The success of the luxury car maker in the Middle East is due largely to the dedication of its regional director.
Delicate touch keeps Rolls-Royce on top
Have you ever wondered who's behind the scenes, running the show, when you purchase a television set or DVD player? Do you wonder who's in charge at the regional headquarters for Sony, Coca-Cola or Casio? Of course you don't. Ordinary things don't hold any fascination for the majority of us but, when it comes to the real luxury brands, that's a different matter. And brands don't come much more luxurious than Rolls-Royce.
The company is doing extremely well here in the region. In 2011, Rolls-Royce had its most successful ever year - not just since it was bought in name only by BMW, but since that name was first attached to a motor car, 108 years ago - and this market had a major hand in that accomplishment, with three out of the world's 10 best performing dealers being in the region. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Rolls-Royce's tailor-made "Bespoke" programme has its highest number of takers here (over 95 per cent). There is evidently a lot of love for the brand here, so when the previous regional director, James Crichton, was appointed to a new role in another part of the world, the task of filling those large shoes must have been daunting.
Seems like they've found the right man, though, in the form of Geoff Briscoe. His Australian accent is subtler than most (he used to be the sales director for BMW out there, before becoming the president for BMW in Malaysia) and he's tall but not physically imposing. He arrived to take up his new role right in the middle of summer but he's still smiling. "It was always very warm and humid in Malaysia," he says, "so it's really no big deal for me. Finding somewhere to live in Dubai, on the other hand …"
With Rolls-Royce enjoying such a high profile in the Middle East, wouldn't the cars sell themselves, I ask him. "Nobody would argue that the company is well regarded here," he says. "So my job is to keep polishing that diamond, keeping it desirable and ensuring quality standards are the highest possible for our customers. I still think there's scope for improving the brand's exposure here, though.
"Rolls-Royce is at the very top of the luxury tree, so anything we do has to be done to the same standards. When it comes to Bespoke, for instance, I've been really impressed with the involvement our dealers have in that. They encourage customers to allow their cars to tell individual stories, and with practically every car arriving in the country being totally unique to its owner, that approach is obviously paying off."
He says that having a much smaller team around him is a refreshing change - whoever's in this job can't be a faceless autocrat and the staff seem close-knit. "I had hundreds of people working under me in Malaysia, but working here, with a small and growing team, is really nice. Everything is one-on-one."
Unlike many companies, where there's a constant pressure for people in this position to do everything they can to generate more and more sales, Rolls-Royce has to tread very carefully. There's a very fine line between being profitable and becoming so ubiquitous that the mystique and magic of a brand is diluted beyond rescue. I used to aspire to owning a Porsche and, love them as I still do, that draw just isn't there any more. That company is too successful for it's own good in many regards. "We have to make sure our cars remain unique, sought after and hard to get. We build no more than 4,000 cars a year and that's not about to change so, because we have so few customers, we have to ensure our network is looking after their every need rather than chasing more sales all the time."
As we talk, I glance at his business card, and notice that his job title extends beyond the borders of the GCC. "One of the reasons I was so keen on accepting the role," he explains, "is that I'm in charge of, not only Africa, but Latin America too. There are many opportunities there, with pockets of huge wealth, where we haven't begun to really open the doors. While the Middle East region will grow and shrink according to cycles in the economy, those other areas and the potential there really is quite exciting."
Briscoe is clearly proud of what this company has achieved already and, with the excellent Phantom II models about to hit the roads here, along with a rumoured new model in development, it's a business that's as vibrant as the cities he's found himself looking after. Good to know it's in safe hands - at this end of the car sales spectrum, the guy at the top needs to fully understand how precious that diamond he's polishing really is.