Read this case study from Steve Spicer, Group VP at Lithia & Driveway, following his experience on the Wavelength Connect programme in 2023.

Lithia UK leader is enlightened, impassioned and purpose-driven after Wavelength Connect

by Wavelength and Steve Spicer, Lithia UK

As a veteran of the automotive dealership industry, with 20+ years at Lithia UK (formerly known as Pendragon), Steve Spicer has worked his way up from sales exec to a Group Vice President. He readily admits he was feeling in need of a fresh perspective, a re-energised sense of purpose.  So, for him, taking part in the Wavelength Connect leadership programme in 2023 couldn’t have come at a better time. 

To give context, the automotive industry has experienced a turbulent few years: global supply chain issues, increased global costs and changing consumer intentions.  Closer to home for Steve, attrition and turnover have posed ongoing challenges, particularly post-COVID.  It is in the context of this disruption that Pendragon was recently acquired by Lithia, parent company of the Evans Halshaw and Stratstone brands. 

After such an intense period, the Wavelength Connect leadership programme was a bit like coming up for air, for Steve. As he puts it:

“It was enlightening meeting all different people from different walks of life. Whereas I’ve  been 20 years in the same industry, the same company, our company, big PLC, and a certain way of doing everything. I met such an interesting cross section of people..from banking, sports, finance…”

Used to doing things a certain way, seeking approval from the same people had led to Steve feeling…stuck. 

Being amongst the 60 other leaders on the programme, coming from a wide range of organisations and sectors, gave him the welcome epiphany he needed: that as a leader of 1000+ employees, he has a huge amount of personal autonomy and influence, to open opportunities for his employees, to advance people’s careers, and even to transform the lives of those in the local communities.  

It is this revelation that has set Steve on a new path on this next phase of his career. Wavelength Connect reinforced that what gives him the most career satisfaction is often about what he can do for others. As he says,

 

“If I look back at all the things that I’ve enjoyed the most about my career and everything that I’ve done, it’s all about other people. It’s not about the power and successes that we’ve had, it’s about the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to give people an opportunity and pay it forward. We’re setting people up on a path. And actually, I’ve been fortunate myself to show people that you can go from being a sales administrator to now running a full business”. 

But the real highlight of the experience for Steve, were the speakers. “All standout” he says, but one in particular was the highlight. That’s Mike Adams OBE, CEO of Purple, the charity that is working to change the disability conversation, to make disability both a commercial and social opportunity for business.

When he came on stage, “you could hear a pin drop” Steve says. Disabled himself since birth, Mike is an impassioned speaker and flawed everyone with the facts: that the spending power (Purple Pound) of disabled people is worth up to £274 billion a year, and continues to rise. That “disability confidence” can unlock huge opportunities across so many organisations and sectors.  For Steve, this immediately resonated. The Motability Scheme is an important part of Steve’s business across his car showrooms in the North East, but Mike’s speech made him realise that he could do so much more to support disabled customers. Mike talked about the importance of access, adaptations and appreciation.

 

“If they don’t feel like they’ve been appreciated, then they will leave and you won’t get a second chance”,  he reflects.  In fact, 75% of customers won’t ever go back to a business where they’ve not felt welcomed. 

Normally, Steve would have had a dedicated sales manager for Motability customers from Monday-Friday, but the experience would go downhill on Saturday when the specialist would be off and the customer would “just be handed a business card”. Mike’s talk  was a lightning rod for Steve and he recognised immediately that this needed to change. Inspired and keen to learn more, he engaged 1:1 with Mike during the coffee breaks at the event and after, and is now working in lock-step with Lithia HR and Purple to make positive changes. 

He’s now committed to recruiting people with disabilities in his showrooms. As he says,

I believe that if I can make the work environment safe and comfortable enough for someone to work and to operate, and speak to customers and sell Motability vehicles and get them set up, then I think I’ll get them for life as a car salesperson.”

For Steve, the interplay of business and the purpose are perfectly aligned here. Not only is he doing good, which of course gives him a warm feeling, but attrition is his biggest issue and he firmly believes this will help.

With the support of his HR department, he’s already making an impact. All his team have now been trained on the Disability Confident Program, and his next step will be recruitment. He’s so embedded with the Purple organisation now that he “might as well be working for them”  he laughs, and they’ve put him to work to influence other organisations.  The results of his work around disability are paying off already. On Motability sales, the industry as a whole is up about 20% YOY, but in his business, that figure is 100%. It can’t be luck. 

It’s not too dramatic to say that Steve feels like he’s seeing his role in a completely different light. He describes it as an “avalanche”: now he’s involved, he’s galvanised other stakeholders in the company (including the CEO) and it’s fuelled his interest in other areas of DE&I.  He realises that sometimes making other business managers uncomfortable is an inevitable part of the process, but Wavelength Connect has given him the confidence to keep pursuing regardless. 

And it won’t stop there. Inspired by another Wavelength speaker, Catherine Garrod, Founder, Compelling Culture and former Head of Inclusion at Sky, he wants to get more mums (traditionally held back by a lack of flexibility) back into the workforce.  Now that the Government has announced 30 hours free funding for parents with three or four year old kids, he is keen to introduce “parent friendly” jobs that run 37 weeks over term-time with flexible hours at work, open to all genders.  

 

“Attrition is something we need to lean into with purpose rather than trying to lean away from,” he says.

As a father himself, with many friends who have struggled to get back to work after having kids, it’s a win-win: for the business and for families and communities. Steve astutely points out that ESG targets clearly point to getting more women into the C-suite and into director-level positions,  but that has to start at the ground-up. “If you don’t start working up from the ground, you’ll never get to the top.” And he speaks from his own experience. 

The passion is palpable on our call. Steve is fired up. He credits Wavelength Connect – the people he’s met, the new perspectives he’s gained – with his falling in love with the industry again. Mainly because of his renewed sense of purpose and a new passion to change the status quo. The day after we speak, he’s at a Global Leaders event with 500 other peers at Standard Chartered, to progress outcomes for disabled employees. It seems like the work is just beginning, and he’s ready for the next 20 years!

In his own words,

“It all leads back to purpose. I didn’t realise it at the beginning, but I do now – and I’ve realised that I’m in the right place. I can make a difference where I am. I’m really happy with the industry and I love what we do. It’s exciting. It’s constantly changing. And I can make a difference.”

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