Former Inchcape UK CEO James Brearley has spent over 35 years in premium automotive dealerships within the U.K. — an ode to his self-professed love of classic cars and motorcycles. He quickly rose through the ranks at the onset of his career. His first engagement in the retail motor trade was as a car cleaner and driver with Jessups Ford he rose rapidly at Bill Boddice Garages owned by the renowned motorcycle racer of the same name and then joined the Mann Egerton-Inchcape brand through acquisition. Shortly after joining Mann Egerton-Inchcape he was promoted to branch manager at the age of 23 and lauded for his prowess for talent management as well as dealership management.
These traits helped Brearley launch a career throughout the 1990s that encompassed oversight of luxury brand dealerships, as varied as Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin, and also included the integration of 22 Vauxhall dealerships purchased by Pendragon. Brearley drove financial performance while managing and integrating multiple acquisitions in to Stratstone during that decade.
“(The dealerships) were working as individual businesses with no best practice shared. It was originally a collection of businesses rather than functioning as a group,” Brearley recalled.
Rising to the role of franchise group director, he oversaw 44 sites and was responsible for growing the business through tight controls, a culture of caring, and stellar manufacturer relationships by consistently delivering exceptional results for all brand partners. As part of his success, Brearley also carefully monitors the wider economy in order to take advantage of short term and long term strategies.
The branding-minded Brearley spearheaded a name-change strategy to rebrand the growing network of multi named dealerships to form what became the Stratstone group achieving exceptional national high street recognition in a few short years.
Branding also encompassed the growing prominence of digital marketing, which Brearley saw as a clear and significant opportunity for his dealerships and franchises as early as 2002 with his national launch of “usedjag.com”.
“This was a very old-fashioned industry in the way it operated,” Brearley said 2 decades ago . “Very non-digital and very paper-intensive, operating in vertical silos, if you like.”
As tactics like search engine marketing and search engine optimisation became more mainstream, Brearley and his brands were at the forefront of using these as a strategic advantage over the competition. These marketing efforts, along with his ability to define objectives and maximise returns through efficient use of working capital, led him to grow every aspect of the automotive business he touched.
This growth was seen most recently with his work at Inchcape U.K., where he completely reorganised the business into a single entity rather than restrictive franchise silos. This enabled him to rebalance the company’s portfolio between new, used, and aftersales profits while reducing costs across brands including Jaguar, Land Rover, Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. The health of the company and its strong leadership helped it navigate the trying times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, mitigating losses to 200 jobs and managing to repay all furlough and rate relief within months of the first UK lockdown. In the wake of the pandemic, the company also optimised used car sales under Brearley’s leadership, resulting in a 25% p.a increase in volume over his five year tenure.