An Interview with Business Leader Kevin Gaskell

Kevin Gaskell 8 December 2016

We caught up with extreme businessman Kevin Gaskell at our November Knowledge Guild showcase. He shared with us his top tips for embracing change, leadership and how to prepare for uncertain times ahead. Drawing on his library of tales and wealth of insight, Kevin's business acumen is unparalleled.

Kevin Gaskell at The Knowledge Guild: Review of the Year

You’ve been CEO of three iconic car brands – what were the key lessons you learned about change and turnaround during these experiences?

The key lessons are ensuring you know where you’re going. What does success look like? Not enough companies spend time thinking about what their vision of success is.

In my career at Porsche, we had an immediate crisis to deal with, the business was in grave danger, at that point success was survival. From there we said we should be the number one brand, so we took it from number 32 to number 1 in four years.

But that was about having clarity of purpose. BMW was very different, it was already a highly successful brand, it was a leading retailer, but what we wanted to ask was, how far could we take it? We invited people to get excited, to dream about what the business  could be. Within 4 years, we improved the business by 500%, even the team didn’t believe we could achieve that, I certainly didn’t, but that’s what we did. It is about having that vision, being able to dream and believing in where you can take this thing.

Kevin took Porsche from ranking at number 32 to number 1 in just 4 short years

How can leaders and managers motivate their teams to embrace change and adopt new strategies?

I don’t actually believe you can motivate people, you can inspire people, but they have to motivate  themselves. We inspire people, hopefully, by inviting them to come on a journey. We don’t say come and give us another 2% return on sales, or 5% return on net asset employed, as most people have no idea what that means. What we do is say come with us and build something that is extraordinary. Let’s build something that we can look back on proudly. It is a positive process, as we achieve success, people have fun and push the boundaries.

By doing this we have enabled ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results by themselves.

In light of this year’s events, how can businesses get ready for uncertain times ahead?

The business environment is always uncertain. In the last 30 years, there have been over 400 financial crises, uncertainty  is a fact of life. What we need to do as business people is to understand where we are going. It is about maintaining clarity. The idea is to start over there and work back to here, don’t move piece by piece, as you will end up getting buffeted by the market. We say ''that is where we are going, so let’s start there and come back to here'' - as that’s a straight line. By understanding what that line looks like we can build our blocks and move to there, but again, it is about inviting people to come on a journey with us, to see what we can do.

Businesses need to build with clarity in order to overcome uncertainty

How is the business world in the UK reacting to the ‘surprise’ Leave vote? Are there opportunities to be gained because of Brexit?

People ask me if I am surprised about Brexit , but actually, I wasn’t as I spoke to a lot of my business contacts and they were all telling me that they wanted out.  They wanted out of the bureaucracy out of an organisation that isn’t fit for purpose, it doesn’t achieve the objectives of building a growing, inspired motivated economy , and it needs to. I don’t want to come out of Europe. But what I do want to do is see a more competitive, more agile, more exciting Europe which is led by people who understand where we need to go

What’s next for you?

I am now planning to spend a lot of time teaching people how to run a business. We have created an organisation called Extreme Leaders. On the team, I have the captain of the England rugby team, the head of SBS special forces, Europe’s greatest explorer and myself, an extreme businessman. The idea is that we take the lessons we have learned over the last 25 years and apply them to businesses. We have a lot of fun helping companies of ordinary people become extraordinary. We help them translate philosophy, understand the motive, and we have a lot of success in helping them develop and become stronger.

Kevin teaching others through his years of experience

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