Award-winning Alphabet builds fleet mobility provisions
11 September 2014
With the ING integration well and truly complete, Alphabet is now looking to a future that's about much more than straightforwardvehicle leasing, as chief executive Richard Schooling reveals to Paul Barker
With Alphabet now firmly ensconced in the top three UK leasing companies following the completion of ING Car Lease's integration into the business, chief executive Richard Schooling can focus on the future, rather than having his thoughts dominated by what he claims is 'the best integration we've seen within the marketplace'.
The £564m deal was confirmed in October 2011 and it has then taken nearly two years to completely integrate the two entities, something that was completed in the second half of last year.
"For sure, in the first 100 days after the system migration in mid last year there were a few pockets of problems we had to deal with, but we haven't lost customers, and elements that stressed service delivery at the back end of last year are solved," he says.
But despite the moulding of the new business, 2013 was still a record year for Alphabet, delivering more than 50,000 cars for the first time, and the stated aim is to add another 10,000 to that figure in 2014 as it expands on the 125,000 contracts it currently holds. And the approach to the future is, according to Schooling, based on being as innovative as possible.
"We need to ensure that the way in which we operate is all about having customers at the heart of the business and working in an entrepreneurial way, driving the business forward and looking at the innovation aspect," Schooling tells BusinessCar. "We talk about being a leading provider of outstanding business mobility, an innovator in the sector and very forward thinking."
As well as its leasing offerings, new channels Alphabet is trying to open into include car pooling, electric vehicles, enhanced levels of public sector, and coming later this year, a big move into the broker sector.
The firm's move into its first ever broker channel was confirmed at the end of April with three appointments, including Gavin Davies from Leaseplan as head of indirect sales at Alphabet, and a launch due later this year. Graham Conway, previously of Lex Autolease, will become head of special offer management, and Richard Chadwick joins from Leaseplan, taking control of the roll-out of a bespoke IT platform supporting the new offering.
Schooling says the broker market before the financial crisis wasn't attractive, but it has now matured.
"What made us change our mind was the way the marketplace has developed and brokers have become more professional," he explains. "The ones that are not professional are not around any more."
The firm has been recruiting for its "select few highly experienced and approved broker organisations" in the past couple of months. Five are already in place to help pilot and develop the strategy.
"We're engaging with them to get their input into our ideas, rather than coming to market with a take-it-or-leave-it approach," says Schooling. "We're engaging with partners before we finish to make sure it's an attractive solution. It will be worth waiting for and people will want to be part of our group."
The forays into pool cars and plug-in vehicles are also gently growing under the respective Alpha City
and Alphaelectric banners.
The company has delivered 59 plug-in vehicles so far since launching its Alphaelectric programme last year, with another order for 68 having been placed, with the Nissan Leaf so far the most popular single car with 31 orders.
"We're reasonably on track. We're not seeing it as pushing against an open door but we are perceived as having a good overall solution," comments Schooling.
The company has also extended its Discovery package with the addition of the Leaf full-electric model, joining the range-extender BMW i3 and Vauxhall Ampera. Discovery is effectively a try-before-you-buy, with firms taking the cars with a break clause if plug-ins aren't working for their business.
"We are the people to come to if you want to do electric," says Schooling. "We won't just say 'yes' and order it. And if people consider going partially then we're happy to just talk to them about an electric-only solution. Even if they don't use us for their main fleet, they can still use us for electric."
The Alpha City programme is more established, and seeks to replace pool cars, hire cars or grey fleet with its smart card-based solution, and is currently in the process of delivering 40 vehicles to Northumbria Health Care Trust, a deal concluded last year but that couldn't be fulfilled until the all-wheel drive Mini Countryman joined the vehicle offering because the trust wanted the all-weather capability that comes with four-wheel drive.
The system is fully integrated using BMW and Mini's Connected Drive technology that's fitted to all
models that have navigation.
The growth in volume and breadth of Alphabet's offering means the company has been recruiting, with 35 additional heads last year and another 30 expected during 2014.
"It's all over the business because we've got a number of initiatives to focus on," Schooling explains. "It's ensuring we can deliver service, launch new products and that we are thinking about the future."
As far as the leasing giant's growth is concerned, Schooling sees it coming from a number of areas.
"We will get more volume out of the acquisition, more customers in more channels, and we are the people to come to if you want to do electric," he repeats. "We'll continue to grow our presence in the public sector, plus the broker piece in the next three to five years will be a significant part of the portfolio.
"It's not about getting a bigger slice of the cake, but about growing the cake, and we'll not try and do more of the same for less - we'll try and do more," says Schooling. "We will get to customers that we don't currently have a presence with, working in segments we're not currently working in."