Patricia Wolfe has always had a passion for cars. She started her career as a finance manager for a used car dealership, where she studied the different types of customers who came and their various preferences about their cars, and she learned how to deliver on those preferences.
“That was an excellent grounding in how the retail automotive industry works, and it opened my eyes to what is important to customers,” she says. In 1996, she joined Mercedes-Benz Financial Services and set up a new department that provided financial expertise via videoconferencing to customers who were buying vehicles.
“That was pretty groundbreaking at that time,” she shares. “I moved on through several roles gaining experience in sales, strategy, operations, brand and finance.”
By 2013, Patricia had ended up at Daimler Fleet Management – a division of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services that focused on the fleet side of the business.
There, she led the outsourcing of the company’s back office to a third party and carried out what she believes is her most important project to date – the building of an entirely new organisation and legal entity when Daimler Fleet Management rebranded in October as Athlon UK, where she now serves as Managing Director.
Athlon combines more than 130 years of Daimler heritage with more than 100 years of leasing and mobility experience to provide a superior level of service for fleets.
“The new brand reinforces our new way of thinking and new approach to mobility,” she explains. “What has been exciting for the team at Athlon in the UK is that rebuilding our business under the Athlon banner has allowed us to rip up the rule book and act more like a new startup – although with a history that stretches back to the 1900s, we are probably the oldest ‘startup’ in the world.”
Building a brand
In 2016, Daimler Financial Services acquired Athlon Car Lease International and its fleet of 400,000 vehicles across Europe for €1.1 billion. Athlon thus become the fleet and mobility management expert within the Daimler Group.
However, it would take another four years for Daimler Fleet Management UK, with its 14,000 vehicles, to join the pack and change its name to Athlon UK. Even then, its success was not guaranteed.
“Facing the COVID-19 pandemic while preparing the go-live and the actual launch was for sure an extraordinary challenge since we had to work within a lockdown,” Patricia admits.
What has been exciting for the team at Athlon in the UK is that rebuilding our business under the Athlon banner has allowed us to rip up the rule book and act more like a new startup.
“Again, strong leadership makes the difference, and I am extremely proud that my team made this launch happen, successfully and without any delays.” Today, as Managing Director, she seeks to harness the power and knowledge of both the Athlon and Daimler brands to make Athlon UK more efficient, sustainable and helpful to customers.
“Athlon combines more than 130 years of Daimler heritage with more than 100 years of leasing and mobility experience to provide a superior level of service for fleets,” Patricia says.
“Following the brand launch last year, we are looking to grow across all current channels – Specialist, Public Sector and Corporate – in both UK and at the international level.” As an international business, Athlon can offer customers the convenience of working with a single rental or leasing company for trucks or cars almost anywhere in Europe.
“Not only does this keep things simple for the customer, but having a leasing company that can negotiate with manufacturers on an international level rather than orchestrating siloed deals in each country means that our international customers’ balance sheets benefit too,” Patricia adds.
A shifting market
While Athlon is a well-known mobility solutions brand in Europe due to its long history there, it is more of a challenger brand in the UK. While Patricia works to improve the experience of her customers, she also has the opportunity to challenge local conventions and reshape the leasing and mobility industry as a whole.
One way she hopes to do this is by making the industry more sustainable. “Our sustainable growth strategy is based on expertise, competitive pricing and strong service levels,” she says.
“We have a position on almost all of the UK public sector frameworks, with some real expertise and a strong proposition for this market. Electric vehicle growth is particularly strong in this sector due to both the cost and environmental benefits, and we are looking to build on the success we have seen in 2020 with strong pricing and proposition.”
In fact, almost 60% of all new quotation requests Athlon UK receives include an electric or hybrid opportunity – a large number of these coming from companies looking to lease cars as employee benefits. To Patricia, this signals that customers want to support sustainable business practices.
“At Athlon UK, our conversations never start with the car, but always with the customer. We are a genuinely customer-centric organisation,” she asserts.
Making sure our customers were able to respond and survive so that they can come out of this situation in a good position for future growth was important to us.
“We start by understanding our customers’ mobility objective and then by making them our objective too. Through consultation and a partnership approach, we establish needs, and through TCO modelling and whole-life cost analysis, we put our customers in the right vehicles to match those needs.”
This approach is particularly crucial now, as customer needs are changing and diversifying rapidly. In the UK, 28% of all leasing companies’ fleets are composed of light commercial vehicles, driven by growth in construction and homes deliveries through online shopping, which was already a growing market but ballooned in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
For this reason, Athlon UK employs commercial vehicle specialists to support all sales channels and focus on the specific needs of these customers for in-life and end-of-contract services.
On the car side, customers are mainly demanding greater flexibility, to which the company has responded by offering in-life contract amendments based on certain term and milage requirements.
This flexibility was especially crucial when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “Our first priority was to support our customers in managing their fleets and cost bases during the initial lockdown period by doing what we could to restructure payments in what are unprecedented times for all of us,” Patricia says.
“Making sure our customers were able to respond and survive so that they can come out of this situation in a good position for future growth was important to us.” The move has paid off, as Athlon UK’s customers continue to renew their contracts. Plus, the flexibility extended to company’s clients is also enjoyed by its employees, to whom Patricia attributes Athlon UK’s recent growth.
“Building up an organisation almost from scratch has been a great opportunity. We grew fast, and our culture is constantly evolving, so I have to evolve with it and rethink the way I communicate, engage and motivate,” she concedes.
“When I first became a leader, I told my employees what to do. Today, I tell them what we want to achieve. I learned that it makes a big difference – that you get the best results by empowering people.”