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Mon 20 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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Life in the fast lane

Phil Horton, managing director of automaker BMW Middle East shares views and interests with our readers.

Life in the fast lane
HORTON: The most challenging situations in the workplace are always around people.
Life in the fast lane

Phil Horton is the managing director of BMW Middle East.

What is your occupation?

I am the managing director of the BMW Group Middle East and I manage around 35 staff. BMW divides the Middle East up into four markets and each one of those has an independent importer - our office in Dubai acts as the coordination office for those importers here in the region and BMW's head office in Munich. There's also an element of driving fast cars!

What was your first job when you left school?

I have always worked in the car industry. As soon as I left university I joined the Ford of Britain management training scheme in sales and marketing. The training scheme lasted for four months before I moved over to the fleet marketing department.

Which leader do you most admire?

There are two very different leaders. Some people might cringe when I say this, but the person I most admire as a leader is the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher. She was somebody who always knew what she wanted; she was extremely focused and was very good at articulating her vision. Most of all I admire her because she actually did what she said she was going to do.

The other person is my former manager, Steve Parker, who I worked with when I was at Ford of Europe. He taught me an awful lot about presentation and managing and motivating people. I try to use what he taught me with my staff now.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

The best piece of advice that I have been given, which is one that I try and live by, is to be consistent with people so that they learn to trust you, or at least know how to take you.

You suspect a member of staff is stealing ideas from another member of staff - what do you do about it?

Plagiarism in the workplace is not something I have ever had to deal with before, but if it was happening in my office I would definitely approach the alleged culprit and I would challenge them directly.I think the most challenging situations in the workplace are always around people, never around tasks or the economic situation, although those are obviously challenging. For me the most challenging aspect of work is always dealing with people and particularly dealing with people who are dishonest. I am not talking about people who are fraudulent; I am talking about people who are dishonest to their colleagues and in many cases to themselves.

The best way to deal with this, I have found, is to think very carefully about what you are going to say but always to say it and always say it sooner rather than later. I always tackle the personal issues as soon as possible because the longer you leave them, the more difficult they become, not only for the other person but also for yourself.

The current economic climate has forced many managers to have to deal with redundancy, how do you determine who should stay and who should go?

It has happened to us, but fortunately only on a small scale. First and foremost you have to look at the value and contribution of the job that is being done. You have to take the person out of the equation and determine how much that job contributes to the success of the company. Once you have decided which positions are the ones that you can do without or which ones can be reallocated, you then have look at the people. In an ideal situation the jobs that need to go or need reallocating also match up to the same people. Sometimes of course it's not as easy as that.

What is the biggest regional challenge?

There are lots. I think one is simply the volatility of the market. One of the biggest problems with being an import and distribution business is the volatility of a market which is still growing and is still relatively underdeveloped. Currency, oil prices, stock markets and property prices last year were at record highs and then three months later they are at record lows. I don't think that is necessarily because of the current economic downturn either.

The other big challenge is that there is still a lack of maturity in the region in terms of the way the customer is treated and handled.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

For me personally, it is that I am working within a new culture and a new dynamic compared to my previous roles.

Even though for the last three years, before I moved to the Middle East, I worked in South Africa, it was still much closer to a European market both culturally and in terms of market maturity.

In a way the most rewarding aspect is that volatility, the unknown and the back to basics approach that I have to take. It's quite refreshing.

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