A special afternoon with Zac Hollis
We at MWTV had the special opportunity to meet Skoda India’s Director for Sales and Marketing – or as he is better known across the Twitterverse, the man with the halo for every Skoda owner – Mr. Zac Hollis!
Ask anyone here at MWTV if they would have a different idea to spend an afternoon in a better way than talking to Zac – and hands down, this wins.
Yet, we were the only ones amongst us who had the privilege of this conversation.
Nilesh and I were sure of one thing, we were not going to waste this opportunity talking about cars. So instead, we wanted to try and make the best of this rare opportunity to know the man himself – and maybe… maybe, if we got lucky, we could learn a thing or two ourselves.
Zac was more than willing to give us all the right answers, and we couldn’t thank him enough for being so warm and welcoming!
Nilesh tried to rewind time for Zac, and he wondered if he needed to lie down on a couch. I assured him I am not that kind of a doctor, and we are just trying to understand his journey better so far. Diving in …
Nilesh: Your early days were in the UK, right. Take us back into your schooling life. I mean, your growing up days were in the UK. How was it? Do you remember your first crush?
Zac: I was born in a small town in England and was raised on a farm. I went to a very nondescript school with a passionate set of teachers, which is always important in the school and education system.
In terms of girls, I got married to the first girl I met, and I am still married for twenty-seven years now. Fortunately, she has been with me for the last couple of months, and we have done a lot of travelling. In fact, this weekend we are visiting Kaziranga, so we are into exploring as well. She really enjoys photography. That is where I come from, and I decided not to go to university very early on in life. Partly because I was disappointed with the exams. What I really wanted was a job where I could get some training on the job. So, I got a job as a trainee accountant, and I was 33 at that time. And that was my entry into the world of business.
Nilesh: So, you are a numbers guy, and for 30 years now, you have been a brand director. How was your journey from being involved in finance to brand management happen?
Zac: I think the important thing for a businessman, whether you are doing marketing, sales, or general management, you need to understand the business, and you need to know your numbers. Because at the end of the day, it is profitability that matters.
Suraj: What made you take a risk or jump?
Zac: I think I knew many people would not take it, so the risk was not there. So, the first thing I asked the team I worked with was to be original. “What’s stopping you from doing it?” Then do it because nothing is stopping you from doing it. And that is the way I looked at
Suraj: So, our first learning is – that it is just our comfort zone that restricts us!
Nilesh: How have you seen the brand Skoda evolve? What have been your observations, and you have also been working in different countries, so what is that experience like?
Zac: It has been an exciting journey because the image of our company in the UK back in the 1990s was based on the historical image from the communist times. There was very little investment in the business, and therefore the quality product that is expected from a western country was missing. I have to say for good reason the quality of the cars coming to us in the 1970s and 1980s was not good. So what we had to do in the UK was to bring in a huge change in perception.
That was the job we had to do, and we did it. We did campaigns that challenged people’s perceptions of the brand. And it worked; as a result, the brand moved very fast. Because the quality was there, the drivers knew it, the owners knew it, but the rest of the population knew it as a brand that was a butt of jokes in the 1970s and 1980s. But what I have seen is a brand that is very good in terms of design, quality, and professionalism. It took us a long while to create such cars. So, the brand has moved on in terms of design. And if you look in some countries now, Skoda is an important imported car. In Germany, it is an important car; in the Czech Republic, it is number 1, comprising 50% of the market share. In Slovakia, it is number 1, Poland it is number 1, and even in some Western European countries and Scandinavian countries with 5 to 10% of the market share, which means it is a very strong brand. People always like this brand in Europe because it always gives more for the money spent.
If you go to see what the Germans were making in the 1960s and what the British were making in the 1960’s they had moved on with regard to the design they were making.
Suraj: Meeting you is like a fanboy moment because what you have done for the automobile enthusiast community is unparalleled. You have brought us not just luxury but valued performance as well. If you look at the power to torque ratio or power to weight ratio. It has been a phenomenal journey, and that is where all this fan following comes from. It isn’t easy to not talk to cars around you and are therefore keen to know more about you. Are there any plans for dedicated enthusiasts of the fan community for Skoda in India?
Zac: I think we invited 50 fans and their partners and friends to experience the Skoda Slavia. What we got out of that I got my message across to them. We got some great social media content. Brands need fans. Branding, in a way, is like a football. A football team also needs fans. There are two types of fans they are fair-weathered fans and diehard fans. A fair-weathered fan, they disappear when the team is losing. While the diehard fan will always support the team no matter what. They will wear the team T-Shirt and criticize the manager. The brand, too, has diehard fans, you know; these people will always support it. And even if they have a tough time if the car is broken down, they will help the brand. They will always be a fan.
Suraj: What you have been doing for all of us, like engaging on Twitter, especially if not all other social media sites? I am really curious to know how you manage to do that?
Zac: My answer is that my wife is not in India! I actually see it as it as part of my job. It is perhaps more of my job in India than it is in any other part of the world. Because in India something goes wrong I want to complain to the top man. And most of the time, I speak to the dealer or serviceman, which is not an issue. But I want to talk to the top man and so what I have done with this is make direct contact.
It is easy to reply, and while I do not mind replying, it gets messy answering all. For example, someone might ask a question about a car’s fuel economy, and if I know the answer, I will very quickly report the figure is 18.4 km/litre. So by doing that, not only they but all the other people have got the message that we got a good fuel economy, and these are the numbers.
Suraj: Coming from your mouth, then it must be the Gospel truth.
Zac: Yeah, I could quickly read the report and inform the 20,000 people who follow me plus some other people who know what the measure is. It is also a way of communicating.
Suraj: How do you deal with messages that are not so appropriate?
Zac: I rarely reply back. What you cannot do is drop yourself to that level, because you know it is pathetic. By using the right words, you can calm them down and then we can get our professionals in customer care to talk with them. But you will actually find that some of them will get back to you.
Suraj: Speaking of time, all this social media and launches, what is your time management mantra?
Zac: I think what you got to do, it is somewhat important, and this I will tell to anybody, and that is there are many meeting invitations I get, and I am thinking if I accept this meeting invitation how am I going to sell more cars? Is it going to improve my business? Or can I send someone else? And what you got to do then is to prioritize what is important. And that is something that I am pretty good at doing, I believe. Without a doubt, time management is one of the most important ways to drive your business.
Suraj: Today’s twenty-four or twenty-five-year-olds who are short in finance and aspire for a career in automobiles or have some kind of leadership position. What would be your top three pieces of advice?
Zac: I think if I look back if I made any mistake, then I would say that I missed out on a social life. That’s it, you know. Because I come from a small town. From the age of between 18 to 21 I was living in this small town whereas my friends were in universities in Manchester. So, I missed out on university life in, which you should enjoy those three years because you never get it again. Get a good education, and then work hard with a passion. So, yes, I did not go to university, but I did not have to do that. Both of my daughters went to universities in the UK and did very well.
Suraj: What are the top three things for a great career?
Zac: Surround yourself with the best people you need to do that to be successful. Drive that forward with passion. It is also infectious to other people, so drive yourself with passion. And the third thing is to take your opportunity when it arises.
There you have it, folks!
Some amazing life lessons from our insightful afternoon with Mr. Zac Hollis:
- Your comfort zone is the only thing that’s holding you back
- Time management is one of the essential tools in the business
- Surround yourself with the best people needed for the job
- Drive forward with passion since passion is infectious
- Take the opportunity when it arises.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we enjoyed being part of this interview.
Catch the video here.
Let us know in the comments what part of Zac inspires you the most?
Are there any other questions you would like us to ask Zac the next time we meet him?