10 Questions: Robert Forrester

June 2, 2016

Robert Forrester is the CEO of Vertu Motors PLC. He founded the company alongside partners in 2006 after serving as finance director and then managing director of Reg Vardy PLC


What was your first break in business?

When I was a young auditor at Arthur Andersen, around 25 years old, one of my clients was a motor retail group, and it was up for sale. I did a lot of the corporate finance work on the deal; oversaw due diligence on behalf of the seller and liaised with the purchaser on the heads – it was thrilling! I didn’t think then that I’d end up in the motor business but, thinking back, that was my first real experience buying and selling dealerships.

What did you want to be growing up?

I always quite fancied going into politics.

What made you set up your own business?

Up until 2006, I was a director of Reg Vardy – until the company was sold to Pendragon. The sale meant I had no job. The situation seemed like a great opportunity to set up a business – Vertu Motors – in order to make sure I had an interesting job and the family could stay in the North East. Necessity is the mother of invention.

What is your company’s mission?

“To deliver an outstanding customer experience through honesty and trust.” We also want to provide an environment where our colleagues in the business feel respected and have every opportunity to create value for themselves and their families.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Catch them doing things right, rather than doing things wrong! We want our whole team to develop and do great work – so it’s important to remove hurdles, rather than build them. I love [business author and speaker] Tom Peter’s characterisation of leadership as being “chief hurdle removal officer” and the idea of “servant leadership” – where leaders are there to coach and unleash the talent in their teams.

What has been your career highlight?

Setting up – with a team – a company from scratch, ten years ago, that now employs 5000 people and has created hundreds of new jobs in the North East.

What has been your biggest challenge?

We set up Vertu Motors in late 2006. In 2008, the financial world and consumer confidence crashed. We had to work really hard to make sure that we stayed on track and make a profit that year – which we achieved.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m a big fan of Robin Sharma, a Canadian leadership specialist. He wrote Leader without a Title and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – his ethos is all about how to become a master at what you do and avoid mediocrity. I get a lot from his podcasts and books. In addition, I also really like the writing of Ayn Rand, on how individuals can add value. I strongly believe that individuals have to take responsibility for their own actions and success and by working together with like-minded people, massive change can be created for the better.

What are your company’s short and long-term goals?

I don’t really differentiate between short and long-term goals because we don’t run the business for the short-term. We have to build businesses with a strong team of people who are committed and have all five attributes of our ‘five unteachables’: character, attitude, energy, drive and talent. On this solid foundation, anything is possible.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

We have businesses all over the UK and therefore this is a tricky area since I am away a lot. I am a bit obsessive so the balance is not really that good. That said, I like to take the kids to school when I am at home!