Rac­ing ahead with the mo­tor­ing elite

Lux­ury sports car­maker McLaren is con­fi­dent of mak­ing in­roads into Chi­nese mar­ket, says its chief

China Daily European Weekly - - Business - By CE­CILY LIU in London ce­cily@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

Lux­ury sports car brand McLaren has come a long way from sell­ing its first car in China four years ago to now gen­er­at­ing a ma­jor chunk of its global sales from the coun­try. It is prof­it­ing from keen in­ter­est shown by China’s rapidly-grow­ing com­mu­nity of wealthy con­sumers.

The Bri­tish su­per sports brand ex­pe­ri­enced a stel­lar year in 2016 with a 99.3 per­cent in­crease in global sales to 3,286 cars. In China alone, McLaren sold 228 cars last year, a sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tion to the to­tal of 300 it sold in its first three years in China.

It’s an achievement that is a lit­tle hard to be­lieve given McLaren’s China of­fice, in Shang­hai, em­ploys only 10 staff, who are mainly in charge of the sales, mar­ket­ing, af­ter-sales ser­vices and re­la­tion­ship man­age­ment.

The com­pany works with a net­work of 14 Chi­nese re­tail­ers to dis­trib­ute its cars.

“Af­flu­ent Chi­nese su­per­car cus­tomers ap­pre­ci­ate the at­tributes of the McLaren car and our cars are well suited to this de­vel­op­ing mar­ket,” says Mike Fle­witt, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of McLaren Au­to­mo­tive.

“As a re­sult, we are very con­fi­dent about our prospects go­ing for­ward.”

Re­cently, Fle­witt spoke with China Daily about the lux­ury car maker’s strat­egy and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in China. The fol­low­ing are edited ex­cerpts from the in­ter­view:

How would you de­scribe your com­pany’s prospects in China, given the cur­rent eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion?

At McLaren Au­to­mo­tive, we feel very con­fi­dent about our future in China. We are a rel­a­tively new com­pany and we sold our first car in China in Septem­ber 2013, so went later into the mar­ket than most of our com­peti­tors. We have seen sales of a num­ber of com­peti­tors de­cline. In con­trast to that, in 2015, our sales grew by 56 per­cent com­pared with 2014. Aware­ness of the McLaren brand is de­vel­op­ing well through a num­ber of mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing mo­tor shows and re­tailer ac­tiv­ity. As a re­sult, we are very con­fi­dent about our prospects go­ing for­ward.

What has been your com­pany’s big­gest achievement in the main­land mar­ket?

In my view, set­ting up a good re­tailer net­work in any mar­ket, es­pe­cially a grow­ing mar­ket like China, is vi­tal to the suc­cess of any com­pany and is one of our great­est achieve­ments. We have worked hard in a very short pe­riod of time to find qual­ity re­tail part­ners who can rep­re­sent the McLaren brand well. We have 14 re­tail­ers across China and th­ese re­tail­ers are grow­ing sales dra­mat­i­cally. As a rel­a­tively new com­peti­tor in the mar­ket­place, th­ese re­tail­ers will be key in de­vel­op­ing the aware­ness and con­sid­er­a­tion of McLaren in this rapidly de­vel­op­ing mar­ket­place and so their achieve­ments will re­flect our achieve­ments.

In your view, what is the se­cret of your busi­ness’s suc­cess in China?

Very sim­ply, un­der­stand­ing the needs, de­sires and ex­pec­ta­tions of our cus­tomers. Only in this way can we de­liver prod­ucts that meet those ex­pec­ta­tions. I and all of my ex­ec­u­tives fre­quently meet our cus­tomers face-to-face at com­pany-or­ga­nized events, as well as so­cial gath­er­ings, to lis­ten and un­der­stand ex­actly what they think about us and want from us.

What is an ex­am­ple of McLaren’s cus­tomer-cen­tric ap­proach in China?

An ex­am­ple of this was at­tend­ing the Bei­jing Au­toshow. It was only the sec­ond time we had dis­played cars in Bei­jing. We had an ex­cel­lent pres­ence at the show and we in­vited our re­tail­ers and cus­tomers to our stand to de­but the new McLaren 570GT to Asian cus­tomers. While we were in Bei­jing, we also took the time to have a gala din­ner with our af­flu­ent cus­tomers, to show them how grate­ful we were for their pa­tron­age but also to help us un­der­stand how we can im­prove what we do for them. We try and have th­ese din­ners and so­cial gath­er­ings wher­ever we are in the world, but it’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant in China be­cause the land­scape and cul­ture changes so quickly. Th­ese meet­ings also help them un­der­stand more about who McLaren is, so it’s a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial out­come.

What es­sen­tial lead­er­ship qual­i­ties do you con­sider im­por­tant when lead­ing your team to grow in the Chi­nese mar­ket?

We have re­cruited very suc­cess­ful lead­ers in China. A very clear un­der­stand­ing of the lo­cal mar­ket re­quire­ments is vi­tal, as well as the cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties and dif­fer­ences be­tween China and other parts of the world. In ad­di­tion, as in other parts of the world, it’s key to un­der­stand how the af­flu­ent classes be­have, spend their free time and so on. Only in this way can we hope to be talk­ing to them in a way that they un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate, and build strong, long-term and trust­ing re­la­tion­ships with cus­tomers.

How does your China mar­ket strat­egy fit in with your work in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion?

China is part of our Asia-Pa­cific re­gion and we have pop­u­lated the lead­er­ship roles within that re­gional team with in­ter­na­tional peo­ple who un­der­stand the mar­kets through ex­pe­ri­ence with com­peti­tor brands, as well as Chi­nese em­ploy­ees who un­der­stand what Chi­nese buy­ers think and want. This bal­ance of in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and lo­cal knowl­edge has served us very well and has helped de­liver the sig­nif­i­cant sales growth we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

How do you mo­ti­vate your in­ter­na­tional team?

Dif­fer­ent peo­ple need dif­fer­ent mo­ti­va­tion. We are still a rel­a­tively new and small com­pany so I know most of our em­ploy­ees per­son­ally. When­ever I travel abroad to events or meet­ings, if pos­si­ble, I try to have a meet­ing or din­ner with the lo­cal teams to get un­der­stand­ing and feed­back from them on per­for­mance and how we can make their lives eas­ier. In this way, ev­ery­body can feel that their ideas are be­ing lis­tened to and each and ev­ery one of them is in­putting into the future of the com­pany. In ad­di­tion, we are for­tu­nate to have a very mo­ti­va­tional and pas­sion­ate brand to work for, and the cars that we build are some of the most as­pi­ra­tional prod­ucts in the world. All of our em­ploy­ees feel a tremen­dous sense of pride and mo­ti­va­tion to be work­ing for a glob­ally rec­og­nized brand like McLaren. This com­bi­na­tion makes work­ing for McLaren a very mo­ti­va­tional and en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

What do you think about the Chi­nese Dream? What are the dreams you have for your com­pany in China?

As a young com­pany, I have many dreams and as­pi­ra­tions that I would like our com­pany to ful­fill. Mainly, I would like us to en­sure that our po­ten­tial in this very dy­namic and grow­ing mar­ket is ex­ceeded. We have started well and made some sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ments in a short pe­riod of time.

What are McLaren’s long-term sales goals in China and glob­ally?

Glob­ally, and in China, we have to re­main fo­cused on our ob­jec­tives if our longer-term sales am­bi­tions are go­ing to be achieved. I am very con­fi­dent that we build the best sports cars in the world but our brand has vary­ing lev­els of aware­ness across the globe. In some mar­kets, we have high lev­els of aware­ness thanks to an un­der­stand­ing cre­ated by our long-term par­tic­i­pa­tion in For­mula One. But in mar­kets where aware­ness of For­mula One and wider mo­tor­sport is low, as a young com­pany we have to de­velop that aware­ness. I’ve said this be­fore but it’s a vi­tal in­gre­di­ent of our future suc­cess. Cus­tomer aware­ness of McLaren build­ing the world’s best sports cars is how we will ful­fill our po­ten­tial.

What are your hob­bies? How do you spend your time out­side of work when you are in China?

As CEO of a young and dy­namic com­pany, I don’t have a huge amount of spare time. I try and get as close to as many of our cus­tomers as pos­si­ble and this of­ten en­tails trav­el­ing to, or at­tend­ing events with, McLaren cus­tomers over the evenings and week­ends. When I’m trav­el­ling in China, I’m keen to un­der­stand how we can im­prove what we do for them. When I am at home in the UK and have time, I am an avid mo­tor rac­ing fan, as you might ex­pect do­ing the job I do and for a com­pany like McLaren, and so I en­joy rac­ing my own his­toric rac­ing cars when­ever I can.


MIKE FLE­WITT, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of McLaren Au­to­mo­tive, feels con­fi­dent about the com­pany’s future in China.

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