Jaguar Land Rover's Liaan Kretzschmar: It's not just a job, it's an experience

The finance team at Jaguar Land Rover South Africa are encouraged to become business partners, influencing the organisation as a whole and seizing the opportunities presented for personal development. But there is one more characteristic that typifies the motor company's finance team - and that's an abiding passion for the two premier brands.

Early on in his career, Liaan Kretzschmar, Jaguar Land Rover South Africa CFO, was told by his CFO at the time that the success of finance is measured by how worn out the soles of the shoes of the team are. It’s a lesson that Liaan has taken to heart.

“You can choose to sit in the sidelines and be a number cruncher, or you can get involved, influence and support. Be a business partner rather than just a service provider. My view is that finance needs to make sure we’re seen, be involved, be intrinsically entrenched in the business.”

To achieve this, he and his team work in a structured and empowered manner. Liaan says that his managers know what the expectations are and what they are entitled to decide and do.

“We have this concept called Levels of Work, introduced through rigorous coaching in a leadership and development journey in the business. This defines clearly what every level in the business is responsible for and accountable for, and the empowerment exists because of that. I don’t need to see every decision at every level. I try to enforce that quite strongly – managers must feel that they are empowered and supported to make those decisions.”

One of the ways that an empowered finance team can differentiate itself is by adding value. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings with it the efficiencies and capabilities of robotic process automation and artificial intelligence, Liaan believes that finance teams will still be the best people to take the data that is generated and transform it into value.

And nowhere is that more necessary than in the current economic climate, when the average car buying cycle is up to 40 months, from 29 to 32 months. “Most people finance for five years. People are now going to the end of their contracts. So we’re competing with other premium brands for a slice of a smaller pie. Competition is heavier than before and we’re all feeling it. The cost of acquisition of business has gone up over time, and we believe we’re even competing with their offshore allowances. For all these reasons, we firmly believe that our experiential strategy is the best way to convert sales.”

The Jaguar Land Rover Experience

The Jaguar Land Rover Experience Centre in Lonehill is part of the business’s experiential strategy. For any employee wanting to be at the heart of things, there’s no better place to do it than at the centre in Lonehill. Nestled among the rolling green lawns of the residential suburb, is the modern glass and steel building where members of the public can come to truly experience everything that Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles have to offer.

There’s a skid pan to test braking under different conditions – including high speeds and wet road surfaces – and the Kingsley Holgate Expedition Trail with jagged bends and seemingly impossible slopes for 4X4 vehicles to conquer. The centre aims to engage the whole family, with a restaurant with drop-away views of the driving experience areas, a play area, and even a mini Defender track for children.
Jaguar Land Rover team members can work at the centre – at the heartbeat of the business – and events are also frequently held there.

“We are a premium brand and the facility was meant to mirror our retailers. There’s also been a R1 billion investment over the past five years upgrading the facilities at our franchisees to become lovely premium spaces and we wanted to mirror that here. Last year we had in excess of 25,000 people here through various activities or events.”

The centre recently held the reveal of the new Land Rover Defender in South Africa, but also has live streaming capabilities to connect visitors to international motoring events like the Frankfurt Motorshow, which they livestreamed to the press. They also host external events, such as a chamber event for the British Chamber of Commerce.

Petrol in his blood

Liaan himself is clearly passionate about the Jaguar Land Rover business, and the car he drives (a vintage Land Rover Defender), but he says that he wasn’t a “petrolhead” growing up. “I always had a passing interest in cars. I watched Formula 1, but was never a nutter for it. I was more into the rugby side of things. I went to university in Potchefstroom and played rugby there, while completing my B.Com and Honours.”

After completing his articles at KPMG, he and his wife, who had just completed her articles at PwC, wanted to see the world, so Liaan arranged a secondment to KPMG’s Gatwick office in the UK. There, one of the audit clients was Maclaren, and Liaan recalled that, playing Top Trumps as a child, if you got the McLaren F1 card, nothing could beat it, so he expressed an interest in joining that audit team.

In his second year on audit, he got wind of a vacancy at Maclaren for a group reporting manager, so he put forward his CV, and was accepted for the role. “I loved my time with Maclaren. It was fascinating to work at such a diverse company. Racing was the crown jewel, and at the time they were launching a supercar business, which is now McLaren Automotive. There were also an IT company and a catering company in the stable, believe it or not.”

Liaan’s son was born while he was working in the UK, and soon, he and his wife realised that they were spending a lot of time and money on coming back to South Africa for family events. They had always intended to return after having seen the world and gained international experience, so they decided that the time was right.

Back in South Africa, Liaan joined Volvo on the commercial side, working with trucks, buses and big yellow construction equipment. Just before he joined the company, Volvo had purchased UD Trucks and after the merger took place Liaan was promoted to regional manager for group business services for both UD and Volvo. This involved the usual finance functions of tax and accounting, but also HR services.

“I’d been with Volvo just short of two years when this opportunity came knocking and I threw my name in the hat. I wasn’t expecting anything as I was just 30 at the time, but through some combination of luck and maybe stupidity on my side, and some blessing, I was selected to be the financial director for Jaguar Land Rover South Africa.”

With a career that has been contained almost exclusively in the motoring industry, Liaan confesses that he’s probably a petrolhead now. “You can’t help but become one. At some point you just get the injection in your veins. And show me someone who doesn’t enjoy going fast. A while ago we hosted a special vehicle operations day at Kyalami. I got to take an F-Type SVR around the track, and I got giddy like a kid. The instructors told me it was time to stop, but I just wanted to go again and again.”

He says that his experience in the industry gives him a real appreciation of the brand that he works for. “We’ve got two fantastic brands with beautiful heritage behind them. You can’t help but get infected by those brands, what they mean, and how far they’ve come. One day, I hope to be lucky enough to have a whole collection of cars, but a number of dominoes first need to fall in my favour.”

Since returning to South Africa, Liaan has had two more children, the youngest of whom is six months old. “I love my family. It’s been interesting and has its own challenges to have one in grade four and one that’s six months old, but I feel blessed. I am really rich in that sense.”

His oldest is already a car fanatic. “I bring him to the centre to drive. We were watching a show on TV about Caroll Shelby who designed the first Mustang, and one of his mechanics was called Bernie Kretzschmar. And my son saw this on the screen and paused it and said, ‘see, it’s in our blood!’”

Liaan’s son isn’t wrong. It’s clear that cars are in his family’s blood and nowhere is this better expressed than in his father’s passion for Jaguar Land Rover and the influence that finance can offer as a business partner.
 
The Jaguar Land Rover Finance team

Jacqueline Stoman has been the finance and tax manager at Jaguar Land Rover for the past six months. “It’s been a big learning school for me. I don’t have prior experience at a motor company, so there are a lot of new concepts.”

Her previous experience includes being a partner for seven years at an audit firm, after which she spent some time with a software development company, before accepting the position at Jaguar Land Rover.

“I think it’s amazing here. When I started, I thought it would be daunting to be at a really big international company, but it’s a really tight group – like a family. If I am struggling with a new concept, I can walk down the hall and ask someone and they won’t blink twice. They’ll give me the whole lowdown on everything. In places where I’ve previously worked, that certainly wasn’t the case.”

She also says that she’s been offered opportunities for personal growth and development as well. “The company has a programme in which every manager of the company has access to a professional coach. She is helping me to be a better manger and to motivate my team.”

She says the greatest learning for her has been that she can’t stand over her team with a whip. “If there’s a problem, we discuss whether there are better ways of doing things.”

She speaks enthusiastically about her company car – a Jaguar F-PACE SUV, which she’s loved, but is about to upgrade to a Range Rover Evoque.

As the mother of two children aged six and 12, she runs a tight ship. “My husband is an airline pilot, so I don’t have the backup of a partner who’s there all the time. I calendarize all activities. Structure is critical for me. Fortunately, I work in a flexible environment. I can work from home if I need to. Liaan is great with that – I can go and watch a hockey game if I need to.”

She also makes the time to get to gym three or four times a week, and she teaches Sunday school, where she loves letting her hair down and playing with the children. “It gives me balance,” she says.

Sashen Moodley is the finance, planning & analysis manager at Jaguar Land Rover. He has a strong history in the motor industry, having come across from BMW, where he had been for seven years. He completed his articles at PKF in Durban.

“I have a definite love of cars – you know boys with their toys. I probably drove my first car sitting in my uncle’s lap at the age of five years. My whole family loves cars. I used to go with my uncle to the races and drivers clubs over the weekends. I’m an avid Fomula 1 fan. I can say I’ve watched every single race since 1993.”

He’s been fortunate to be able to shape a career in an industry he’s so passionate about, and now drives a Range Rover Velar. “As the FP&A manager at Jaguar Land Rover, I can use everything I’ve learnt so far in my career to get more operationally involved in the business, while still having a strong backing in numbers. I love having the opportunity to influence and drive the business.”

Like Jacqueline, he appreciates that there’s a significant focus on leadership and team development within the company. “There’s an investment into staff members, grooming and developing them to drive the business forward.”

He says he strives to maintain a work-life balance, but as he’s relatively new in his position and it’s been financial year end, it has been a busy period for him. Over the weekends, he enjoys playing sport and spending time with his family and friends. “I try to get a bit of balance.”

He says that Liaan has conveyed to him that it’s each team member’s responsibility to know their tasks and deliverables, and to meet those. As long as the work is getting completed in the timeframe and at the quality required, the team can work from home. “He’s very flexible in terms of family commitments during the day, or if people need to leave early,” he says. “He’s an inspirational leader to work for. That’s one of the reasons I joined the company – there’s a young and inspirational leader who sees the finance department as partners to the organisation. I think we all have a lot to learn from him.”

Experience it for yourself
Visit the Jaguar Land Rover Brand Experience Centre at: 1 Capricorn Drive, Lonehill, Sandton
Call: 010 023 0462