National Fleet CEO Junies Lim joined Australia’s largest automotive dealership network back in 2010, at a time when the company was going through something of a transition. Since that time, Ms Lim and her executive team have markedly improved the fortunes of the company, bringing continued growth and a string of innovative projects. After first meeting with Ms Lim back in 2014, The Australian Business Executive checked in with her to discuss the latest developments going on under the company’s hood.
Ms Lim arrived in Australia from Malaysia in 2006, having gained sponsorship from UK restaurant franchise, Wagamama, and fresh from having managed her own restaurant business in Malaysia.
After moving country, Ms Lim worked in hospitality from 2006 to 2008, at the same time as undertaking full-time study. As a migrant, she found herself needing to start her entire life again, and began to forge her career anew.
This experience saw her working as a business developer, opening franchise stores for Wagamama in Melbourne. From there she was headhunted by a French restaurant in Melbourne, where she spent several months before finding out it was a non-starter.
There followed some years in financial planning, during which she was introduced to her current business partner, Shane de Gelder, and was tempted into the automotive business with National Fleet, a 45-year-old company without modern financing structures.
Ms Lim was initially brought in on a year’s contract to set up a finance division for the company, and began building finance products from 2010. After the year’s contract was up, Ms Lim gained 46% shareholding in the business and eventually became CEO.
After much success in business to business (B2B) sales, National Fleet has now set about improving its direct offering to customers (B2C), prompting Ms Lim to think about the needs of Australian women when buying cars.
Research shows a high percentage of women in senior roles, and as a result a change in buying behaviour of high-value items. This, coupled with the intimidating and male-oriented automotive industry, raised the possibility of a new direction for the company.
This change of direction has seen the inception of Female First Services, a niche market that makes the process of buying a car more accessible to women. The switch of focus from B2B to B2C means the company needs to undergo something of an internal restructure.
In the male-dominated market, the entire operational process has to be changed to suit this new approach, with changes implemented in every aspect from type of language used, to email, to test driving at dealer level, taking deposits, deliveries, insurance, finance and more.
In addition, the company needed to do its homework and get to know its clients extremely well. National Fleet has employed a media marketing company in Queensland and has also used IBISWorld to undertake extensive research into the female market.
In preparation for the upcoming launch of the project, Ms Lim recently went on a fifteen-week course to learn about working within and utilising knowledge of the digital marketplace, which is the most efficient way to get this new venture noticed.
The digital sphere is vital in the modern age for creating promotion for a business, making sure that potential customers know about the company, like the company and follow the company, but this approach can take some time to implement.
Ms Lim’s idea is not to rush the concept by promoting everything immediately, but to test the market softly. The plan is to hold a big launch in 2017, with all the preparation done for staff to begin selling to women as B2B and B2C immediately.
This has meant a six-month digital campaign, utilising Facebook and other social media platforms to select the right demographic, the female only market, and to target sections of the company’s existing customer business, much of which is already female.
The aim of the project is to effectively help all women, in all walks of life and careers, to buy their next car, navigating finance packages with little hassle and finding the right vehicle for their particular needs. The service will be a one-stop shop for female buyers.
Ms Lim’s desire to target the female only market has been naturally informed by her position as a female in a high-profile role, which has helped her understand the needs of the client base that National Fleet has begun to target.
Research has shown that female consumers seek a good balance in the household, while also retaining an individual identity outside of gendered partnerships. She admits that she is very dominant at work, but often leaves decision making at home to her partner.
Working in a male-dominated profession at such a high level has taught Ms Lim about showing strength in the workplace and not being shy in asking for help. This experience has helped her create a consumer platform that aims to empower women.
The idea is not to separate men and women, to suggest that women don’t need men, but rather to give women a runway where they can achieve equal authority as men over their own consumer needs.
The framework of the business allows men and women to work more closely, encouraging men to no longer second guess female ability. This creates a collaborative environment where men and women can achieve targets together.
In the B2B environment, where women in higher roles such as CFO or fleet manager find themselves in charge of purchasing vehicles for a company, the Female First package offered by National Fleet gives them an unbiased route to doing their job effectively.
Women buyers tend to do more research before purchasing vehicles, whether in the household or for a business. For B2C customers this tends to involve more realistic and rational considerations about budget and practicality.
All of this adds up to women being able to have more confidence in vehicle purchasing. By creating a space for female fleet services, the company offers something which belongs to women, providing them with overall ownership of the process.
This is enhanced by a company telephone number specifically for women to call for any advice they might need, another way the Female First team shows that there is no bias between genders, and that all the tools will be provided for a successful transaction.
Ms Lim admits that even as CEO of a fleet management company she does not have the immediate knowledge of all 35 brands of vehicle, and so she must rely on the expertise and knowledge of her team, from dealerships to manufacturers.
The automotive industry is going through a change itself, with many more companies now handling fleet management, but Ms Lim admits that many of them are merely following the others, not doing anything particularly innovative.
One of the benefits of the fleet business is that employees can use some of their tax allowance to save money on purchasing a car, a service many businesses don’t realise they can use, thinking that as they aren’t in the public sector or a big company it isn’t applicable.
However, most employees are still eligible for the scheme, and National Fleet has capitalised on this by outlining the salary packaging rules simply to its customers, rather than the traditional method used by fleet companies of making it deliberately confusing.
The platform is therefore designed for employees to be able to build their own package when buying a car, and see directly and in simple terms the tax benefits available from each new addition. This adds transparency and gives the freedom of choice for the customer.
In addition, National Fleet looks to buck the industry trend of selling unnecessary insurance to customers, instigating a menu-type selection to the end-user, making it easier than ever to choose the right plan.
Another part of the company’s package comes in the form of the Fleet Saver Fleet Management option for employers. Many businesses in Australia have more than one car, but there is really only one product on the market suitable for both bigger and smaller companies.
National Fleet has changed this by offering functions such as running costs and tracking ability within the charter mortgage product, which is designed for smaller businesses, especially those with one or more cars, allowing them to handle their fleet more efficiently.
All of these significant changes in the company have prompted discussions with Australian car manufacturer GM Holden, which Ms Lim has been in contact with for some while, having approached a sales director to outline the success of Female First Services.
By bringing to light the high percentage of women buying cars in comparison to men, she prompted Holden to undertake its own research, which showed that many makes and models of vehicle were already perfectly designed for women.
Many features like child safety, navigation and even colour have been designed with females in mind. This attention to detail from Holden is refreshing, and is helped by the fact that the company’s senior engineer is a woman.
These facts have proven once more that the female market can be tapped into using a different approach, as National Fleet has already shown. Talks are now being held about Holden acting as brand ambassador for the company.
If this partnership is finalised, it would represent a joint promotional relationship with the Female First campaign, and would see females given discounts from Holden, as well as significant changes such as female teams at the dealerships to offer test drives.
Ms Lim has taken the idea a step further by starting a foundation, an idea which came about when she was building an IT platform for Holden, where she worked with Maggie Hu, the female founder of Lumi IT, and was inspired by their shared communication.
The key to this good working relationship was Maggie’s understanding of the direction, attitudes and vision of the customer, developed through open lines of communication, which ultimately helped the platform to be developed to the highest standard.
Ms Lim went on to invite Maggie to be involved in a new group, the Female First Foundation, which would allow professional women to work together in growing and developing their businesses. Maggie is now one of the committee members of the group.
Ms Lim has benefitted equally from the advice of friend and fellow Female First Foundation member Natalie Taylor, who is a very inspirational person in her life, and helped her to firm up her interest and find direction when creating the foundation.
The purpose of the foundation is to enable female individuals and businesses to succeed by facilitating relationships that are mutually beneficial, revolving around sharing ideas to help each business or individual grow and fulfil their potential.
Ms Lim doesn’t want the foundation to function as some groups do, merely asking women for money and sponsorship in exchange for advertisement. The idea is much more about women volunteering to be involved in the project for mutual gain.
If Ms Lim does manage to sell the Female First Services at National Fleet and become successful with her project, she will make sure that 10% of all proceeds go back into the foundation, in turn helping more women gain success in their businesses.
All funding raised for the foundation via sponsorship or revenue will be used to help women who might need the money to set up a business or for education. The foundation’s primary revenue will come as passive revenue rather than active.
This style of revenue creation is an important part of Ms Lim’s ideals for the foundation, as she wants to run the project as a non-profit, with no intention of ever actively going out to ask for money. Those who donate will do so off their own backs.
Eventually, the foundation will act as an international project for any businesses wishing to establish a footprint in Australia. Ms Lim stresses that she will happily encourage male-run businesses wishing to help female-run businesses to become involved in the project.
An important channel of the foundation will be the Active Business Relationship, which has yet to be formed. Most important is that members and contributors will become involved through good will rather than being actively approached.
The level of support National Fleet offers women in purchasing vehicles, driven by the impressive Ms Lim, is truly inspiring. This step towards equality in the automotive industry is long overdue, and the company deserves great credit for its innovations.
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Written by Nicholas Paul Griffin