WHAT happens when you turn from leasing taskmaster to leasing service provider? It’s a big culture change, but one that Hamel Patel – now the sales and marketing director for Carmmunity – is embracing.
The former regional contract hire & leasing manager had spent his working life at Ford as an executive, rising from service business manager to retail business manager and then 11 years in the leasing channel.
“When I started my regional leasing role with Ford 10 years ago, the company was doing 2,500 units through the broker channel. In 2016 – a record year – Ford topped 31,500 units through that particular channel. It was a massive growth on the back of personal contract hire (PCH) and business contract hire (BCH) business.”
But then came a massive reorganisation at Ford which would have required re-location to the Ford HQ in Essex.
With his roots in the Midlands, plus a young family, Hamel decided that it would be better to take the redundancy package he was being offered.
“I didn’t want to leave,” explains Hamel, “but I felt that the commute was going to be too long and too difficult. So I took the package and left with few ideas about what I was going to do.”
And then out of the blue came a call from Debbie Viitanen, director of Carmmunity, a Ford Partner providing discounts on Ford product for the leasing broker sector.
“She offered me a role that was difficult to refuse – she wanted someone to take the business forward and really energise the operation.
“It was ironic. In 2014 I had signed off Carmmunity as a Ford Partner. The whole thing had come full circle.”
In January 2019, Hamel started less than a month after leaving Ford. Six months later we were talking in the new Carmmunity offices, a fully restored old school jammed with the latest technology. And full of surprise and delights, from the American style diner to the bathroom with its ‘in case you’ve forgotten something’ basket of delights. (And that’s not a euphemism for those guffawing in the back row…)
Opportunity to make things happen quickly
Hamel admits that it’s been something of a roller coaster.
“It was very different from what I understood happened in this marketplace. Even though I’ve been in the contract hire and leasing market for a decade it’s just the little nuances of how they do things, how they do business and work relationships. It was a steep, steep learning curve.
“But I think the autonomy was the refreshing thing. The structure is very flat. You can make decisions and move on. And you can actually engage the team to make decisions as well because that’s the beauty of having a small team.”
Carmmunity – or Frontline Leasing and Fleet Management to give the company its registered name – is based in Derby, although it also has a finance office in Kent with five staff.
Hamel says there is room for Carmmunity to grow, both the sales team and the logistics team.
“We’ve got massive scope to grow because one of our USPs is the actual portal that we’ve created in-house. So this portal we give to our broker partners and also to the dealers. It allows them to create their own deals. We can also offer our hot offers via that portal and it’s all fully secure. So access is only to the people that we’ve signed up as official members. It allows them to do everything through that portal. They don’t need to go anywhere else. Dealers can put in delivery dates, for example, track vehicles, and they can also chase bad debt. So the portal is really our conduit for everything and it works really well.”
Hamel says Carmmunity is exploring how to develop its IT sales beyond the portal.
“We have the expertise, so we’re exploring how that expertise can be developed in other areas.”
The core business remains the provision of Ford terms for brokers. In 2018 Carmmunity grew 90%; that’s not going to be the same in 2019 but the sales will increase slightly again, reckons Hamel in what has been a challenging trading year.
Ford experience and Hamel’s new role
“I think I’ve brought structure and some element of corporateness. Let me give you an example: defined job roles weren’t here really, but that’s now been created, with proper roles and responsibilities. Meetings are structured too.
“But what I don’t want to do is over-corporatise it, because what they’ve got here is unique. It works very well and it’s quite flexible. Having a flatter management structure, having regular meetings with the whole team, that was something that never really happened.”
It’s been a big change for Hamel but not one he says he regrets.
“Look, I loved my time at Ford. But I’m really enjoying the chance to be more creative within a great business. While still doing business with Ford.”