Health check: ‘These are different times’ says Ford UK boss

Lisa Brankin became managing director of Ford of Britain and Ireland last October, taking the helm of the best-selling car maker as the effects of the second coronavirus wave were starting to be felt. Since then, she and her team have navigated lockdown, emerging to the challenges of stock limitations in the wake of the semiconductor shortage.

Here, Brankin – who joined Ford as a graduate trainee in 1990 and has worked as the firm’s sales, marketing, dealer operations director, as well as holding managerial roles in its dealer and consumer marketing and communications, events and sponsorship departments – outlines how she intends to keep Ford at the top of the sales charts and her excitement at the opportunities presented by the changing automotive landscape.

Few people know Ford of Britain better than you. Does your previous experience make moving into this role easier?

“I’ve worked across a lot of departments at Ford, from being more in the field to working out of head office, so from that perspective, I feel well prepared for the role, even if I never expected it.

“There was no trepidation when I was asked to take it on, just excitement. I know the brand and I know what I have to do – and there’s no doubt in my mind about how exciting the opportunities are.”

What’s it like running a huge company in a crisis?

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of stress – not just for me, but the whole team and our partners. But I don’t think we’re any different to anyone else, in that we are focused on trying to do what’s right, for our colleagues’ safety first and foremost and then the business.

“There’s enough challenges out there to keep anyone busy, and we’ve all worked some long days, but we are all focused on what we can achieve. Everyone thought they knew the pace of change we were facing into – but it just keeps accelerating.”

Short term, you are facing challenges around stock, aren’t you?

“Like almost everyone, we’ve been hit by the global semiconductor shortage. Where we’d typically have plenty of cars in stock, we are now having to ask customers to wait a short time for their orders to be delivered.

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What does the Mustang Mach-E mean to Ford?

“It’s also a car that stands for so much more than its sales figures as it spearheads our future in so many regards. It sets a direction, and that’s exciting for everyone. I know you expect me to say it, but you drive that car and you come away excited about the possibilities for motoring in the future. It’s special, and one of our challenges is to get as many people as possible in it just to understand how special.

“Personally, I believe it was given the Mustang name for all the right reasons. In its own way, it represents a spirit of freedom and change. Yes, I have had letters from diehard fans saying it was a terrible mistake, but I reply saying what I’ve told you. Some consider my response and accept it. Some can’t be moved. We agree to disagree.”

Talking of challenges, are you still committed to cutting the number of Ford dealers from about 400 to 250? If so, why?

“That process is in motion and will be completed by 2025, yes. But it’s not a negative. It’s about offering our partners more sustainable businesses for the long term, where they have a catchment of customers that will justify the investment we need them to make. Almost all our new car customers will still be able to get to a Ford dealership within less than half an hour, and we will look to maintain aftersales. This is not about reducing the customer experience. It is about enhancing it.”

You’ve long held top positions in Autocar’s Great Women in the British Car Industry list. How does that feel, and do you feel you are more of a role model now?

“In the politest possible way, my mindset is that I’m managing director of Ford of Great Britain and Ireland. It doesn’t make any difference that I’m a woman, and I don’t carry any thoughts with me that I’m doing the role as a woman. I just use my skills in the best ways I can for the good of the company.

“But the point that I can embrace – and which Autocar’s initiative does so well – is celebrating the women who are doing a brilliant job in our industry, and highlighting their success to a wider audience. This is an amazing industry that offers so many varied opportunities. Shining a spotlight on that and encouraging a more diverse pool of applicants is wonderful.”