Inspiring Leaders: Steven Eagell on building his £700m turnover, 44-site car dealer business

  • Toyota and Lexus dealer Steven Eagell is the latest boss to feature on our special podcast
  • Eagell talks about building his incredible business from just one Toyota site
  • Podcast series is available on all good platforms including as a video (above)

Time 8:50 am, October 13, 2023

Inspirational car dealer leader Steven Eagell has talked about how he built his £700m-turnover business from just one dealership.

The Toyota and Lexus specialist explains how he started his now 44-site firm after being accepted on Toyota’s sponsored dealer programme and purchasing his first site in Milton Keynes. 

Eagell is the latest boss to speak to the Car Dealer Inspiring Leaders podcast, sponsored by Mann Island Finance, about how he started out in the car industry.

Eagell explains how he built his business up after being accepted on to Toyota’s programme in 2002. He has gone on to create a business that turned over £702m in 2021 (its last available accounts) and made £20.6m profit.

In the podcast – which you can listen to on your favourite podcast platform or watch on YouTube above – Eagell says launching his business with Toyota was the ‘best thing’ he ever did.

He said: ‘If you’re a general manager, or regional director working for a company, however successful you are, it’s very, very difficult to have the capital available to invest, particularly nowadays, to be able to buy a business and get into the industry and have your own dealership.

‘I was very lucky, because 20 years ago a number of manufacturers did launch the sponsored operator programmes where basically it gave young, or not so young, people that were entrepreneurial, and wanted to do their own thing, the opportunity to actually buy their first dealership.

‘It was a scheme to bring new talent into owning businesses, rather than just having generations of families just keep on running the same businesses. 

‘I was lucky. I spoke to a few manufacturers, knocked on lots of doors and got knocked back many times. And then the opportunity came to speak to Toyota, and it was obviously the best move I’ve made.’

Eagell started his career as a trainee car sales executive and worked his way up through the ranks to become a general manager.

He worked for HR Owen earlier in his career as a multi-site general manager selling Nissan, Citroen, Lotus and Chryslers.

He also worked for Nissan GB as operations manager for its retail group and was later managing director of Allen Ford. 

But eventually he got his opportunity to start his own business and it has flourished ever since. 

Unusually, his firm represents just Toyota and Lexus and he is now at the helm of the largest Toyota dealer group in Europe.

In July, the business grew by 25 per cent when it added 10 sites formerly operated by Marshall Motor Group. This podcast was recorded shortly before that deal was announced.

In the interview, Eagell explains he thinks he was successful at the start with Toyota because the manufacturer could see he wanted to build a business for the long term.

He added: ‘They weren’t just looking for somebody who wanted to buy a dealership and make a lot of money. I think they were looking for somebody that was looking to grow a business with long term views and wanted to stay with the brand, work in partnership, and be there for the long haul.’

By 2006, Eagell had grown the business to four sites and was flourishing with the brand and was learning fast.

‘It was a real learning curve because having your own business and growing it is very different to running a dealership,’ he added.

Eagell said his business has grown thanks to ‘having good people around’ and that his most important job is hiring people ‘who are better’ than he is.

Eagell added: ‘I put a good team of people around me, but I needed to expand, because people don’t sit around forever. 

‘You need opportunities as they want to grow. So, I looked for opportunities, and we were lucky that things came up in our area. And we were able to buy some of the neighbouring businesses.

‘And that’s how we got into it – we just kept buying and buying, more and more businesses surrounding our territory.’

Eagell admits that there will come a point when he won’t be able to continue to grow his business with Toyota and Lexus, but he’s hopeful he will.

He added: ‘We’re keen to grow, of course, like anything, but we’re not just desperate to have more turnover, just for the sake of it to get to a number. 

‘We don’t set targets on growth in terms of acquisitions, because I think it’s dangerous. If I sit here and say publicly that we’re going to add another five or six dealerships then all of a sudden the pressure is to hit that number.’

In the podcast, Eagell also talks about his most memorable deal and what advice he’d give himself if he could rewind the clock.

He said: ‘I’d have copied and pasted what I did, because it worked out quite well for us and I enjoyed it. 

‘I think it’s really important that you enjoy what you do. People talk about success and, for me, success means you wake up, and you go to do a job and you love it and you enjoy it.’

You can hear the full interview on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your favourite podcast platform now by searching for the Car Dealer Inspiring Leader Podcast or watch the video on our YouTube channel at the top of this post.

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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