Wark: Australian for success

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Nigel Wark, Executive Director, Marketing, Sales and Service, Ford India

Nigel Wark is smitten by the diversity of India – the number of languages, the complexity of culture, religion, the festivities associated with the latter and consequently the number of auspicious days. While personally, this diversity humbles Wark, at the same time, donning the role of  an Executive Director, Marketing, Sales and Service for an automobile company (Ford India), the number of auspicious days gives him more opportunity to target his audience. The Pitch team met him on Dhan Teras, two days prior to Diwali. The entire nation is on the roads – shopping, going home, gifting… and all roads to Wark’s office in Gurgaon are jam packed. We are late for the interview by almost half hour in spite of the fact we started one hour early anticipating the jam. But Wark doesn’t mind it. It’s another auspicious day, when most of the automobile bookings are hoped to be cleared. Wark though shies from giving any numbers of bookings and sales expected. All he is willing to divulge is that there has been a significant interest in diesel cars in the past six months.

Early days
It’s been three years now in India for Wark. He moved to Gurgaon, only a couple of months ago from Chennai. And he hopes to make India a long term destination. “I can’t see a more exciting location than where India is and particularly where the company is at the moment. India is a hub now for exports for small engines, and we are exporting Figo to about 27 countries and we hope to see that number go up to 50, shortly” he says.
Ford entered the Indian market as early as 1995 with a 50:50 joint venture with Mahindra. It later bought the stakes in Mahindra Ford and renamed the company as Ford India Private Limited. Though Ford Ikon and Ford Fiesta have been quite successful in the Indian market, the car maker was competing only in the 20 per cent of the automobile market till it launched Figo – in the small car segment, where the volumes are – in March 2010. The car boasted of having a blend of style, technology, along with the interior colours and designs that draws inspiration from Indian culture.

A business person or a marketer?
Figo’s successful launch in India can be credited easily to Wark. And when he talks about having helped grow the business, Wark is speaking his heart, as he feels that he’s more of a business person than being a marketer. “I’d like to think that I am a business person. My job as a manager is of a manager coach. That is a benefit of being with the company for so long.”
Wark joined, in fact started his career with Ford in 1975, in Adelaide (Australia). That makes roughly about 36 years – a term that few can boast of being with one company. So what’s kept him glued to one company for so long? “When I first got an opportunity to join Ford, a multinational company in Adelaide in 1975, I sat down having a discussion with my parents as many sons would do. There were two criterion that came up – that I am enjoying my job and that  I am learning. When I stop enjoying and learning that is when I will start looking for another opportunity. I have never got to that stage. The company has given me an opportunity to grow and an opportunity to move globally. I started in Adelaide, moved to Melbourne, to Sydney and been to New Zealand for five years, back to Melbourne… to Thailand and now India… If I was doing the same job I would have moved on.”

His business bent of mind can be credited to his ‘economics’ background, a subject he got his graduate degree in from Flinders University, Australia. Is there anything common between economics and marketing? They both work on the basis of assumptions, feels Wark. “All your modelling in economics is about assumptions and all your activities in marketing are about assumptions. I see a great deal of parallel in terms of going down the path of generating economics with modelling and trying to model the behaviour of consumers through varying inputs in marketing. Life is about the sum of inputs and outputs,” he says philosophically.

A customer-centric approach
A keen observer of life and consumer behaviour, Wark doesn’t apply economics to marketing “consciously.” “It is what the university teaches you – to give back to those who are testing you what they want to hear.”

The consumer wants exactly the same thing. The philosophy reflects in Ford’s campaigns – Fiesta Experience, the launch of Fiesta Cafe and the latest Swap Your Drive. “All the things I have learnt in life are not about creating clever scripts (TVCs) and getting actors decide exactly the right thing. It’s about capturing the freshness of real people. That way you are going to be more successful. Swap Your Drive is one such effort in that direction,” he says.

He feels that marketing is not just about print and TVCs. It is much larger than that – distribution and setting up a support for distribution. “You have to ensure – what today the Ford company is all about – that you have a product that people want to buy. It is so much about using consumer input to deliver an outcome. You have to understand the consumer well and give them the attributes they want. You have to be focused on the segment you are targeting. Like the Sandeep for Figo and Ajay for Fiesta. (Sandeep and Ajay are personification of the target audience). This all is about ensuring that 1+1=2 and adds to economic benefit. At the same time, add value to the process,” he says, adding philosophically, “It’s easy to fix the product. It’s difficult to fix the customer.”

Wark draws his customer centric approach from major part of his career being spent in the Customer Services Division. Prior to being appointed as the Executive Director of Sales, APA (Asia Pacific and Africa), based in Bangkok, Thailand in June 2007, Wark has donned the role of Director of Customer Service Operations (APA), since August 2002. Immediately before this, he held the position of General Manager, Ford Customer Service Division, for Ford in Australia.

The India vs Australia Test match
So how’s India as a market different from Australia or New Zealand from a consumer point of view? Wark believes that there are more commonalities than differences. Everyone wants to enure an out of the box purchase decision. “Consumers, everywhere, want other people to say that ‘you have made a smart decision’. The worse consideration the consumer wants to hear is that ‘it is cheap’.

As for the differences, the Indian marketplace is much larger for first time car users unlike other countries where one grows up with a car or two. “The real growth for this market – about 60 per cent – is from first time users and price is critical in this part… and people want value and that is why Figo is such an important brand in India.”

Value, he feels is not just having the price right. “It is in like having a Bluetooth, a sound system that is above average, steering mounted controls… I ask my dealers: What is the most important thing about Figo? It’s not about great driveability, not great interiors, it’s the quality of the product because if I give a quality product, people will continue to share it (the experience). That doesn’t mean that the product is perfect because no one is perfect. But I can tell you that we are better in the category,” he assures.

He also believes that “word of mouth is stronger in India than any other market in the world.”

While he cannot give us a “culturally relative” reason for that, he feels that earlier people took word of mouth from immediate neighbours or car owners down the street, or even newspapers and magazines. “That’s changing. There’s a reason to that. SMS and voice mobile are relatively at very low cost here. That gives the consumers a chance to share their experience through mobile phones and even digital space,” he says.

That gives Wark too an equal chance to be different and the ability to do things at low cost as compared to other markets where the costs are high.

While we are on low telephony costs in India, one Indian brand that Wark likes is Airtel. “I like the power of Airtel. I have to admire the power and success of its achievements,” he says.
Coming back, in Wark’s customer centric scheme of things, brand ambassadors play a minimal role. “People, earlier drew credibility from brand ambassadors. But now they have an alternative.

They would rather hear from people who have bought and used the product,” he says.

He limits a brand ambassador’s role to drawing attention to a new product “and not necessarily convincing” the consumers. “Someone who is selling so many products is not necessarily an expert in all those products,” he adds.

India: As diverse as it can get
Another thing that Wark finds unique about India and “didn’t know” is its diversity. “There isn’t just one language… and top it up with different dialects. We have launched campaigns for products in eight languages. We don’t have eight languages in Australia. Even in China, there is one language. Then you look at the religions and the festivities and the number of auspicious days depending on the sect of religion you are involved. There is so much of passion…” he says.

Even though Wark doesn’t get as many visitors in India as compared to Bangkok (Thailand), he personally, along with his family finds India “such an interesting and enthralling country.” He’s taken his family to Uttarakhand, North East (you need a permit to go there) – Kazhiranga National Park, full of rhinoceroses; to “dangerous locations” of Goa and lately to Srinagar, and he had his wife “just love” these places. His personal favourite place though is Varanasi. “Just because of its history… and you see so much of passion because of its religiosity – the Hindus, the Buddhists… and even the Muslims; and when you come back to the normal business life of the big cities – Delhi, Mumbai… or even the other major cities of the world… they are different… and you cannot explain that to people in words.”

And Wark derives motivation from this diversity of characterisation and personalities of people Ford has in business and the dealerships in these locations. “However, there’s one thing common – the desire to be successful and the passion for the customer,” he says.

This diversity makes Wark’s job more challenging, but more exciting. “People want value and no one product dominates in one sort of way in every single geographical location around the country. Historically, it’s been a petrol market, but it’s getting diesel now. The infrastructure… and the products are linked with it. Cars in India need to have more ground clearance,” he says.
He hints at the way the luxury market – predominantly in the Tier-I markets – has come up in India despite the challenges of infrastructure. “The exciting part is that how much wealth is being created in India, which is so different from China. Genuine wealth is being created in India out of the land people own. That is a great legacy… Good business people have turned the business around,” he adds.

However, money is not only the criteria, Wark says jokingly, to have a Ford dealership. That’s one requirement but not the most important. “You have to have the capability of communication. Right people, right attitude. Look us in the eye and communicate and if you don’t have the strength to say that ‘I can make a commitment to you’ then they don’t pass the test,” he says.

Despite the challenges of the local languages, does, not being an Indian, make life as a marketer any simpler for Wark? Dealing with the dealers is the easiest part, he says. Not being an Indian gives him an advantage in a way that he “can ask many challenging and tough questions”. Though of course “in a nice way and not in an aggressive way.” Having travelled globally has its advantages, and he can recognise and smell trends. “History repeats itself, and I can recognise trends some what like – not identical – I have seen in the past in other locations. I have made mistakes in other places and you learn from these mistakes and that you don’t repeat them. The nice thing is that India doesn’t has to make mistakes which other markets did,” he says.

A team player
Wark feels that his biggest achievement in India has been having helped “develop a powerful team” that Ford India has now. “I have been in a position to grow the business and I am really proud of the dealership body and the quality we’ve brought in. I hope to leave a better legacy for the future,” he says.

Wark has always been a team player, and that has been reinforced into him through the rigours of team sports he has been associated with. Had he not been a marketer, he’d been a golfer. But golf is an individual sport. And that’s why he’s a marketer. He’s played Australian football in his college days. “It’s a quick game and you have to be fit for that, and I have had an opportunity meeting people who are passionate about their teams. So being a part of the successful team is helpful in building relationships and beyond that,” he says.

Now he plays tennis. “Doubles,” he adds quickly. That’s team work again. “It is about the psychology of psyching out the opponent. And how the two of the team coordinate in the court. It’s also about the confidence in your partner. You can pass and move on… and that’s how the team develops,” he says.

He of course, couldn’t do that in Chennai “as it’s too hot there”. He hopes to pick up the sport again in Delhi.

It’s not only the humidity and the climate that’s helped the 58-year-old Wark train himself personally; Delhi and Chennai, have made him appreciate the traffic flow back in Autralia and other countries. “I went back to Adelaide for my mother’s 83rd birthday last month and I asked: Where are all the cars? I thought there was no traffic. When I grew up there, I thought that there was too much of traffic… and everywhere I’ve gone – Melbourne, Sydney… I thought that there was too much traffic. And when I went to Bangkok, I thought it was chaotic. Now when I go to the 35th floor, where the offices are in Thailand, I say: Such an orderly city and orderly traffic vs Chennai and Delhi,” he says.

He’s quick to point out in the same vein that “It’s about relativity and point of view.”

An influencer of perceptions
To keep his mind free of prejudices and to understand the point of view of others, Wark prefers to have friends outside the company. He also falls upon his wife, Nattakan Earn Wark, his 10-year-old twin boys, and his daughter from his first marriage for perception and point of view. “Everyone’s got an opinion about advertising. So we do debate. The boys like this and that… It’s often quite useful to use people like that to have their opinions,” he says.

But that doesn’t mean that they may be right. “The world is not about being right. The world is about perceptions. And my job in marketing is to influence perceptions. And that is the most powerful things we can do with quality products,” he adds.

India, Wark feels, has already helped Ford drive up the quality ladder. “The strength of quality… the rigours and the process of the dealers, the developing process… and we see all that with Figo right now. We are heading in the right direction and there’s more work to do. We are not just developing products for India but products for the global market. What makes it right for this market, makes it right for other markets as well. It is not just about having a car as an Indian edition, and that’s what is exciting about the Indian market,” he says.

So which is his dream car?  Wark sighs and goes on to state, “Ever since James Bond first drove the Aston Martin (a Ford brand, which the company sold in 2007), it is being one of my picks of my motor cars. My dream might come true by being with a motor company… and I have to say that it is still an outstanding car.”

He “though” still encourages “friends and family to go for a Ford car”. And his job to recommend and convince Indians to buy a Ford has just started.

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Dhaleta Surender

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