Coventry taxi firm enjoys resurgence in orders and pride for the world-famous black cab.
The rebirth of Coventry’s iconic taxi firm proved to be a huge learning experience for the man at the helm.
But he claims the lessons learned have helped create not only a resurgence in orders, but also in pride for one of the city’s most famous firms.
Peter Johansen has steered the London Taxi Company through its recent transformation – helping it regain the lions share of the marketplace after the toughest year in the firm’s 70-year history.
But the journey has not been without its difficulties, claims the vice president of UK operations. “Once we came out of administration I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief because you start to think there is hope, there is a future,” said Mr Johansen. “However, I think that some people underestimate how difficult it is to bring a company back out of administration.
“The first three months were difficult. We had to get the business up and running and it was hard because there were issues like getting a bank account. We found that we couldn’t get one open until July because of all the complications of administration.
“So we had tactical problems of how you run a company without a bank account, how do you pay suppliers and how do you pay the wages? That was a really difficult three months spent just trying to get the company up and running.”
And that wasn’t the only challenge Mr Johansen faced. Just a week before the world-famous cab maker collapsed into administration, more than 400 cabs were recalled with faulty steering boxes. This meant the firm’s 211-strong workforce were not only tasked with improving and rebuilding the iconic black cab, but also the company’s global reputation.
“The company had made some mistakes in the past and we weren’t proud of that,” said Mr Johansen. “We didn’t want to make the same mistakes going forward.
“I set out three priorities when I was appointed to this job. The first was to put customers first in everything that we did, the second was to focus on the quality of everything we made and the third was about profit.
“On day one we had in stock a number of vehicles left from administration. There were certain quality issues with them and I wasn’t prepared to sell those vehicles until we addressed all of them. This meant embarking on a very extensive refurbishment programme which cost about £6.5million.”
To further improve the TX4, Mr Johansen travelled to London where he visited cab ranks, chatted with drivers and issued an invitation to air their main concerns. During that first month, he received 288 angry letters.
“They were quite painful to read sometimes quite difficult to reply to, but everyone got a response and I learnt a lot about what was important to the cabbies and we tried to address all of their concerns, or as many as we could at least.
“Today, I still receive emails from cabbies but it is down to a trickle, maybe half a dozen in a month and five out of six will be praising us for the way we have changed the company. So we really turned the business around on that point of view.
“I picked up that the cabbies were very cross that the dooor panels scratched really easily and once you scratched them you couldn’t buff them out, so people bringing pushchairs in or even brushing keys against the doors, would leave a mark and wouldn’t go away.
“Cabbies are proud of their taxis and they have every right to be, so one of the things that we decided to do was change the nine interior panels inside the taxi. We put in a better and harder wearing panel that doesn’t scratch and the cost of the panels alone, let alone stripping them out, was £285 a set.
“We came up with a 21-point check list which included the most common complaints and we made sure that every cab we sold from that day had none of these faults. Drivers will tell you that the cabs they buy from us today are the best ever made.”
And the improvements have paid off for LTC, after the company won a major contract last month to deliver a fleet of 500 cabs to Azerbaijan. The vehicles will join the 1,000 damson-coloured TX4s which were supplied in 2011 prior to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012.
The 500 London taxis will play a central role in the inaugural European Games taking place in the capital Baku next summer – with 300 reserved for use for VIP transport during the Games. “There have been so many highlights and good points over the past year, but I think the best for me was getting the Azerbijan contract for several reasons,” added Mr Johansen. “Baku has the European Games next year and the president wants more taxis because he is expecting more visitors. Of the fleet, 300 are going to be reserved for his VIPs. These are the presidents of countries around the world who will be picked up at the airport and taken to the games in a London taxi.
“What a tremendous way of advertising our vehicles. People around the world will be sat in the back of one of our cabs thinking about their taxi system and they will ask ‘would I have put a VIP in the back of our cabs?’ Also, the fact that they had the confidence to come back and order another 500 taxis speaks volumes about the vehicle.” And going foward bosses are confident of further contract wins around the world and believe the future is looking incredible bright. But the success of the company should not just be attributed to management policies and design changes, claims Mr Johansen.
“One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is that people make the difference to an organisation. We couldn’t have achieved any of this without the people that we employ today.
“They all excepted that is the way we should do it, they have changed the way they work to make a better product and have put tremendous effort into all they do. What I like is that we have seen a resurgence in pride in the product. I would say that people had lost that pride because there was previously so much pressure to get the vehicle built and out of the door, just to keep going and that’s when mistakes were made. That doesn’t happen today.
“Everyone in the company is working incredibly hard and it has been a tiring year but everyone is rightly proud of what they produce.”