ILC LEADER

Industry Leader Interview – Richard Steer, CEO of Steer Automotive Group

Steer Automotive Group are geared to delivering outstanding repairs, by combining the latest techniques, most effective technology and excellent customer service. They are proud to be the approved accident repair centre for Ford, Honda, MG and Mitsubishi; and a number of vehicle insurers including Covea, LV= and esure. They are also accredited with the number one recognised symbol for quality and safety – the BSI Kitemark BS10125 for Vehicle Damage Repair.


How did you get to where you are today?

Good question! Originally, as part of my management training programme at ICI Paints, I worked in the refinish department and liked the people and the industry. From there I simply followed the opportunities that were presented to me along the way.

I had always wanted to run my own business so when the chance to do so came along I grasped it with both hands and that really set me on the course to where I am now.

I’ve been fortunate to experience a variety of organisations – from corporate life to private equity owned companies and back to owning my own business and each has helped to shape the businessman I am today.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your sector of the industry?

The rapid evolving change in the vehicles of today and tomorrow will create increasing challenges for all stakeholders but right now the biggest challenge is the skills shortage. The chronic lack of staff means wages are rocketing upwards which creates pressure on margins, ultimately affecting the whole supply chain.

The ageing workforce is not being supplemented by newcomers and the uncertainty caused by Brexit has led to an exodus of European skilled and semi-skilled staff back to their homelands. If this issue isn’t addressed quickly it will create significant challenges in terms of the available repair capacity and associated costs.

How are you and your business dealing with this?

The body repair industry has historically been fairly poor at self-promotion and attracting school leavers into the sector. At Steer Automotive Group we’re in the process of evaluating the creation of a Training Academy and structured Apprenticeship Programme to develop a talent pool of our own thereby driving a sustainable business model.

We have also recently launched a wide range of initiatives and employee benefits aimed at improving employee engagement ensuring the development and retention of our existing workforce – it’s already reaping rewards.

Out of your business achievements, what are you most proud of and why?

It’s hard to pick out one particular achievement but when I bought my first business, I had to use the equity from my own home as well as the houses of 3 family members as security for the deal. The pressure of ensuring the business succeeded was therefore immense.

People sometimes only see the upside of success but you need to also reflect on the risks taken to get there. The support I received from my family was incredibly humbling and to say I was relieved when I could release the security on their properties is a huge understatement.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in the industry?

The industry has a lot to offer someone starting out due to the wide range of careers available, the skills required mean it appeals to a wide demographic.

Although it’s a £4bn industry the close-knit nature of the community means that those individuals seeking different career routes can achieve their goals and build a lifetime of employment and opportunity.

My advice would be to explore all the available avenues to develop your full potential.

If you could change anything what would you do to make the insurance industry "Better tomorrow”?

I’d ensure the supply chain was focussed on delivering what the customers actually want rather than prescribing a pre-determined list of activities that channel our efforts down a path that doesn’t necessarily meet the customers’ expectations or needs.

Allow the supply chain to manage their element of the process and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results – reduced friction, a happy customer and greater policy retention.

What's your top tip for being productive?

Focus on the key areas that make a difference to the objectives of the business. Social media presents us with so much trivia and distraction during the day that you have to ask yourself if what you’re doing is making a meaningful contribution to the organisation you work for.

I would also reduce the volume and use of emails to encourage more face to face and verbal communication as too many people hide behind email. Don’t get me wrong – email does have its use but it should be part of a wider communication strategy.

What gadget can't you live without?

Sadly it’s my iPhone. I love my music and popping in my Air Pods and listening to my music library is a great release and I find it very uplifting.

Talent or Perseverance?

I think you need a bit of both. In isolation either one will only take you so far.

What do you do to switch off or escape from work?

I have a variety of interests which keep me busy away from work. I completed the toughest trek in South Africa last year and also trekked unsupported to Everest Base Camp in December raising £20,000 for the Royal British Legion along the way.

I’ve recently taken up Ballroom and Latin dancing and I even competed in the National Grand Finals in Blackpool last November!

I love music and sporting events and believe you can’t beat actually being there so I attend both whenever I can. Exercise wise I also run, go to the gym, play golf (occasionally and badly) and wouldn’t miss my annual ski holiday.

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