Inspiring Leaders Podcast: Sean Kelly on why being pushed out of BMW was a great career move

  • Vines BMW boss on how a gentle nudge from an inspiring leader helped his career
  • Sean Kelly talks to the Car Dealer Inspiring Leaders podcast about his role
  • And he gives advice to those looking to climb the ladder in car dealerships in an insightful interview

Time 8:41 am, February 12, 2024

For Sean Kelly, managing director of a family-owned BMW dealership group, it took a push from an astute leader to start his career in automotive retailing – and he’s never looked back.

It was that shove from cushy car manufacturer role into the cut and thrust of selling cars that has stuck with Kelly throughout his career.

Speaking to the Car Dealer Inspiring Leaders podcast, sponsored by Mann Island Finance, the Vines BMW boss explained that although the experience was tough at the time it was absolutely the right thing for his career.

Kelly was working for BMW UK as a regional manager when then UK MD, Jim O’Donnell, had a friendly word and suggested it was time to move on.

‘Jim is a very short, Scottish gentleman, who was very direct and very, very controlling,’ explained Kelly. 

‘He effectively said to me “you’re in the wrong company. You’d be much better suited to the dealer side. You’re not necessarily a corporate man”. 

‘At the time, the Vines business was looking for a finance director. And so Jim effectively made that introduction from BMW to the dealer.

‘I’ve got a lot to thank him for because he spotted I was a bit of a fish out of water with BMW and he was right. 

‘But it was a bit of a strange conversation, because when your ultimate super boss says “I think it’s time you should probably leave”, that’s quite weird. But in the rearview mirror, it was absolutely the right decision.’

In the Inspiring Leaders podcast – which you can watch on YouTube at the top of this page or find on your favourite podcast platform now – Kelly speaks about how that experience shaped his career and why employees are his company’s number one asset.

He speaks about his leadership philosophy, his passion for the motor trade and gives his advice to aspiring automotive leaders during the 55-minute podcast.

Kelly explains that Vines works hard to keep its 250-staff happy and has put in place a number of employee benefits to keep staff smiling.

He said the business was one of the first car dealership groups to close on Sundays, while the aftersales department is also closed on a Saturday to allow staff a two-day weekend.

Medical cash benefits of £1,000 every year are offered to his team, while the dealership group will even help staff buy expensive tech – like TVs or computers – and allow them to pay it off monthly via their salary.

During the podcast, Kelly talks about his most memorable deal – when he secured a huge corporate contract to provide a fleet of BMW 3 Series to a medical firm.

He convinced the business, close to his Gatwick site, that it should provide BMWs to its new salesforce and he set up a 90-car deal that was announced to the new staff at their induction day, which Kelly attended.

He said: ‘We took everybody outside and there were coaches waiting for them and we took them down to the dealership, and then handed over all of these cars in the afternoon. 

‘I remember we did a time lapse photo of the whole event and you can just see people and cars flying around the business. If there was a standout deal, it was that.’

During the podcast, Kelly also talks about why he loves working in the motor trade and why those looking to take a step up in their dealership shouldn’t rush things.

‘Everybody should work as hard on themselves as they do at their job,’ he says. 

‘Nobody’s gonna give you a leg up without you putting in that energy and effort in the first instance. 

‘And take it easy. You’ve got more time than you think – focus on yourself at all costs. 

‘You’ve got to spend as much time on you as you do at work. And if I could have heard something 30-40 years ago, it would be just that. 

‘It’s easy to rush through life trying to achieve everything at once, but the truth is, we often overlook the importance of pacing ourselves and investing in our own growth and well-being.’

To hear the full podcast, search for the ‘Car Dealer Inspiring Leaders Podcast’ on your favourite podcast platform or watch it on YouTube at the top of this page.

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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