Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
Having served an 11-year commission in the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) as an infantry army officer, Major Hugh Blake resigned to step into the corporate world. Today, he is chief executive officer of the prestigious Kingston Industrial Garage (KIG). And now he relishes his new experience as much as he did his army career.
In an email interview with The Gleaner, Major Blake said he'd originally intended to spend 10 years in the army, but fate intervened and it was extended by a year. "I felt at that point that there were other things I needed to do, which included pursuing academic studies and entering the world of business," he said.
His present role sees him in a twofold function within the Lascelles deMercado Group. They are: corporate risk manager and chief executive officer of the Lascelles deMercado Automotive Division. The latter incorporates: Kingston Industrial Garage, Cars & Commercials, and John Crook Limited, under which umbrella falls the brands, Ford, Subaru, and Yamaha.
But having segued from leading men trained to fight and defend their country to a team schooled in corporate culture, which role does Major Blake prefer? Perhaps his army training accounts for his diplomatic answer.
"I am enjoying the private sector; I believe the basic principles of management are the same wherever you go, which includes the joy of dealing with people, and both professions provide that opportunity. I will say, I prefer none more than the other," Major Blake admits.
Having settled into his new role, his strategies for moving cars out of KIG's lot and into his customers' homes include adequately communicating the features that keep their models ahead of the competition.
Major Blake acknowledges that current market conditions are extremely competitive. And he is cognisant of the fact that nearly all the major brands of the world can be found in the Jamaican marketplace, driven by people serious about the business of great motor vehicle brands.
To that end, he notes, "At KIG, we are fortunate that we have vehicles that are currently differentiating themselves purely on quality. Vehicles that have cutting-edge technology, ahead of the industry." He explained that Ford's industry-leading entertainment and communication equipment is common to most of the products they represent, and the safety features and fuel economy of the units are quite exceptional.
"Ford has gone as far as placing inflatable seat belts in some of its products, as well as technology such as self parallel parking. The products all have a good basis on which they differentiate themselves," he adds. "These attributes are always being emphasised to potential and existing customers."
Another strategy employed in the competition for scarce dollars is customer relationships. Major Blake told The Gleaner, "We are a customer-service oriented organisation; we go the extra mile for our customers - we put them first. We benefit from this strategy when customers relate their experience to others and make referrals. We also believe that giving exemplary after-sales service is a necessary part of competing in this environment," he said.
KIG also provides an Extended Service Package, which relieves the customer of the cost for maintenance up to five years. And, in order to please everyone, they carry a mix of vehicles that cater to a very wide cross section of the marketplace, both in functional attributes and price.
Admittedly, not done often enough, but having donated a car for the winner of the Gleaner's Birthday Club contest, KIG received some mileage from the promotion.
"I have to congratulate The Gleaner for coming up with a very suitable promotion in commemorating Jamaica's 50th year of Independence. Our decision to participate was a 'no-brainer', because it was instantly clear that the birthday promotion would provide excellent product exposure opportunity, and we were right! Our Ford Focus and the Ford brand received excellent exposure and I believe it is fair to say that KIG and The Gleaner enjoyed significant mutual benefits."
Major Blake concludes that it was a very creative and exciting competition that had the potential to capture a great deal of attention from a wide cross section of Jamaicans. "It was an excellent opportunity to expose our recently introduced Ford Focus."
As the premier spending season approaches, customers of KIG are in for opportunities to experience its new products. Brands will be showcased in various parts of the island. There will be many test-drive opportunities for the Ford and Subaru brands that were introduced to the market this year.
In the first quarter of 2013, KIG will also introduce the Ford Kuga, expected to take the leadership position in its respective segment of the market. It is an excellent product, which when seen and experienced, will have customers singing its praises.