Kevin ‘The Business Fixer’ Gaskell, serial entrepreneur, author, and adventurer is recognised as one of the world’s foremost leadership experts, responsible for transforming three of the world’s most iconic brands Porsche, BMW, and Lamborghini (GB).
A trailblazer in his approach, Kevin has enjoyed three decades of success as a business leader; founding start-ups, driving turnarounds, and leading major brands in a variety of sectors including technology, manufacturing, and professional services. He has repeatedly led teams of varying sizes to extraordinary performance, creating over $5 billion in shareholder value and winning global and national awards.
A leading technology entrepreneur and investor, Kevin is also Director at Radical Sportscars Ltd, founder and chairman at iCaaS, chairman at ITS technology, and executive chairman of Amber, a health & safety platform.
In addition to his business achievements, Kevin has played international cricket, climbed Everest, and walked both Poles. In 2020, he was a member of the crew who set a new world record for the fastest row across the Atlantic Ocean. Then in 2024 Kevin will attempt the world record for crossing the Pacific.
In this episode, Kevin Gaskell talks with Adam Stott about his successes as a leader of different companies. Kevin also shares his journey in starting an IT company and the books he’s written.
- Kevin Gaskell’s part in turning around companies including Porsche
- The 1000-day plan
- The importance of commit, connect, and create
- Creating the culture and atmosphere for success in a company
- Kevin Gaskell’s journey into the IT world
Check out Kevin Gaskell’s books (Catching Giants and Inspired Leadership) at kevingaskell.com
Please note this is a verbatim transcription from the original audio and therefore may include some minor grammatical errors.
Hello, everybody and welcome to this very special episode of Business Grow Secrets. I’ve got an amazing guest today, somebody I’m really really looking forward to talking to and deep diving into some of the wide array of experience that this gentleman has. His name’s Kevin Gaskell. He has started over 15 tech businesses creating over 5 billion pounds in shareholder value. In addition to that he’s played international cricket. He’s been on his own [00:01:30-00:01:34], and really is an expert in how to build teams, and leadership and entrepreneurism. So really, really looking forward to having a great chat. Kevin, welcome on to the show. Thank you for coming on. How are you doing, man? We’re good?
Yeah, I’m good. Great to be here. Thank you for the invitation.
I’m really excited to talk with you. We’ve got lots and lots here and I’m sure we’re gonna uncover some great business growth secrets for the audience and the people watching. And what I like to do, Kevin, is we’ve got a wide array of experience here, I know you’ve got a background in the automotive industry, similar to myself, you’ve then got into the tech industry, you’ve had a big change there. And we’ve obviously got, you know, international sport, and also a world record holder, I believe, as well.
So we’ve got lots and lots of things to talk about. Why don’t we start off with getting to know you a little bit and talk about really, you know, where you come from? How did your journey start, Kevin? Where did you really decide that you wanted to go and, you know, become a business entrepreneur and business owner? Where do you think this goes right back to the beginning?
Well, right back to the beginning was my preschool medical, which I remember very well. The guy asked me, What do you want to do when you grow up, son? And I said, I want to be a guy who builds bridges. And he said, you know what they’re called, I said, navvies, . They’re called civil engineers, as we are four or five years old.
And at that stage, I wanted to be a civil engineer. And that’s what I always wanted to do. So I went through school, through university, studied civil engineering, and what is a civil engineer for four years. I really enjoyed it, but realized it wasn’t going to give me the kind of business breadth that I wanted. So my university very kindly offered me a scholarship to go back and study for an MBA, which I did. I enjoyed that I came out of there.
I moved into a chemical engineering company, where I joined as an accountant, I studied accountancy and high school. So I’m now a civil engineer, or engineer, and an accountant, I can read a balance sheet and a blueprint. And I enjoyed that. I enjoyed that for four years. You know, it was great fun, I was learning a lot. I was the interface between the manufacturing plant in a company called Dow Corning manufacturing silicone in South Wales. And I wanted to do something else.
My passion has always been automotive and sport. I was playing a lot of sport at the time, playing a lot of cricket in between my day job, automotive and one day in the Sunday Times where people used to advertise jobs before the internet, Porsche car company, were looking for somebody who they described as an engineer and an accountant. And I read that and I thought, well, that’s me. I applied for the job, I got the job. And I joined Porsche GB as a kind of regional management accountant helping dealers to run their businesses. Over the next five years, I was promoted through various ranks, and then the business got into incredible trouble.
Porsche, as you know, it today was just about to fail. The board, we’re all fired, and against everybody’s expectations, mostly my own house, I was appointed as Managing Director, and I was 32 years old, I was as green as grass. And I was completely shocked. But for the next four years, we ran our business and we turned that business around. We went from frankly, being number 32 out of 32 in customer satisfaction and in the market to be number one, we went from losing 20% on sales to making 20% on sales. We built a fantastic team.
It’s just great fun, I’d five years of building a great company, then BMW knocked on the door and said, hey, we love what you did a Porsche Tronic and run our business, I joined BMW, and did the same thing really, which was take the business to pieces and put it back together again, in what I thought was pretty simple and logical way. And having inherited a business plan to grow the business three or 4% per annum, were to grow the business by 80%. And I thought we just did the basics. But you know, the great thing was, again, we built a great team, everybody was having fun, and the business was hugely successful. So for the second half of my journey, I was then 40 years old.
Sounds a bit easy, Kevin.
So, listen, I really want to know, and I think the audience needs to know as well, because that’s an incredible achievement. I mean, obviously, the Porsche we made is incredible. And then obviously, the skill was being recognized and moved over to BMW and to be able to repeat it is incredible. And there’s a system in there. So what is it that you did? Do you feel that you bought, again, sometimes actually, not necessarily having the old experience of the old plan, and instead of coming in with fresh eyes, and a different approach, it sounds like you’re zoned in on client service. For one, you know, customer service was critical. And you know, we’d lost our way with our customer support, sure, we’d lost contact with our customers. So the first board meeting that I was CEO, we talked as a team.
So what should we do here, you know, we’re very close to the edge, very close to failure. What should we focus on, of course, you’ve got to get your cash under control, of course you have. But the second part is, I don’t believe that people in a business are inspired by talking about numbers, it doesn’t get people excited to say, give me another 1% return on sales. So another 2% live market penetration. And what we said was, we want to build the best customer service culture in the world.
And we want to be number one in that listing. I’ve just told you about where we were number 32 out of 32. In customer satisfaction, we set our sights on becoming number one, which was hugely challenging, and everybody told me I was nuts, you know, you’ll never get to number one. Well, we did get to number one. But the way we did it was by taking the company apart and putting it back together again.
And making sure everybody in the team understood where we were going, and how they played a part in it. We build a very simple plan in our businesses, I call it a 1000 day plan, in 1000 days, we’re going to look like this. This is what world class looks like. And this is what it sounds like. This is what it feels like. So all we do is sit as a team and define what I call the vision of success, what will it be like when we are successful, we talk about that, and we build a plan to achieve it. The key is to make sure that everybody in the team, every single person in the team understands how they play a part in getting us towards that vision of success.
That’s everybody’s classic, it’s the car cleaner. And, you know, there’s no such person and only in business, he’s only a car cleaner. She’s only a sales director, there’s no such thing as an old man, everyone has a role to play. So what we did at Porsche was build a fantastic team, who understood exactly what the plan was and how we were going to deliver it together. That was the intention, of course, you made mistakes along the way. And things change. But you started off with that 1000 day plan. And, and that is how we turned the business. And we went from being less than the industry to first in the industry.
And I love the plan, but I’m gonna ask a question. I know the answer. Okay. But I have a question for the benefit of the audit. I feel like I know the answer. Right. But I think this is really important for a small business owner to hear. We set the 1000 1000 day plan. We say this is what it looks like, this is what it sounds like, this is what it feels like we get everybody on the bus. What happens to the people that won’t get on the bus?
Well, you know, well, I frequently get asked that question. And I used to say, well, I spent two years trying to help them to get on the bus. But honestly, now I don’t know, I have a conversation with them and say, “Look, this is where we’re going”. You can play a part in this and you can be part of this dream. And when I went to BMW, I had two or three people because I applied exactly the same principle build 1000 a plan where we going?
I did have two or three people who came to me and said, Listen, Kevin Porsche was one thing because the business was in trouble. But, BMW we’re doing okay. So don’t knock it. And I said, “You’re doing okay”. But we need to go further and okay. A couple of people said, I don’t feel I want to be part of that. And so I helped them to move on. It really is, okay, how can I help you to go find your dream? Because we don’t want to be part of this one.
I need to help you to find your own and I move people on relatively quickly, never aggressive. Look, it’s not about them being bad people, it’s about finding for them or helping them to define the journey that they want to go on. Because I’m inviting the whole team in my business is on a journey, you know, come with us, let’s go and build something that we’re proud of, let’s look back and say, hey, look, what we created. Look what we did together.
And it’s that pride that creates the inspiration and and I broke it down to three pieces, you know, you asked me, How do I structure it? I break it down into first commit, what are we committing to do? And whether that is rebuild a company or gone with a championship? Or whatever it is? What are we committing to and then really committing?
The second is to connect. And that’s the 1000 that I plan, how do I connect with that vision of success? How do I actually make a difference. And then the third piece is create and I call it creative magic. Because that’s when the culture takes over. It’s when people go the extra mile because they want to, because they’re having fun. It’s when on a Sunday night, instead of thinking, oh, I got to go to work tomorrow, I think, great. I’m going to work tomorrow.
And I’m going to do this and I’m going to improve that, or I’m going to develop the other. And they’re actually looking forward to and I call that inspiration. You know, that’s when people really want to come into the team and make a difference. And that’s, I mean, look, I cut my teeth at Porsche because I had to where we were failing business.
But it’s that principle that I’ve taken to a number of other businesses. And I’ve written a book called inspired leadership. And that book covers this whole journey. It lets people read how we do it? What are the practical tools, and also when it went wrong, Adam, because it doesn’t always go right. Other times it goes wrong. And you know, you got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go again. And I have to say to people, you want me to tell you when it went right, that’s fine. Give us half an hour, you always have one rule? Or give me a week, I’ll talk you through.
Absolutely, you know, I love some principles there. I love the Connect principle, actually. Because I think that’s quite different. But actually connecting somebody who’s there? How do I actually connect with some individuals? So right away, I think I really like that. That’s really great. And then obviously as well, to get them into the creative juices, have you had times where you’ve gone into the business, and like BMW, for example. And you’ve had a top performer, that because they don’t like change, they’re fearful to change, or perhaps they’re very comfortable in their position that you’ve asked to have that conversation with them, it’s hard to walk away, you know, you too, Baby took a real top performer and lost them out of the business because they don’t want to be a part of the plan is that happened to you a few times along the way.
I’ve not really lost the top performers, because they want to achieve something special. And you know, if I can create the culture in the atmosphere for them to be successful, they will stay in and they will enjoy it. I had one very senior guy who simply did not believe in the process. And, and so I helped him to move on. And he went to another BMW business. But generally speaking, I think 99 out of 100 people say, you know what this is financially because I give away authority and accountability. I let people make the decisions, you know that there’s the plan, you do it. I don’t know how to do it, I don’t know how to do your job, but you do.
So you know your job. Help us to get there. And you know what, if it goes wrong, I’ll back you up. There’s no fear here. Don’t be afraid of trying. You know, be fast, be agile, be creative. And we will learn because if it goes wrong. Well, we learn from it, we back up a little bit, we reset, we go again. So it’s about building that culture, where people are not afraid to make change where they want to drive the change, and then it becomes fun. And that’s the great magic piece.
Yeah, it sounds like you have a wonderful system there. And that certainly works for you know, work for any business wants to create cultural change within a bigger, larger organization. I’m sure that that’s exactly the way to do it. So I really loved hearing that story. So you’ve obviously come out of the automotive industry and you’ve moved into technology, changing industries, is that a personal interest? Was that the bigger multiples? Was that a legal opportunity? What is it that took you in that direction? Kevin and what has been the challenge maybe of moving from an automotive based business to a technology business and what opportunities do you see there? Lots of different questions.
Yeah, well, you know, I’ve said two or three times, you know, I did four years here and I did four years there. And I know myself that after four to five years, I believe that I tend to get stale. I’ve kind of done what I wanted to do within that time period. And I personally need a new challenge. The reason I moved away from BMW.
I stepped out of BMW into technology because the internet was changing the world and I couldn’t get the manufacturer and the dealers to move quickly enough into the online world and I think We’ll blow it, I’ll do it myself then. And I was still relatively young, and I was 40 years old. And I thought if it all goes wrong, I’ll give it two or three years, I’ll give it absolutely my best shot. I think I was wrong, I was gonna get a real job again. But I stepped out.
I was very fortunate, somebody came to me with backing. They offered me the finance to go and build the platform. And I wanted to retail cars online. We’ll see it now because it ruins the engine, all this stuff. While I was doing that 20 years ago, the trouble was, I was so far ahead of the market, that the market didn’t get it.
So what we did is we we, today, we call it pivot the model, what we did was we thought again, and changed the model. And we went and became a platform and the fleet sector. But for me, it was about finding a new challenge. It was about going out there and doing something that was fresh, I did have to learn. I knew nothing about technology, I’d been used to having full time PA and all that stuff. I didn’t even know how to write a PowerPoint chart when I stepped outside, but you learn quickly, you know, you have to learn.
And we built the first business, which was called [00:16:07-00:16:09]. And that was very successful today. It’s pretty much a monopoly through car dealerships in the UK and beyond. From there, I stepped over and built an ultimate data company, which became the biggest automotive data company in the world. And that was on the back of a business called glasses guide, where we took a glasses guide, we extended it into whole new sectors. And we grew that into 31 countries. So it was just a case of looking at the potential and daring to dream about what is possible, you know, let’s absolutely dare to imagine what we could do with this thing. But then let’s go and do it.
And, you know, I firmly believe that most limitations in this world are the ones that people put on themselves. If you can see that opportunity, if you believe it’s they go for it, go for it. And you’re you might not get 100% of it, but you get 90% of it, you’re still typically 50% ahead of everybody else, because they’re not even looking in that space.
Yeah, so the technology was and has been now about finding new opportunities. And today I’ve got tech companies. Not in automotive anymore. I’ve got one in health and safety, I’ve got one in FinTech, one in marketing, one team development, one in data security. And it’s kind of one leads into the other leads into the other. But it’s just running a business, Adam, it’s the same thing. And I’ve got very smart techies in the business, thankfully, because they understand what they do with the technology. I didn’t ask me to code a line because I couldn’t do it.
But what I can do is I can see the market opportunity, I can define the strategy to go and achieve that opportunity. And then build a team to implement it. But you know, it’s like everything. I run a boat company, I turned a boat company around big boats, $10 million boats. I don’t know if boats, I couldn’t build a boat to save my life. But again, it was the challenge. The challenge was the same. What is the strategy? What is the 1000 day plan? How do we do it? And we took that business, which had made losses for 10 years into profit and 14 months? Is the basics. Do the basics get better? And bigger things will get better? Focus on getting better?
Let’s go into the basics a little bit. What are the basics? What would you say the basic fundamentals of business, say you’re looking at a business in particular, and you’re going into this business and what was in your head? You’re analyzing this business? As you look at it, what are the things that you’re looking at?
Well, the first thing I’m looking at is what’s the potential scale of the business? How big is the market opportunity? Because if the market opportunity is 100,000 pounds, so not interested? Yeah, if it’s a billion pounds, okay, we don’t have to get very much in that market in order to be very successful. So I look at the market at scale as an opportunity.
The second part is I look at the management team. Who are these people I want to work with? Are they smart? Are they energetic, are they agile? Can I add something to the team? Because if I can’t add anything, then you don’t. I recommend other investors or other partners to the team. Rather than myself. I need to feel like I’m adding some value to the business. And then the fourth is when once you get into running the business, obviously you’ve got the fundamentals of marketing and operations.
And you’ve got the finance I tend not to talk about the finance but you’ve got to have a firm grip on the finance. Tech companies can burn through cash very quickly if you’re not careful. So let’s be careful. Let’s do things I would say don’t outspend our thinking, how do we do things smarter than anybody else has done it throwing hundreds of 1000s of pounds at us at a problem that Well, you might fix it. But I’d say, well, let’s just take two steps back and think it through and fix it in a different way. Let’s just think of a different way. And that tends to be what we’ve done.
Our businesses, I think, are very efficient. Running them was highly efficient, because we would take out the noise, we’ve got a plan we know we’re doing, then let’s also know what we’re not doing. Let’s stop doing a lot of stuff. Let’s just focus on the stuff that makes a difference. So those are my fundamentals.
I think they’re great fundamentals. So scale, market opportunity management, saying what value can you add as an individual market operations and numbers? And then of course, we think not to outspend loving family fabulous, great stuff that 100%. So look, you know, I think you’ve done some massive, massive value today. And for anybody, I’ve really enjoyed the conversations I love, you know, hearing from people operating at a high level and talking strategically, you know, it’s something that I really enjoy.
And I think some of the things you said have been wonderful. So there’s kind of in terms of people learning a little bit more from you, Kevin. And I understand I know, you’ve got two books that you mentioned. And you’ve got a new book, which you want to tell us a little bit about. So it sounds like a really interesting story. We had a good chat about [00:21:26-00:21:28], so why don’t you tell us a little bit about the new one. Okay, which are pretty cool concepts for catching giants.
Catching giants. Well, it’s called catching giants, because it’s the story of a rowing race across the Atlantic, which, for fun, I go into expeditions. I’m also from North Bala water, South Paulo, I’ve climbed a big mountain, I’ve done all of that stuff. But there was something that I really wanted to do, which was row across the Atlantic. But there’s a small problem. I don’t know anything about rowing don’t anything about boats. don’t do anything about navigation at sea, do anything about sea. So you know, just a few small drawbacks. But I was determined to do it, and met some people who wanted to do it with me. My son always comes with me on these things. And we decided we want to run across the Atlantic.
And these guys were five of us in this 27 foot plastic rowing boat. With no engine. People say to me, it’s got an engine, no, no engine, no sales, no support vessel, we are rowing 24-72 hours, on two hours off, 24 hours a day from the moment we leave Spain.To the moment we land on Sega. And my crew, young keen guys all about 27 to 30 said, we want to break the world record. And I said, “Look, guys, let’s get serious. We’ve never done this before. I’m not 30 year old anymore”. And that’s a heck of a challenge. I said, “No, no, no, let’s work out how we could do it”. So we built a 1000 day plan to break the world record.
And the story of the book catching giants is how did five guys who were novice rowers go out and actually break the world record? End up in the Guinness Book of Records and beat Olympic horsemen? How did we do that? So the book is partly the adventure story of all the adventures of us getting caught in storms, capsizing our boat, upside down everybody in the water for 1500 miles from shore in a big storm, which is a pretty interesting place to be.
It’s a phenomenal thing. You know, it’s amazing. And hats off to you know, amazing.
And how did we do it? So it’s got the story, the adventure. It’s got the business approach to it. But then it’s got 80 lessons for business and for life. Now, what lessons did we take out of this row that we’ll use on the next one, because in 2024, we’re going to go and row the Pacific because we’re gluttons for punishment.
[00:24:02-00:24:04] Kevin’s to be fair, but that is amazing.
Well, it’s lovely, because I get people ringing me up saying, Well, I thought it was a [00:24:08-00:24:10], but I’m loving it. It’s giving me so many ideas on my business, so many ideas on my life. Well, you get a lot of time to think when you’re at sea for 40 days. You get a lot of time to think.
No, it’s amazing. You know, it sounds like a fantastic book. I imagine they can get that from Amazon or any big store, right? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Available on Amazon. Go look at Catching Giants by Kevin Gaskell. Go and get that book I’ll certainly be reading. It sounds amazing. Kevin, you know, really, really does sound like a fantastic book. And they can also catch up with you on LinkedIn. I believe that’s a good place where you publish and talk and really put a lot of your content out. Is that right?
Yeah, join me on LinkedIn. I’m on Instagram. My website is kevingaskell.com. Just come say hello. I love to hear from you.
Okay, brilliant stuff. Well, I want to thank you for coming on. I think it’s been an amazing chat. I’ve loved the strategy side of it. You know, I think there’s been some really good business growth secrets here for businesses. So thank you very much, Kevin. And of course, if you’re listening to the podcast, don’t forget to go and subscribe. We’ve got amazing interviews like I’ve had with Kevin today coming up, as well as personal episodes myself that I’m adding lots and lots of value coming in again, and again and again.
So make sure you subscribe to get those. And if you’ve enjoyed the chat today, go and give us a review. Five Star Review, please would be lovely and mention Kevin, and what you enjoyed about the conversation today, for sure. So thanks again, Kevin. Thanks to everyone for listening. And I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of Business Growth Secrets.
Hi, everybody, Adam here. And I hope you love today’s episode. Hope you thought it was fabulous. And if you did, I’d like to ask you a small favor. Could you jump over and go and give the podcast a review. Of course, I’ll be super grateful if that is a five star review with putting our all into this podcast for you, delivering you the content, giving you the secrets.
And if you’ve enjoyed it, please go and give us a review and talk about what your favorite episode is perhaps every single month, I select someone from that review list to come to one of my exclusive Academy days and have lunch with me on the day meeting hundreds of my clients so you want that to be yo then you’re going to be in with a shout if you go and give us a review on iTunes. Please of course do remember to subscribe so you can get all the up to date episodes. Peace and love and I’ll see you very very soon. Thank you.