Driv­ing Force

The manag­ing di­rec­tor of Audi Aus­tralia shares his short­cuts to busi­ness suc­cess

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“IT’S MORE OF A REVO­LU­TION than an evo­lu­tion,” ad­mits Paul San­som. The manag­ing di­rec­tor of Audi Aus­tralia is de­scrib­ing the al­most sci-fi lev­els of tech­no­log­i­cal change now shak­ing up the car in­dus­try. Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, self-driv­ing cars and emis­sion-free mo­bil­ity are com­ing soon to an au­to­mo­tive show­room near you.

Manag­ing such a trans­for­ma­tion sounds like a mighty chal­lenge. Yet San­som is calm and up­beat. It’s con­fi­dence borne partly from the fact that his brand is al­ready renowned for its rest­less sense of in­no­va­tion. Audi’s fa­mous slo­gan: “vor­sprung durch tech­nik” help­fully trans­lates as “progress through tech­nol­ogy”.

But San­som’s prag­matic ac­cep­tance also re­flects the re­al­ity of Audi’s po­si­tion and, in­deed, that of count­less in­dus­tries striv­ing to thrive in the age of dis­rup­tion. “If you don’t em­brace change, then you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to have some tough times and the op­po­si­tion will get ahead of you,” San­som says.

From deal­ing with the boss from hell to re­fin­ing your sales tech­nique, read on to dis­cover San­som’s busi­ness les­sons to hit the ac­cel­er­a­tor on your own ca­reer.>

Don’t wait for your HR de­part­ment to of­fer you rel­e­vant train­ing. To fast-track your path to the cor­ner of­fice, take charge of your ca­reer de­vel­op­ment and work out the ex­act skills you need in or­der to progress. “It’s up to you,” San­som says. “You have to be mas­ter of your own des­tiny.”

Prior to Audi, when San­som was work­ing at Volk­swa­gen, his boss of­fered him a pro­mo­tion to the role of plan­ning man­ager. Aware that it would be a num­ber-crunch­ing job wad­ing through end­less Ex­cel Spread­sheets, San­som shud­dered at the prospect. But he even­tu­ally de­cided to ac­cept.

“I thought: I’m go­ing to take that job be­cause it’s go­ing to be the step­ping stone to the job af­ter that and cre­ate a big­ger op­por­tu­nity for me fur­ther down the line once I’ve got that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

San­som bat­tled through the role for two-and-a-half years. “I couldn’t say I en­joyed one day of it,” he ad­mits. To­day, he cites that time as the most valu­able ed­u­ca­tion of his ca­reer as he was thrust into a crash-course in his in­dus­try’s in­ter­nal lo­gis­tics from man­u­fac­tur­ing to im­ports.

“Some­times as you’re mov­ing through an or­gan­i­sa­tion you have to take on roles that you know are prob­a­bly not your strength,” San­som says. “But you should do them not just to de­velop that strength, but to get ex­po­sure to all as­pects of the busi­ness. I wouldn’t be MD of Audi Aus­tralia to­day if I hadn’t taken that role,”

YOUR MOVE: Do an hon­est self-ap­praisal of your pro­fes­sional skill-set. De­ter­mine the spe­cific gaps be­tween where you are now and where you want to be in five years time. List your short­com­ings then as­sess the train­ing or ex­pe­ri­ence that you need to shore up your weak­nesses.


Sell­ing isn’t lim­ited to call cen­tres, shop­ping cen­tres or car show­rooms. San­som takes the view of Daniel Pink (author of To Sell is Hu­man) that it’s the key process be­hind most daily in­ter­ac­tions. “This morn­ing my two-yearold wanted cook­ies for break­fast and I had to sell him on the fact that he had to eat some eggs in­stead,” he says. “You’re con­stantly ne­go­ti­at­ing in life – it’s just hu­man na­ture.”

Af­ter hold­ing a va­ri­ety of se­nior sales roles, San­som knows how to seal a deal. But if you want to be­come a bet­ter sales­man, he sug­gests, for­get over-the-top pitches or ne­go­ti­at­ing hacks. Far more im­por­tant is to con­cen­trate on forg­ing gen­uine re­la­tion­ships. “The qual­i­ties of re­ally good sales­peo­ple tend to be the hu­man qual­i­ties – the abil­ity to con­nect, to find com­mon ground, to put the cus­tomer at ease and get them talk­ing about their re­quire­ments, be­fore then find­ing a way for your prod­uct to ful­fill them.”

At the same time, warns San­som, the abil­ity to dis­play em­pa­thy and trust will only get you so far. “You can’t just start sell­ing be­cause you’ve got de­cent in­ter­per­sonal skills,” he says. “You have to learn your prod­uct and re­ally know your stuff. Oth­er­wise a cus­tomer will un­pick you very quickly.”

YOUR MOVE: Don’t bother fak­ing en­thu­si­asm or ex­u­ber­ance in or­der to close a sale. The best sales­men are even-keeled ac­cord­ing to a study in Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence. Re­searchers tracked 300 sales peo­ple over three months and found that “am­biverts” – peo­ple who aren’t par­tic­u­larly ex­tro­verted or in­tro­verted – were 32 per cent more suc­cess­ful than more so­cia­ble sell­ers.


What’s your boss like? Per­haps you’ve got an in­spi­ra­tional men­tor who’s pa­tient, en­cour­ag­ing and wise. But even if your head hon­cho is a mean-spir­ited buf­foon, they can still teach you more than ba­sic re­silience (and how to self-soothe with hard liquour).

“I’ve learnt a lot from good lead­ers,” Sam­son says. “But the best les­sons have ac­tu­ally come from the worst lead­ers I’ve worked with. Those were the strong­est les­sons. I ob­serve a lot and when­ever I see what I per­ceive as bad ex­am­ples of lead­er­ship then I make sure that if I ever catch my­self do­ing them I’ll quickly scrub them out. I’m con­scious of those things be­cause I’ve been on the other end.”

Tap­ping into the ben­e­fit of the “neg­a­tive men­tor” em­pow­ers you to pros­per from an oth­er­wise grim sit­u­a­tion. Even if you’ve got the boss from hell, learn from their ex­am­ples of what not to do and how not to be­have.

YOUR MOVE: Train your boss like a dog. Want him to stop yelling at you? Use the an­i­mal­train­ing tech­nique the Least Re­in­forc­ing Sce­nario. Stage one: ig­nore the be­hav­iour you’re try­ing to erad­i­cate. Stage two: re­ward the calmer con­duct that fol­lows – that could be by giv­ing com­pli­ments or shar­ing a bit of good news.



The stan­dard lead­er­ship model is shaped like a pyra­mid with the boss sit­ting at the pin­na­cle be­hind his ma­hogany desk. This hi­er­ar­chi­cal struc­ture leans to­wards the dic­ta­to­rial. The boss barks out orders that his un­der­lings then scurry to ex­e­cute. “But if ev­ery­one is just wait­ing for your next in­struc­tion, I think that’s quite lim­it­ing for an or­gan­i­sa­tion,” San­som says. “Plus you have to be a su­per­hu­man leader to ac­tu­ally man­age that if you have nine di­rect re­ports. You can only go so far.”

The al­ter­na­tive? Flip the pyra­mid so the leader sits at the bot­tom del­e­gat­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and en­cour­ag­ing his team to work more au­tonomously. “As a leader, you want to sur­round your­self with the best peo­ple and then un­lock their tal­ent by let­ting them be their best and re­as­sur­ing them it’s OK to make a mis­take – just not the same one twice!”

The tricky part of this, San­som ex­plains, is that not ev­ery­one will nec­es­sar­ily em­brace that added re­spon­si­bil­ity. Some peo­ple like to be told ex­actly what to do. “You’ve got to see what sort of or­gan­i­sa­tion you’re in­her­it­ing,” San­som says. “You can’t just flip a switch and change the cul­ture of a busi­ness overnight. Be aware that peo­ple move at dif­fer­ent paces.”

YOUR MOVE: If you want to be a bet­ter boss, talk more and type less. Face-to-face com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the best way to stop an elec­tronic wall iso­lat­ing you from your em­ploy­ees. Group emails are fine for post­ing facts, but con­ver­sa­tion is far more ef­fec­tive for a man­ager, says Rodd Wag­ner, coau­thor of 12: The El­e­ments of Great Manag­ing.

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