20 Oct 16

John Saffrett, CAO ALD International: Innovative solutions, closer to the customer

'I am not sure our offices in La Defense are representative', says John Saffrett, Global CAO at ALD International. 'Come back in April when we've moved into our new offices'. At its new Paris location, ALD will feel more like a 'start-up'. That reflects the lease multinational's radical culture shift – one that is already generating benefits for its clients.

John Saffrett is Chief Admin Officer, responsible for ICT, Digitalisation and Innovation. But he sees himself first and foremost as a facilitator for all the talent in his worldwide organisation: “Three years ago, we decided we needed to operate in a fundamentally different way. Headquarters should not dictate, but facilitate. We created hubs to get things done, and generated a culture to support that building upon and leveraging an innovation culture that was already present in our countries Not by measuring our people at every turn, but by empowering them. The result: products are developed much faster, much closer to the client, and much easier to adapt”.
How did you generate that change?
“We created a voluntary innovation community, which now has more than a hundred and fifty members across the group. They literally are the idea group, and they communicate every day”.

“When an interesting idea rises up, we will do a lab – that is to say, bring it to a market. Play and learn. If interesting, it could become a strategic competence for the entire group. If it only fills a particular need in one country, it will remain in the lab and be industrialized in that country.
How do you determine which country gets to develop what?
“Passion for the idea is the first criteria. Either driven by a commercial imperative, by opportunity, or by a CEO's strategic vision. Telematics is a commercial imperative in the UK. In the Netherlands, we are passionate about mobility, because the market there is receptive. Our car-sharing hub in Italy is the result of a senior business relationship. But we partnered the Italian project with France, which is advanced in car-sharing. We always get two countries to work together on these projects, by the way: that immediately makes the platform modular, global, multilingual and multi-currency.
ALD focuses on nine core competences, including digital strategy, international key accounts, private lease, remarketing, car-sharing and telematics. Last point first: you are marketing a telematics platform in the UK shortly, and in Spain soon after. Where will be next?
“The platform will be rolled out in all countries. It is device-agnostic, enabling each country to find the best local telematics device provider. This also allows us to align with the OEMs, if and when they make data available

“Once we map a device into our platform, all offers from all our countries become available. What each country does with these, is up to them: they can switch on one or many of those offers at driver and client level. They can also develop new offers. A platform allows people to play and develop, a system doesn’t – that’s the crucial difference”.
What can you tell us about ALD's car-sharing scheme?
“We have a corporate car-sharing scheme in pilot with a client at the moment. We want to enable employees to share those cars during the working day and help our clients maximize utilizations and we are also looking at other ways that the vehicles can be used outside of working hours which bring benefits to our clients and their employees”.
Where are you on remarketing?
“We are moving away from physical auctions primarily, because we feel we can recreate the online experience ourselves. The point here is how to use big data to target the right car at the right buyer”.
There are plenty of disruptors on the online marketplace – Amazon, to mention a big one.
“The marketplace is difficult for corporate brands. We expect more of our success to come from partnering: creating used-car and private-lease offers with existing local and global retail brands, rather than just use the ALD brand”.
Will private lease completely reshuffle the corporate fleet market, or do you see it as an add-on?
“In some markets, there might be an element of substitution, but mainly, it's incremental. The market for private lease is coming from the hire-purchase and the traditional personal contract-purchase market. For most of the leasing companies, this is incremental business”.

“We see all car leasing companies jumping into private lease. We face an interesting challenge in scaling up our private lease capability quickly, which relies on our digital capability and our partnering capability. Because none of us today have a pure strong retail brand”.
What is new on MyALD?
“We had a number of different mobile platforms and portals throughout the Group. In France, we have invested a lot in user experience, on mobile and on our portal. When we showed this to others in the Group, there was a real appetite for this. So we decided to use this as a group solution. The plan is to complete that by the end of the year. Then it will behave like our telematics platform, so there is a community around it: if you develop an offer in one country, it will be available to everyone. But we allow real mix and match.  New features are being added all the time such as fleet reporting on the mobile app and we are exploring areas such as chatbox and voice control via our innovation lab in Paris”.
Final question – Apple, Google and Uber: which of those industry disruptors will you be working with first?
“I wouldn't like to commit. I would like to work with all of them. And I think we eventually will! But even more fertile ground are the emerging start-ups: those we can integrate with very quickly, quickly producing offers for our clients”.

Picture: ALD Automotive, 2016.

Authored by: Steven Schoefs