‘I have been very fortunate to have a number of mentors’
EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Mark Whitaker of Johnson & Perrott
Mark Whitaker of Johnson & Perrott
A qualified chartered accountant, Mark Whitaker spent four years away from the family business after completing his education before joining Johnson & Perrott in 1990. Initially, he took up the role of general manager of the fleet management division, growing the business threefold over the course of his 10 years in the role before being appointed chief executive in April 2001, a position he’s held for 18 years.
The business was founded in 1810 and acquired into family ownership by James Johnson in 1860. Whitaker is a sixth-generation descendant of Mr Johnson in the business, which originally began life as a manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages.
In 1903, the company sold its first second-hand car and a year later Mr Johnson’s grandson, William Perrott, joined the company. Some 116 years later, the company operates three large motor dealerships in Cork with eight car brands and recently completed a new development to house its premium brands following a €15 million investment.
And while that’s a lot to manage, Whitaker is also busy with the company’s asset management businesses. In Tallaght, it owns and manages almost 2,000 vehicles and last year it acquired the National Truck Rental business in Ballycoolin, managing almost 1,000 vans and trucks.
With a business expecting turnover of more than €100 million this year, there’s little time for Whitaker to rest on his laurels.
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to go into business?
For me, the lightbulb moment was a desire on leaving college to join and support my father in the family business. I had worked a significant amount of my student time in the fleet management division and looked forward to using my skills as an accountant to lead that business to significant growth.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
It is difficult to identify a standout moment but certainly our role in the development of the wonderful Opera Lane development in Cork city was a significant achievement. Johnson & Perrott had a key part of the two-block site and I led the negotiation of our partnership with the developers O’Callaghan Properties to allow Johnson & Perrott retain four retail units in the development. This was a significant contributor to profitability for the seven years we retained the units and I then led the disposal process which saw us successfully exit these retail properties in late 2017.
What was your ‘back-to-the-wall’ moment and how did you overcome it?
The realisation that we needed to dispose of the Avis Rent-A-Car business in 2011 was clearly that moment and we worked very hard to secure a sale that secured the long-term future of both Avis in Ireland and our remaining business units, and to fundamentally change how we managed the organisation going forward.
What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
As a family member taking over the running of the family business, I have been very fortunate to have a number of mentors who have been supportive at critical times in our evolution. A key learning over the years was that one must develop one’s own leadership style (and not adopt anyone else’s) and live and promote the values that you think that the organisation should demonstrate.
Describe your growth funding path
Johnson & Perrott retains over 70 per cent of its after-tax profits in the business to fund future growth. As a result, we have a low level of borrowings to support our €71 million net asset balance sheet and a very significant borrowing capacity. We are confident that, should a game changer acquisition come along we will be able to fund it from our own resources and normal bank borrowing.
What is the one piece of advice you would give Government to stimulate the economy?
There are many things that one would like to see the Government do but a reduction in capital gains tax to 25 per cent would raise more revenue for Government and encourage the moving and developing of assets.