No doubt there are worse places to wash cars than at Miami beach on America’s east coast. It wasn’t a bad spot for Ron Santiago to kickstart his career in car rentals, sprucing up the vehicles for Alamo Rent A Car. 
 
More than 30 years, three continents and eight countries later, the Managing Director of Europcar Australia and New Zealand and the recipient of Managing Director of the Year award at last year’s The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards, and a judge this year, is pragmatic about his story from car wash to boardroom.  
 
“Over those three decades, I’ve covered all aspects of the car-rental business, from general management to sales, from operations to marketing, brand strategy and IT,” he says. “And working all over the world has given me unique experience to manage its complexities.”
 
Working his way up through Alamo, Ron moved from Miami to become Operations Manager UK and Vice President Leisure Sales EMEA. In 2000, he joined National Car Rental, where he spent seven years as Vice President International Sales and Marketing EMEA and Vice President UK Operations. An acquisition found him at Europcar as Strategic Development and Business Services Director Europcar UK in 2008, but after just five months he was offered the opportunity to move to Australia and turn around a struggling business that was relying on funds from head office to pay the bills.
 
From the outset, Ron implemented an ambitious strategy of corporate change, business development, growth, sustainable profit and equity value creation. Always with the customer in mind, introduced a central operating system, apps and programs to facilitate a self-service car hire process.

Ron identified and removed waste across the business, ensuring Europcar is building a fleet of vehicles that make economic sense to customers while making a profit for Europcar. He also introduced a range of local initiatives that have been taken up internationally, including Net Promoter Score measurement, new bike-carrier vehicles, ski-carrier vehicles and the Selection by Europcar premium offering in Australia and New Zealand.

It has been an extraordinary journey of difficult decisions and creative leadership that has seen profits increase year-on-year and Europcar being named Australasia’s leading Car Rental Company for nine consecutive years at the World Travel Awards.

Ron’s philosophy is to be a student forever, learning and striving to do better every single day. That includes having a clear road map for life and for business, leaving nothing to chance. At the same time, he warns, be prepared for change, because “life changes”.
 
Describing himself as passionate, confident and driven by results, Ron says his leadership style is strategic, transformational and transactional. “My favourite piece of advice is to focus on the people and the culture. Think, plan, ask lots of questions and be prepared to make tough decisions when necessary. And always stay positive.” 
 
“Hope is not a strategy. Always ask yourself what you are missing when problem solving and planning.” 

Find out more about The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards here.