One of the great mentors in my life was a man of few words, who probably wouldn’t count me among those he was conscious of mentoring.
He was a man off the land. His name was Frank Wippell.
People ask me often now “How can you demonstrate that a ‘conscious business culture’ can create better business performance?”. One of the cases I have to draw experience from, of a number in my career is that of Frank.
Frank came to the city of Toowoomba off the land in the middle of his life and in 1970 established a Mazda Dealership.
I met Frank when I joined Mazda Australia in 1989. The largest part of my job with Mazda was to establish a Dealer Reporting System in the Northern region collecting information about the profitability and efficiency of the Dealer network.
We were lucky in the Northern region that our State Manager Paul McNeill, a strong man of great integrity had established enormous trust among the dealers. With that foundation we had great success in our region working with the dealers to show trust with one another and come together routinely to discuss their business performance and share the inner workings of their businesses.
Frank’s Dealership ‘Wippells Autos’ was one of the most effective and profitable dealerships in the nation. What I found interesting was that they achieved this while selling their vehicles usually with significantly less gross profit per vehicle sold. They were professional and tenacious in sales and achieved excellent market penetration, and did a ‘fair deal’.
In our dealer analysis group we routinely organised a ‘dealership tour’ bringing the other dealers to visit a dealership and have the dealership managers give presentations on the business. In preparation for leading such a visit to Wippells, a couple of weeks before I drove up to Toowoomba and spent the day with Frank and his General Manager Don Russell who later became the Dealer Principal.
Frank and Don were able to talk about ‘the Wippells way” where things had to be done right and where the genuine satisfaction of the customer was the most important factor in every decision. This was not mouthpiece talk, they really meant it and lived it. They bent over backwards to look after their customers, and the culture among all the teams in the business was one of doing things right. They even had their own panel shop and by the statistics spent more per car on reconditioning their used cars to present a car-lot with the highest quality used cars. They told me about the opportunities Frank had given for his people to buy into the dealership and take a stake and I saw the pride and ownership these people had in ‘their business’.
When it came to talking about why Wippells Autos was such a benchmark organisation in terms of profit versus so many other dealerships, Frank and Don looked at each other and came up blank. “We just do what we do” they said.
Both Frank and Don were a little unsure about what they had to say to the other dealers when they came up to Toowoomba for the day.
I left Frank and Don that day wondering how best to distill what I had learned about their business and how to help them distill what they had to teach others.
At the time I had not long before read Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which of course is a book based heavily in values and which had a huge impact on my life and my outlook.
Over the ensuing days it hit me. Frank didn’t learn business in business. Frank had come off the land and had the values and the patience of a man who had come off the land. On the land you plant the seeds, and you wait, and you trust. Frank came off the land and decided to grow a crop. A crop of deeply satisfied customers, people who come back time and again to buy from you, people who keep coming back for service. There was no short-term thinking, no sacrificing what is right for what is profitable.
Profit was an outcome at Wippells, not a deciding factor. It was closely monitored in a professional way, but decisions were made using values and ‘the Wippels way’. It was all about satisfaction for customers, satisfaction for staff, satisfaction for the suppliers. We saw this at Mazda with Wippells care for the needs of us as Distributor, and they have won 17 consecutive Mazda Master Dealer Awards. Wippells were in integrity with everyone, they lived doing the right thing by everyone.
The crops have continued to grow and now 17 years after I moved on from Mazda, Wippells has four franchises and is still reinvesting in expansion to service their customers.
So to Frank Wippell I give acknowledgment as a great man who not only created an amazing ‘conscious organisation’ but gave me another wonderful example I can draw personal experience of to show business people that they wont be dissappointing shareholders by adopting a ‘conscious business culture’.
Ure P (Phillip) Auckland
Authegrity Pty Ltd