One bright idea gave Sharon a new lease of life
My Big idea
SKERRIES local Sharon O'Buachalla founded a vehicle leasing company in 1983, when the practice of leasing rather than owning vehicles was still largely unexplored by Irish companies.
Business boomed and 14 years later she partnered up with LeasePlan, one of the largest fleet management companies in the world. Her story is a perfect example of the benefits of pairing up with a multinational.
"I have a background in the motor trade -- my father was one of the first Volkswagen dealers in the country -- so the business was a natural step for me," she says.
"Fleet management was gaining popularity in the UK at the time, but hadn't really caught on in Ireland. My husband and I realised there was an opportunity. Leasing rather than owning vehicles offers a host of benefits for companies, like allowing them to control costs and budget more efficiently.
"By 1997 we had built up our fleet to 2,000 vehicles, and then LeasePlan arrived. It is an international organisation, active in 32 countries. It was planning to set up a brand new Irish operation but decided a partnership would be a better idea. They bought 50pc of the business in '97 and the whole thing five years later.
"Now we have 12,000 vehicles and more than 600 clients. We supply companies with everything up to 3.5 tonne vehicles and look after them from cradle to grave -- maintenance, insurance, you name it. Clients include An Post -- we're the people behind the green vans that deliver your post -- as well as UPC, Guinness and IBM.
"Access to finance is perhaps the biggest advantage of being part of a global company. LeasePlan has its own bank -- a treasury unit which is actually headquartered in Ireland too -- so we had access to funding when our competitors did not, a huge advantage. We are not dependent on the likes of AIB and Bank of Ireland -- and LeasePlan's financing unit actually has a higher credit rating than they do," she adds.
"We've just won the LeasePlan Trophy of Excellence, which is awarded to the best performing country in the group.
"Many clients downsized the size of their fleets during the recession because of cutbacks so there was definitely shrinkage, but we managed to more than offset that with new customers. But I always say, we're more concerned about keeping existing customers happy than gaining new ones.
"At the same time, growing in scale at the rate we have certainly has its challenges. You must ensure that a level of quality is maintained, regardless of how fast you are growing. Reputation is everything."
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