As our Inchcape Introduces series continues, we hope that you’re enjoying meeting Inchcape employees from across the UK. You can find all of the previous interviews in the News section of our blog.
This month, we’re making our way south of Head Office to meet Simon Willis-Smith, General Manager at Toyota Oxford.
How long have you worked for Inchcape, Simon?
I’ve been here since mid-2017, so just over two and a half years.
Talk us through your career journey and how you arrived in your current role.
Ironically, I’ve travelled full circle because my journey began in Oxfordshire 25 years ago! I have always been very driven, ambitious and determined so within my first five years I progressed from Sales Executive at Hartwells Land Rover to General Manager at Skoda and VW with Ridgeway (now Marshall Motor Group).
I spent the bulk of my working life in the South of England with Ridgeway, predominantly with VW, but latterly with BMW and MINI. Then in 2014, my new wife and I moved to Dubai for the tough yet fascinating and fun challenge of heading up the city's four Toyota sites, which included the world’s largest Toyota dealership. My teams were selling over 13,000 new cars a year and I loved the insights, challenges and responsibilities that working in an emerging market in a new country provided.
Following the birth of our daughter, we returned to the UK and I joined Inchcape Toyota Oxford in my current role as their General Manager.
Tell us about your job and what a typical working day might involve.
I like to be in the dealership by 8.30am at the latest to join the sales and service meetings and chat with the teams to prepare them for a strong day ahead. Much of my day revolves around emails, calls and meetings, both internal and external, to drive us towards our deliverables. Wherever I can, I aim to meet every new and used car customer on delivery to thank them for their business and ask for feedback on what we can do to improve ourselves.
My management style is to be highly visible within the business and ensure that every member of the team feels they can approach me at any time on any subject. During exceedingly busy periods, I am also not afraid of rolling my sleeves up and helping out with checking cars in, moving the forecourt and other such tasks. I don’t consider that I can ask for the respect of my team if I sit behind my desk all day.
Being a General Manager is akin to juggling and plate-spinning whilst standing on one leg blindfolded! My method for dealing with the endless busyness, pressures to deliver and customer demands is to always smile and maintain a positive ‘can do’ attitude. It’s not always easy, but it’s a necessary discipline and undoubtedly one of the reasons for my career success to date.
I choose to leave work by 7pm to get home and put my daughter to bed. The one-hour commute is the perfect opportunity to catch up on any calls and close the day.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
The people. I love the customers, manufacturer and teams I work with. Toyota are an inspirational, trailblazing brand and with the legislative changes the government are introducing, I am happy to be heading one of Inchcape’s strongest brand dealerships in the country.
What appeals to you the most about Toyota as a brand?
Their ethos, their work ethic and their honesty. Everything that Toyota does, they do with integrity and an eye on the ‘greater good’. I resonate with this approach and feel proud to represent them.
Above: Toyota are global Olympic Sponsors and look after the Paralympic Rowing Team, Multi Gold Medal Winners. This is a signed shirt from the team draped over the new Supra.
What’s the secret to being a great General Manager?
Listening. My mother taught me that we have two ears and one mouth, but especially in this industry, it’s more commonplace for people to talk far more than they listen. When my team feel heard, understood and respected it can help motivate them and also create a more happy, balanced environment to work and create results in.
What is your proudest achievement in your role to date?
When Toyota Oxford were awarded Inchcape’s first ‘Best Retailer in Town’ award in 2019 for our Fleet sales performance.
In your opinion, what is the best thing about working in the automotive industry?
I am a car geek, so for me there was never any doubt that I wanted to work in the automotive industry. Sales and management comes naturally to me, so I feel blessed to be able to enjoy a career that blends my passion with my skillset.
Lastly, Simon, If you could have any car in the world, what would it be?
I would choose a Toyota Mirai, but of course in the garage would be a Porsche 356 Speedster for sunny summer days!