Buying into a business three weeks before the global economy imploded probably wasn’t the most sensible of ideas.
But Libby Gormley and her husband Roy, who purchased Auckland car dealership Aqua Cars in 2007, are not afraid of a challenge.
Not only did they weather the financial storm, they also expanded their reach into two complementary businesses – Go Car Finance and Blue Sky Car Rentals.
These days, their 65 staff work across the three entities in three locations – Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch – and Libby says one of the keys to their success is their diverse workforce.
“Go Car Finance specialises in customers with a poor credit history, in what’s called second-tier finance,” says Libby.
Having a diverse staff who reflect the wide customer base they service has been hugely helpful in building robust customer relationships, she says.
“We have 10 different ethnicities, four different religious affiliations and around 52 percent of female staff. When you have someone who speaks your customer’s language – for example, we have a large Samoan and Tongan customer base or if you’re a woman who’d prefer to deal with another woman - then that makes a huge difference to the quality of communication and customer service we’re able to provide.”
This diverse approach extends across the business, from the sales yard and the workshop to the call centre.
Something else that Libby, Go Car’s ‘Queen of Culture’ (her actual title) is justifiably proud of is her company’s policy of flexible working.
This extends to all staff, and ranges from working from home one day a week to having time off if childcare goes awry.
“Some of our staff with very young children have had to step in when their childcare plans have fallen apart, which can happen. They’ve worked from home and fitted work around their children’s needs.”
It also includes the company’s GM of Risk whose working week runs from Tuesday to Saturday: “His wife has Monday off so he comes into the office on a Saturday when it’s quiet and gets a lot of work done and then has Sunday and Monday off to spend with his wife”.
One of the company’s biggest success stories is Marina, a business analyst, competitive swimmer and surf lifeguard, who was struggling to balance training and chartered accounting study with demanding hours at a large global professional services firm.
“Six months ago, Marina started working for us and because of our flexible working policies she’s been able to fit her training and study around her workload. This means coming in later one day, leaving early on another or working from home. We’re pleased to support her swimming and lifesaving at an international level, because it’s an important part of her life.”
In turn, Marina is loyal to the company for its support and is a happier, healthier and more efficient employee.
Libby, who herself works four days a week with one of those from home, says the focus isn’t on having staff in the office from 8.00am-5.00pm.
“For us, it’s about getting the job done. Obviously we have certain roles, such as in the call centre, where people need to answer phones when they ring. But if we find someone we really like and will fit in, then we look at how can we make this work for everyone.”
The key, she says, is trust and good communication between all parties, as well as staff and management taking responsibility and getting on and doing it.
As Libby sees it, flexibility and diversity aren’t just “nice” things to have – they also have to be good for the bottom line.
“In our experience, it’s been a huge win for everyone – staff get to bring their whole selves to work, which is positive for them and that translates into the quality of their work. It also plays a huge part in how happy and motivated they are, and in making this place a really good place to work. It’s also means we get to attract and retain great staff, and our clients get to have a great experience when they deal with us. This all adds up to an increased productivity. See what I mean about it being a win for everyone?”