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In Focus: Marshall Leasing

Date: 24 September 2021   |   Author: Sean Keywood

An ambitious growth plan can't be achieved without keeping a strong emphasis on customer service, according to Marshall Leasing's new managing director, Greg McDowell.

Businesses needing to replace a successful, long-standing leader can find it tough - just look at the varying fortunes of Manchester United and Arsenal football clubs in recent years, for example. Fortunately, when Marshall Leasing faced this dilemma earlier this year, it had an obvious person to fill the void with Greg McDowell, who took over as managing director following the retirement of industry stalwart Peter Cakebread, who had spent more than 30 years with the company. McDowell was already familiar with the business, having been involved in its acquisition by the Bank of Ireland through its asset finance business Northridge Finance in 2017, and subsequently led its integration. 

Although it can't have been the easiest time to take the reins of a leasing company, with factors like the Covid-19 pandemic and global vehicle supply crisis affecting an already complex fleet industry landscape, McDowell is still optimistic for Marshall Leasing's future and is targeting material growth over the next three to five years, while maintaining what he proudly describes as a long-standing reputation for customer service.

He says: "How Marshall Leasing has differentiated itself in the past is very much through its customer service. It tries to differentiate itself through that personalised and flexible service that many people talk about, but it was interesting when we bought the business [how] it's in every aspect of the business.

"How we respond to our customer requirements, and try to maintain that kind of flexible and personalised approach as we look to grow, has been a real key focus. 

"We are keen to grow materially, but what is critically important is that we retain that high level of customer service and customer differentiation that Peter, prior to myself, and the rest of our colleagues, have really focused on over the last number of years."

The main focus of Marshall Leasing's business is on contract hire and fleet management, although other services such as contract purchase are also offered.

According to McDowell, the company has seen its fleet numbers rebound from a slight decline at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He says: "At the end of 2019 our fleet was just shy of 9,000 units and we saw the fleet decline in 2020, as customers, I suppose, held off making new fleet ordering decisions, so we saw our fleet decline by about 6% or 7% in 2020. 

"We have seen our fleet increase in the first half of this year to, at the moment, around 9,000 units, so we are kind of back to where we were pre-Covid. I think that's an important step. 

"From our perspective, we have worked very closely with customers to try and support them where required through the Covid period, and now we are certainly seeing customers coming back and making decisions - and they have been, to be fair, since early in 2021 - around refleeting, and we are keen to support our customers both new and existing in that fleet renewal process."

McDowell says Marshall Leasing took steps to support customers during the pandemic, including rental payment holidays lasting up to three months for firms that needed it, and also worked hard to keep up close communication, despite lockdown and distancing measures making that more challenging.

He says uncertainty about fleet renewals has now been increased further by the widespread new vehicle supply problems currently affecting the car industry.

He says: "It's not unusual to hear of nine and 12-month lead times for vehicles at the moment, and so we are trying to work closely now with our customers to ensure that we are trying to pre-empt demand for 2022 - well into 2022 - because of those delays, which by all accounts do not look like they are going to disappear any time soon. I think we've kind of moved in some ways from Covid to the supply challenges that the wider industry is facing. 

"We're looking at what vehicles are due to come back and speaking with those customers, as well as just generally trying to advise our customers, because not all manufacturers are having the same issues, and not all manufacturers that are having issues are having the same kind of materiality of issues.

"It's an evolving situation and that's something we are just trying to communicate to our customers, to ensure that they are almost ahead of the decision-making process as best as possible."

McDowell says the supply situation is evolving on a weekly basis, and that Marshall Leasing is in constant contact with car manufacturers to stay fully informed about developments.

He says the issue has meant the situation of fleets having vehicles on informal extensions, which initially sprung up with the pandemic, has continued.

"That's just something we are going to have to work with our customers around, making sure they are fully informed and they know where manufacturers are with their own supply chains," he says. 

"It's not without its challenges, because some [clients] will have deferred decision making and then they might have expected a three-month lead time, and now they are actually looking at a six, nine, 12-month lead time, so it's far from ideal."

Like most companies in the fleet industry, Marshall Leasing is seeing a strong trend towards electrified vehicles.

McDowell says: "We are certainly seeing, and have seen over the last couple of years, quite a material increase in the number of cars moving from petrol and diesel to hybrids and
electric vehicles. 

"I suppose each customer is making decisions based on their own requirements and so we are trying to work with them to make sure they are fully informed. 

"We would expect the trend to continue to gain pace over the next couple of years, and so we are keen to work with our customers and their drivers as they look to make the move to electric. It's government policy and we are keen to support our customers in their ambitions to improve the sustainability of their own fleets."

Advising fleets on electrification is an area where McDowell says Marshall Leasing is currently seeking to further improve its service.

He says: "We're continually trying to improve our engagement around the electrification of fleets and ensure that we're offering the best advice we can to our customers. The quality and suitability of the consultation that we provide around that is critically important, and that's a big area of focus."

Another area that McDowell is keen to highlight is Marshall Leasing's continuing support for industry associations such as the BVRLA and AFP.

Following on from former-MD Cakebread, who was an active member of the BVRLA for over 20 years, including a stint as chairman, McDowell has now joined the organisation's management committee, while other members of the Marshall Leasing team have committee and board roles at the two organisations.

McDowell says: "It's important that we have strong trade associations, and I think with [our] customer base, we want to play our role from the point of view of making sure the voice of the customer is heard. 

"When you look at the landscape for fleet businesses and our customers, it's very, very complex. You've got electrification, climate change, Covid, supply issues, infrastructure, so it's a highly complex and populated area that leasing companies are navigating at the moment. 

"I think having well informed and active trade associations is critically important. Marshall Leasing has been very active in supporting and partaking in those associations, and that's what I feel is important to continue in particular at this time, given the full agenda these associations have at the moment."