means we have much shorter order-to-delivery times than our competitors. Our customers are hardworking, time pressed individuals, that need to be in a new van quickly to minimise their down time.

Their van is their office and main work tool, the also use it for advertising and they cannot make money without this. We are the first in our sector to do TV and radio advertising and are now sponsors of the National League (formerly the Football Conference League)


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

In my early years I worked my way through lots of different jobs but my favorite was at a car dealership in 1995 which is where I decided to stay and progress through the ranks, learning many lessons along the way. By 2000 I had worked my way up to dealer principle and then in 2002 became a director in a family owned dealer group.

I quickly became frustrated and spotted an opportunity and decided to go it alone and set up my own dealership. The path into leasing was a natural one after spotting a niche market in the UK for Pickup Trucks in 2004, this then lead onto us setting up Vanarama in 2007, and I haven’t looked back since.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

Lead by example – never ask people to do what I’m not prepared to do or haven’t already done myself.

Honesty, integrity and transparency are key to leading a team.

Never be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’.

Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong.

Always remain level headed – no matter how successful the individual or business is.

Remain calm under pressure and don’t panic when things go wrong.

Be pragmatic and accept things will and do go wrong.

Empathy when building a team is vital.

Always have a proactive approach to learning.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

When the credit crunch hit in 2008, I had to lay off 12 staff in the space of six weeks. The leasing side of the business had only been going for just over a year, and we had grown quite quickly to a staff of 18.

I remember when the first bank went bust and there was a run on Northern Rock. Our phones stopped ringing almost overnight. Thankfully, because I had a great non-exec director at the time who had encouraged me to create a risk matrix, we had a plan in place in case things went wrong.

Unfortunately, that meant losing 12 people to save 6, and it was horrible. I had grown men crying in my office. I had to lose people who had left a job to come and work for me only three months earlier, and others who had just taken out a big mortgage. This wasn’t something that came easily and it is still very fresh in the memory. It was a really tough time, but it was also the time that shaped our strategy for who we are today.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I am a big believer in playing as hard as I work, so I make sure I go out and let my hair down with friends and family. I make sure I stay fit and do a lot of cross fit style training which is quite high intensity, I also practise yoga and meditation. I’m an investor in a few other businesses which I enjoy as much as any past time. I’ve also just bought a villa in Majorca and make sure I get away three or four times a year. 


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to join the police as I had a very inquisitive mind, which I still have today. There’s still a part of me that would have loved to have joined the force. It’s my inquisitive mind that keeps me fresh and thirsty to learn more.

I make time in the day to learn new things whether it’s reading a blog, an article, watching a webinar or reading a book. It must have been my youth watching episodes of The Sweeney, always fancied myself as a bit of a Regan!


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?

I have a few! Having built the business on team work I can’t stand hearing “It’s not my job!” that really grates on me! Any form of rudeness is also a no no, the culture we have here is very supportive so we don’t tolerate it, I accept things can get stressful from time to time but there’s no excuse for rudeness.

From personal experience I hate it when promised calls aren’t returned, our culture of brilliant customer service means this rarely happens but when it does its very disappointing – our staff are given extensive customer service training and its engrained in the culture of the business.

Finally, personal tidiness is high on the list of pet hates, I was always told “dress like you mean business”, never let standards slip.


Where do you see the company in five years time?

By 2018, I expect to be selling around 15,000 vehicles with a turnover of just under £35m. At the minute we don’t trade internationally at all but our model would transfer into other countries, so at some point in the future, I expect us to dip our toes in the water.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Don't stop learning, if you're in business already or thinking of starting up, then I think you have to take a proactive approach to learning. I've got a ferocious appetite for reading business books, some not so good as others but some are absolute dynamite. But I've learnt something from everyone I've read even when the content hasn't obviously been relevant.

I'm also always buying my team books that have particularly resonated and encourage them to keep up to date with current affairs and latest trends I think it's absolutely imperative for their business and personal development. Also, know your numbers. There is nothing that frustrates me more than an otherwise good business person on Dragons’ Den, failing because the entrepreneur doesn’t know hisher numbers!