From father to son: My business story
My father, T.H. (Tom) Mellor, was born in 1896. His father died when he was 3, and his mother died when he was 11.
After leaving school, my father became an apprentice at the local tramways. At the request of the director, he learned to drive (considered dangerous at that time) and became the director's chauffeur.
My father served in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. After the war he bought an "Irish Sweep" lottery ticket and won 500 pounds, which he used to buy a taxi. He paid a mechanic out of hours to service the taxi. He then took on the mechanic full time and started a repair business, working from a large shed. He acquired a car agency and by 1929 had formed a registered company: Tom Mellor Limited. He became Lord Mayor of the City of Salford in 1962 and was honored by the Queen for monies raised in World War II for prisoners of war and the merchant seamen.
I was born on Oct. 26, 1929, the day of the Wall Street crash. During World War II, I was due to sail on a liner to Canada, away from the bombing, but the previous boat, carrying 300 children, was sunk off southern Ireland by a U-boat. I was sent instead to a boarding school in Cheltenham, in the west country. One of our boarding houses was a barracks for American soldiers waiting for D-Day. At night we could hear Glen Miller, then suddenly silence; they had gone. We knew not where or why, but now we know the name of "Omaha" only too well. A sad thought, as they had been very friendly to us.
I left college in 1947 and was apprenticed at Rolls-Royce Crewe for six months to gain experience. After a brief spell in the office of our business, I took an intermediate degree in business management at Manchester School of Commerce.
By 1951 our family business had become the largest distributor in the U.K. for Jowett Cars. Briggs Motor Bodies, who supplied Jowetts, were taken over by Ford. Overnight Jowetts were out of business. In the next post we received a letter appointing us as Ford distributors.
For my 21st birthday, I was given a 25% shareholding and a year or two later all the remaining shares. This was for two reasons: My father had complete trust in me, and provided he lived for seven years, there would be no taxes payable for inheritance.
On returning from a trip to the States in 1948, my father said, "We must start car rental; it's big in the USA." The petrol (gas) attendant was put in charge of two small cars; by the time I entered the business it was still a sideline with six cars. As the boss's son I was very careful not to make myself a threat to managers. Treading carefully, I made car rental my commitment. It became my obsession.
I built a nationally known brand with 500 rental cars trading as Mellor Hertz Rent A Car; we also offered limousines with uniformed chauffeurs. Hertz eventually asked to buy us out of that side of the business, which they did after three months of negotiation. I was given a four-year contract as manager of Hertz in London. But that's another story!
My business gave me the opportunity to meet celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. These are a few of the lessons I can recall after a lifetime:
1. Look after your dissatisfied customers. If handled with generosity, they can become your best advertisement.
2. In negotiating finance, do your homework. Ask for 10% or even 20% more than you need. Do not borrow a cent without a good, convincing repayment plan.
3. Do not give your managers a shareholding, but give them an important title and 10% of the annual net departmental profit before tax. If they earn a lot, so will you.
4. In negotiating a big deal, if the prospective buyers make a derisory offer, don't be afraid to walk out. They'll be back.
5. Always pay your bills regularly. A supplier will be willing to do a favor for a good payer.
6. Make sure your insurances are up to date, and read the small print. Question what you are not insured for.
7. Health, business, family, in that order!
Gordon Mellor lives in the south of France, near Cannes.
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