With the click of a mouse, Bob McMillan watches a new part of the empire take shape
in the form of the all new MINI Advanced Retail Brand Store— MINI Garage. Built
in Poland, and taking shape on a prime piece of real estate on Auckland’s Ponsonby
Road, a 24/7 webcam allows him to view progress and share the joy of watching this
new undertaking gain traction.
We talk briefly about the speed bump—more like a road hazard, actually—of some years
back that put the brakes on his original succession plan. He sold a shareholding
and left the business in the hands of someone else. with outcomes that were not
to his liking. Now back in control, a successful succession remains Bob’s unwavering
goal. As he puts it: “The horses haven’t changed, only the jockeys.”
The decisions and actions made when he came back full-time into the business have
helped the operation through the economic downturn. “Recession? What recession?
Last year was the best we’ve had in over 27 years.”
The opportunity to start afresh with a company that he already knew intimately allowed
him to take a long, hard look at the operation.
“Between August and October 2007, and long before there were any recessionary trends,
I focused on restructuring costs. I also cast my eye over the calibre of the people
we had in the business. I knew we had the challenge of rejigging and reinvigorating
the brand and operation. I wanted to get some vitality back into the balance sheet.”
To do that, he took three initiatives. The first was to address financial issues.
The second was to create smarter ways to understand what existing customers want
and to solidify relationships.
In the past, as well as helping get product sold and out the showroom door, sales
people were expected to also keep BMW stalwarts coming back for more. In a sense,
Bob McMillan has turbocharged this function with the creation of what he calls a
Customer Integration Centre.
“We now have three very experienced people who get all incoming communication. Their
first responsibility is to make sure that some sort of response is handled within
the hour and then, if further followup is required, that it takes place. They also
serve as an information gathering hub that can then be channelled back into the
A parallel process has seen the business go offshore and engage a group of women
across the Tasman who, prior to maternity leave, were top sales managers of Australian
dealerships. Bob McMillan reasons that they know the industry and how to turn tyrekickers
“Their role is to follow up people who came into one of our showrooms in the past
day or so. It’s handled like a customer satisfaction call but they also have the
chance to probe for more strategic, sales-oriented information. They can then feed
this information back into the relationship and sales building process.”
The third leg of the transformation has been taking the ‘Joy Is …’ concept from
BMW corporate and turning it into an approach that is tailored to personal messages
from the man himself. For these to have any sort of traction requires his ‘delight’
to be genuine.
He has also retained the focus of his new succession plans: his son, Andrew McMillan.
He also has brought in one of his most favoured colleagues from Team McMillan Ford
days, Ian Gibson, to help drive the business and to be a mentor for Andrew. Both
came on board in 2007.
Now manager of the used vehicle department, Andrew dusted his tyres in service and
sales roles for one of Sydney’s largest Porsche dealerships. Before returning to
New Zealand, he had become the top Porsche salesman in Sydney.
“Andrew is on line to take over in due course. He is 30 now. The more he’s exposed
to business the better, for I know that it does take time to develop great people.
His Porsche experience set the scene. He has great natural people skills but the
discipline of transferring this to sales was a great opportunity.”
Having already had the experience of stepping aside, moving away, and relinquishing
all management and day-to-day responsibilities, Bob McMillan is not in a hurry to
leave just yet. There’s simply too much joy to be had.