Paul Parkinson of Synergy Automotive
Paul Parkinson identified a gap in the vehicle leasing market 10 years ago and launched Synergy Automotive to bring a personal customer experience and specialist advice to a sector not renowned for its high service thresholds. BQ talked to him about his business approach - and how he has achieved unprecedented growth and success.
What does your role involve?
I established Synergy Automotive a decade ago to provide our business users and private customers with a 21st century vehicle leasing experience. As a result, Synergy has achieved the coveted Gold Trusted Merchant from global independent feedback engine Feefo across 2015 and 2016 - with over 1100 customers rating us 5 Stars for customer experience.
I’m building the business and growing the team while investing in customer experience, delivery and new products. We boosted the team by 35% over the last year and are forecast to supply more than £42m of vehicles across this financial year – a 30% year-on-year increase.
What is it the company does?
We supply all makes and models of cars and light commercial vehicles (LCVs), supported by our buying power and discounts, and provide highly tax efficient finance products. Clients range from private individuals, limited companies and sole traders to PLCs.
As Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax rises, many of our company car drivers are looking for tax efficient alternatives and this forms part of the specialist advice and service we provide.
Customers are at the heart of everything we do and our business is built on providing our clients with a great experience. We also benefit from a large number of recommendations and referrals and are proud to have secured the previously mentioned Gold Trusted Merchant status from Feefo for two years running.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My first Saturday job was at age 14, unloading timber and selling it to joiners and builders in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester. This was a great grounding for real life and I went on to work for an auto parts supplier and progressed through a series of sales, operational and management roles within dealerships – eventually being appointed operations director of a £55m turnover automotive business at 34.
After more than 20 years working in the franchise dealer world, I could see “the internet of things” was coming. I knew that this was an unstoppable change and I wanted to be able to offer our customers the brands and products they wanted, financed in the best way for them.
When I set up Synergy Automotive ten years ago, in 2006, I wanted to bring something fresh to vehicle leasing and contract hire by making the customer experience central to everything Synergy does. Our sector can often be very transactional - promoting a “stack it high, sell it cheap” ethos and delivering a low quality service. We not only say we match quality with great prices, we consistently do it because it is the only thing that matters to us.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
An old saying goes, ‘managers like to climb the ladder of success, leaders know which wall tolean it against.’
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
I had just started the business when the financial crash hit, in 2007/08. They were dark days, which included a conversation with our accountant at the time who asked, “How much longer do you want to give it?” Fortunately, we can laugh about that now!
Today, we continue to deal with growing pains. As our business continues to expand, I dedicate the time to recruit the right people that fit and understand great customer experience is the only thing which matters.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I put some time aside every morning for quiet reflection and to prepare for the day ahead. I go to the gym three times a week, and enjoy a little bit of socialising!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be the lead singer in a soul or rock band. I love music and, in particular, enjoy listening to David Bowie, Elvis Costello, The Jam and Paul Weller. I think music can transport us to different places, it can stir up good memories and not so good memories, but most of all music enriches life.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?
The ‘jobsworth’ mentality. Automated telephone systems are an example of how big businesses have lost their way, as they have lost the personal touch.
Our total focus on an individual customer experience means that every client is looked after by people who are personable, professional and combine industry knowledge with a strong desire to deliver the best leasing experience to them.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
In the top five leasing brokers in terms of volume and recognised as the number one in the UK for customer experience.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Don’t be afraid to get it wrong, as everybody, absolutely everybody, makes mistakes and some of them will be big ones. The first five years are the toughest and it’s vital that you write a business plan, keep it as a reference for your aims and objectives and revise it as the company evolves.
Know your numbers and own them, dependent upon the size of the business. Set regular weekly/monthly targets that are manageable. Work to the ‘bite size chunks’ theory. Focus on ‘doing’ and the scoreboard will look after itself. Above all, as Mike Tyson said to me in Las Vegas, never give up!
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