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MT Interview: Stuart Mustoe, CEO TrustFord

In March 2023 TrustFord announced changes to its senior leadership team, including the appointment of a new CEO. Stuart Mustoe, who previously held the position of finance director and had been acting chair and CEO since the retirement of the late Stuart Foulds in February 2022, took up the role.

Mustoe is a long-standing figure at TrustFord having joined what was then Ford Retail as a trainee accountant in 1997 before moving into the role of accountant for the Truck Division & Uxbridge, a position that he held from 1999-2003. He subsequently held several positions within the group, including financial controller for Surrey, West London & Alperton from 2003-2006 and regional financial controller positions from 2006 onwards. He was appointed finance director in November 2013, when he joined the board.

The factory owned Group turned in record pre-tax profits of £29.4m on turnover of £1.8bn in the year to December 2021. It said commercial vehicle sales were ‘exceptionally high’ in 2021 and were the main contributor to the increase in turnover.

It has also been expanding its coverage north, with the opening of a dealership in Carlisle joining its existing Parts Plus business on Kingstown Industrial Estate. The existing site, which has seen an extensive redevelopment – representing an investment of £500,000, will offer an enlarged, enhanced, and relaxed showroom space.

Motor Trader spoke to Mustoe as he begins his tenure as CEO to find out what TrustFord’s focus is going forward, how it is handling changes to the automotive workplace, and how Ford’s evolving model line-up will affect the business.

TrustFord was recently recognised as one of the 2023 Best Workplaces in the UK by Great Place to Work, ranked 40 in the Super Large Organisation category. The accreditation follows a culture audit and confidential employee survey that looked at several areas, including what key qualities makes TrustFord a great place to work, how colleagues are supported in reaching their highest potential, and the organisation’s values and guiding principles.

Mustoe mentioned this achievement as one of his recent highlights with the group. He said: “The highlights to date, certainly from my perspective, revolve around the people who work for us and our company culture. It was great to be recognised as a Great Place to Work by an independent organisation. Integral to our company culture is our PPA, which stands for our Purpose, Principles, and Ambition. Our purpose is to drive the standard in Customer Care, and that involves everyone in the organisation driving that customer experience. It is around making sure we’re positive, caring, respectful and enjoying ourselves while investing, innovating, and growing the best people to share in our success together.

“I’ve worked for the company for 26 years, graduating from university and working my way through the organisation and as a company, we pride ourselves on succession planning. We’ve had a lot of success stories over the last 12-15 months around internal promotions and colleagues being given the opportunity to push on within the organisation and fulfil their career ambitions.”

TrustFord is also trying to accommodate new working practices such as hybrid working, although in a largely customer facing industry this can be a challenge. On this, Mustoe said: “We try to listen to our colleagues, and everyone in relevant roles has now been introduced to hybrid working. We have 2,800 colleagues across the organisation. We were quite specific that certain job roles could be on a hybrid work pattern in the traditional office roles such as finance, sales, admin, marketing, and HR etc. While we have a hybrid policy for those roles, clearly the rest of the organisation is here to serve our customers and as we are a retail organisation it’s more difficult to be flexible on that model – however, we do offer flexible working hours for all roles.

“I’ll be honest, I think those front-line colleagues understand that approach. Ultimately where our customers choose to transact on our premises, then clearly, we need colleagues to be present at their place of work, but we’re always happy to listen to colleagues and applicants about flexible working proposals. We’ve also been encouraging lot of job-sharing opportunities over the last couple of years.”

When it comes to group strategy, Mustoe talked on TrustFord’s northern expansion, with the new Carlisle dealership to be the first of several openings in the next 12 months. Mustoe said: “We’ve broken it down into key areas. There is our dealership footprint, which is there to serve the next generation of automotive buyers. We already have a strong presence in the metropolitan areas such as London, Birmingham, Belfast, Bristol, Manchester and across Yorkshire. We’re expanding and now going into the north of England and pushing further into Scotland. We are about to open three brand new sites in the next 12 months. We start with Carlisle in Q3 this year. We then go to Aberdeen at the end of the year and then Glasgow around March/April next year. So, within 12 months we’ll have national coverage and a fixed footprint in northern England and Scotland to complement our already extensive coverage.

“Then there’s our national fleet operation that covers the breadth of the UK, delivering commercial vehicle excellence and a strong track record in commercial vehicle sales. We also operate our Parts Plus wholesale business and a national mobile service van operation.”

Sustainable future

TrustFord was recently presented with a green dealer of the year award at the NFDA Spring Ball. TrustFord won the Green Dealer Award (over 10 sites). The group has been working on its green credentials for a few years, but Mustoe said that it has picked up its efforts considering government legislation.

He added: “We’ve set ourselves a target to be carbon neutral by 2035. The product line-up and the Ford Motor Company is going to play a huge part in that sustainability journey. But from a TrustFord perspective, we’ve refreshed our estate with LED lighting and started installing solar panels. We’ve also really doubled down on behaviours; every site has an energy champion, someone that is responsible at the dealership to work with the management team to make sure that the various green initiatives are being upheld such as recycling or monitoring consumption wastage.

“We also run a competition across the dealerships. From the first of October to the end of March we challenged our dealerships to reduce their consumption. There was a four-to-five percent overall consumption reduction across the group. Not only does it support our green credentials, but it also has an impact on offsetting the additional costs of electricity and gas in the current market. Our costs are up substantially year on year but the consumption coming down as certainly helped with that. There is a big strategy around carbon neutrality by 2035, and we have a way to go to achieve that. But we’re in a good place and we pride ourselves on making good progress and setting goals along the way.”

Ford has been continuing its roll-out of EVs, with a target by 2035 of having all vehicle sales 100% all-electric and for its entire operation to be carbon neutral across Europe. It already has the Mustang Mach-e and the E-Transit but has said that it will be adding ten more models by 2024.

Mustoe said: “It’s an exciting time to be with Ford. Ford is now fully committed to its electric vehicle strategy. You’re seeing a lot of new vehicles come to market. We’ve got the Mustang Mach-e and the E-Transit already in the marketplace, which have been very popular with customers, but we need to expand from that base. We have the Explorer that was announced earlier on in the year, and we’ll start to see that model on the ground by the end of this year. The Transit Custom will get a fully electric model with a good range and payload and all the features you expect from that very successful vehicle. Ford will be using the iconic brand names that like Explorer, Mustang and Transit, to really electrify its products.

“For EV, it really is about awareness and education. We’ve tackled it from a couple of angles. We’ve partnered with the NFDA and been part of its EVA accreditation programme. We found that super helpful in getting our teams skilled to a level and then we then complement that with the Ford of Britain training that is mainly delivered from the Ford college in Daventry; this involves a combination of eLearning and physical time as certain products come through. So, we really are embracing the EV journey.

“We have also kept a balance as we still sell a substantial number of ICE vehicles. It really is about checking in with the teams and making sure they’re upskilled in both and have the product knowledge both for the sales and the workshop facilities.”

The agency question

Ford recently outlined its plans to roll out the agency model across Europe to dealers attending the Bring On Tomorrow Live event in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ford has already introduced transparent pricing in the Netherlands and plans to do the same across Europe. It said that it wanted to make discovering, testing, buying and owning its products simpler and more satisfying, starting with Ford EVs.

On the prospect of agency, Mustoe seemed unphased and emphasised that what is ultimately most important is the customer. He said: “Our automotive model is changing. If we think about the agency model, which is just another distribution model, it has already been around for several years. Ford currently operates within the parts wholesaling business under an agency model. So, it’s not completely new to TrustFord from that perspective. In the meantime, we are building on a strategy that’s built around our guest experience, EV, connected vehicles and the iconic brand that taps into the history of Ford and its American heritage.

“The key to success is to focus on the experience of all guests interacting with Ford and to achieve the best possible outcomes for our customers and colleagues. So, we will bring these products to market in the best way we possibly can, alongside, I’m sure, our dealer partners. I have no dates of when the agency model may be coming to the UK, but I will continue to work with Ford and keep engaging in constructive dialogue. In the meantime, we will keep focused on our current agreement and driving the standard in customer care.

“In my opinion a combined bricks and clicks model is absolutely the way forward and we’ve all worked hard to get our ‘clicks’ processes in place and we are all invested in the corporate identity from a physical perspective. I truly believe that is still the way. Ultimately our customers will tell us what they want. From what we know today, they want to do the research online, but then want to come down to the dealership and test drive and talk to the product expert. We’ll see how a potential agency model fits into that approach in the future.”

Looking at TrustFord’s year so far and to the future, Mustoe said that in his experience the supply of new vehicles is starting to get better in 2023. He added: “We still have some congestion around logistics, but we are working hard to resolve what we can as quickly as we can. Certainly 2023 started a lot better than the previous couple of years and every month I’m seeing ongoing improvement.

“Looking ahead, I think the highlights for the rest of the year will be the expansion into Carlisle, Aberdeen, and Glasgow. That really is an opportunity nationally to expand the business. There are also a lot of new products to look forward to – we’re going to see 10 new products landing in the next two years.

“Our challenges include inflationary cost pressures, which are still a concern along with interest rates. Electricity and gas come under that inflationary pressure and that is also on our minds. But we will work hard to achieve our half year goals; we had a solid Q1 and are looking to continue the momentum into Q2. We will push on for the second half of the year and keep that momentum up.

“There will always be challenges in the industry, but we have a great team around us that will do everything they can to seek out every opportunity.”

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