Paul Gilshan, CEO of Tusker, the company making it greener, easier and cheaper for you to get a car, joins us for our latest Building Successful Businesses episode to talk about working at ‘the Netflix for cars’, how to build a truly sustainable business and the journey from CMO to CEO.
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Fiona: Welcome to ECI’s podcast, “Building Successful Businesses,” where we speak to CEOs about the building blocks of their success and the lessons they’ve learned on the way. I’m Fiona Moore and today I’m delighted to be joined by Paul Gilshan, CEO of Tusker, a company that is on a mission to help your employees get better cars. Gilsh, welcome.
Gilsh: Hi, Fiona. Thanks for having me.
Fiona: Now, obviously ECI invested in Tusker because we understood the huge growth potential for the business. But, for people who don’t know Tusker, can you explain a bit about what you do and what’s driving that growth?
Gilsh: Sure, Tusker is a new car subscription platform, or as I tell my friends, we’re the Netflix for cars. So, if you think about Netflix, for one fixed monthly amount and no deposit, Netflix gives you access to lots of great entertainment. Well, salary sacrifice car leasing is based on a very similar idea. You pay a fixed monthly fee, no big upfront payment, and we give you a brand-new car. Then we sort everything else out at no extra cost. So, that means insurance, MOT, road tax, repair bills, charge point installed at your home, if you want one, and best of all, you get a brand-new car.
It works through salary sacrifice as an employee benefit. So, that’s similar to cycle-to-work salary sacrifice schemes, or childcare vouchers. We don’t like the word ‘sacrifice,’ so we call it salary saving. It’s a bit nicer. We represent hundreds of companies across the public and private sectors, so large corporates, councils, and NHS trusts. It works for their employees because they love the no-hassle leasing. They love that bundle of everything included. And it works for businesses as it helps them aid employee retention and acquisition. I think we all know that it’s never been more important for companies to offer an excellent benefits package.
Then you’re asking about growth. Well, due to the savings that are available through salary saving, it makes driving electric the most affordable way. And more and more people now want to switch to electric as they look at their emissions and more electric cars are available. So, we are at the forefront of driving the uptake of electric vehicles.
We were the first to launch salary saving for cars in 2008. We’re the market leader, and we provide thousands of electric vehicles to drivers. I think the important thing there is the majority of our drivers would not have opted for electric vehicles or a new car, had it not been for the salaries saving products. So, nurses, engineers, analysts, airline staff, council workers, and thousands of employees across the UK are getting access to a new electric car for the first time.
Just on numbers, we’re growing pretty fast. We have a fleet of over 20,000 vehicles and we’ll double that to over 40,000 within the next two years. Last year we represented 2% of all electric sales. So, more and more people want to subscribe to a lease as an easy and simple way to run a car. More and more people want to lower their emissions by switching to electric. At Tusker we tick both those boxes. Companies love the benefit as do our drivers. So, yeah, it’s a win-win.
Fiona: Do you think the UK is on track to hit the target announced at COP26 last year to have 100% zero-emission cars and vans by 2035? Obviously, Tusker is part of how the UK is reaching those targets.
Gilsh: I think we’re actually behind where we need to be. I think companies like Tusker are vital. There are really challenging goals set by the government. Very ambitious. All leasing products need to play their part in order to help the government to meet the 2030 target, the 2035 target and ultimately that 2050 target of net zero.
My concern is how we ensure that everyday drivers, particularly those on lower salaries, move to electric vehicles. If you look at other leasing products like PCH or Personal Contract Purchase, for them electric cars are more expensive than the petrol or diesel equivalent. So, there’s no financial motivation for drivers to opt for electric.
We’re also seeing very high prices in the secondhand market. That tends to be a market where mass-market drivers first try out new models. So, if that secondhand market is too expensive, then there needs to be a product that caters for mass market everyday drivers. That’s where businesses like mine, like Tusker, are key.
We make electric vehicles affordable for everyday drivers. Not only affordable, but they’re cheaper than diesel or petrol. Companies providing salary-saving car benefits play a huge role in ensuring government meet those COP26 and the road to zero targets. I’m really proud that we are we’re helping more and more people and helping the government to achieve those targets.
Fiona: Tusker isn’t just helping other businesses to decarbonize their fleet. Last year, you also became a net positive contributor to the environment. What does that mean? What changes did you have to make in your business to achieve that? And any advice for other CEOs that are thinking of doing it in the future?
Gilsh: A lot of companies talk about being green. We’ve been carbon neutral since 2010. Over the years, we’ve offset over 250,000 tons of carbon which has supported loads of green initiatives across the globe. We’ve got wind farms in India. We transform rubbish dumps in the far east. So, we invest a lot in offsetting.
We offset our own business emissions as well as the tailpipe emissions for all our drivers. But for us, it’s part of our overall strategy. It’s something that is part of the everyday. I think if you just have it as something in the background and you only have a few people looking at sustainability in a company, you really won’t get traction. At Tusker it’s embedded in all employees in the business that we want to reduce emissions. So, I think making it at the heart of the business, is the advice I’d give to other CEOs.
Last year, as you said about being net positive, we went one step further and decided to offset the emissions from all our charging, so all our drivers’ electricity consumption. And then we offset an additional 10% above our emissions to ensure that we’re now positively impacting our environment rather than just offsetting. It’s right at the heart of the business. We are passionate about it.
There’s a group of companies called the EV100. We were one of the founding members. It’s a group of global companies that are committed to speeding up the uptake of electric vehicles. We pledged through our membership of the EV100 for our fleet to be fully electric by 2030. Currently, over 50% of our fleet is fully electric. So, we’re well on our way. I think that’s another thing. Having targets that you are aiming for gets the business behind it as well.
Fiona: It’s clear to see how that green mindset is embedded in Tusker. From a personal point of view, have you always had that mindset or is that something that’s come as part of joining the business and understanding how they operate?
Gilsh: No, it’s always something that I’ve been passionate about. When I joined, the fleet was very different. There weren’t many electric vehicles in the UK. In 2017 and 2018, we knew that this tide would turn as more supply came. We knew that more people were looking at their emissions, and more companies were looking at their emissions.
So, we’d planned for this growth and built the business around it so that when the tide did turn, when the supply came, we were ready to take advantage of it. So, it’s been something we’ve been planning in our business, and I’ve been planning in our business for some time.
Fiona: And long before you joined Tusker, if we go back to the start of your personal career, what was your first ever job? And what did you learn from it?
Gilsh: Well, my first ever job was a paper boy, and then I was a baker in Sainsbury’s – early shifts. But the first real job was when I moved to London after university, it was for an advertising agency. And I worked on brilliant accounts like Walkers Crisps, The National Lottery, Peugeot, and Channel 4.
With the team at Channel 4, we worked on the launches of two digital channels, E4 and more4. I learned so much at Channel 4 but especially on those launches about media, marketing, taking risks, teamwork, getting things wrong, getting things right, and hard work. I think the biggest thing that I learned was about the importance of creativity and doing things differently and balancing that with commercial success. So, TV is a really tough – brilliant – but really tough industry. And you find out quickly, what’s working and what’s not.
There are lots of marketing campaigns where you maybe wait a month, two months, or three months to see if you’re successful. In TV, your campaign’s out, and if you haven’t got the numbers viewing that program the next day, then you haven’t been successful. So, it’s quite brutal. You can have the best creative idea in the world, but you have to make it work. You have to make it visible. You have to create a reaction. It has to change behaviour. It has to work.
I think that’s the biggest learning I took from my time in advertising in that first role. And that led me onto other roles at Sky and The Times. But ultimately you can have the best idea in the world, the same as practising business. The best idea in the world, but you have to make it work. You have to have a team around you that helps you make it work and not just have the idea.
Fiona: And that creativity point, making it work and hard work, it feels like something that translates quite directly to leading or being in the top team of a business. Does it surprise you that it’s not a more common route going from marketing into CEO because obviously, you were a CMO at Tusker before becoming a CEO?
Gilsh: There are definitely more people doing it. You’re right, in senior roles it’s probably one of the less common routes, but there are more and more people doing it because marketing teaches you a broad range of skills. Creativity, the importance of data and insight, understanding audiences, and commercial acumen. Ultimately, for me, marketing is a balance of brilliant people following a clear strategy to produce great ideas. Then the next bit is the most important: strong execution, commitment to delivery, and hopefully, delivering fantastic commercial results. I’d call myself a commercial marketer because you need to have the results. You can’t just put ads out there and campaigns out there, it needs to deliver for the business.
And everyone plays their part. There’s a creative team, researchers, a media team, and a production team. Everyone has a role to play. I think that’s very similar in business, very similar. At Tusker you need great people around you committed to a strategy, that want to deliver for your business. And then they need focus, and we need to focus on delivering that strategy every day.
At Tusker, we follow our winning-together strategy, which means we’re committed to helping more people drive better cars, and we commit to that every day. Everyone’s bought into it, and we commit to it every day through excellent customer service, keeping things really simple for drivers, making sure we have a brilliant digital offering, educating our drivers through great communications and everybody plays a part. Every team member can play a part in that.
Finally, again, learning from marketing. If things do go wrong, just learn from them, move on, and do it better the next time.
Fiona: What has your business success, becoming CEO, what has it taught you about yourself as an individual?
Gilsh: Trust your instincts. I think you can have all the data in the world which can lead you to an obvious decision. Okay, that’s the obvious thing that you need to do. But if your gut really tells you that something’s not right, it usually turns out not to be right. I think that also plays for your team. If your team are telling you that they don’t think something’s right or something doesn’t feel right, you have to believe in them as well. So, yeah, I think, obviously, build your business on data, have the right research, and the right insight, but ultimately trust your instincts.
Fiona: And you mentioned trusting your team as well, is that something that you find easy? Is that something you always found easy? Do you find delegating easy or is that something you’ve sort of had to learn as you’ve moved up?
Gilsh: I think that’s definitely something I’ve learned and got better at. I think, in marketing, you want to be part of everything. You want to understand exactly what the research is saying, what the insight team, what the strategy team is saying, how the media works, and you want to be all over it. And I think that’s been my biggest learning that when you move into another role, you’ve got to trust the team below you to deliver for you. And not be over every part of every department. Let them breathe and give them autonomy. Because ultimately, you’ve got people around you that you want to be successful and are very talented in their discipline and area. So, you’ve got to let them grow, and let them fly, and let them make their own decisions, and make their own successes, and celebrate with them. I have found that, yeah, I think that’s been one of my biggest challenges – letting go.
Fiona: For other entrepreneurs and CEOs, what advice would you give to other business owners more at the start of that journey?
Gilsh: Well, I’ve said trust your instincts, but I think it’s back to that people thing. It might be a cliche, but find great people to work with, challenge them, and create a culture that means they’ll want to stay working with you. It sounds really easy, but that needs hard yards every day. The team at Tusker are committed and passionate about providing the very best for our drivers and the enthusiasm they show on a daily basis for getting the job done is outstanding.
But it’s off the back of that strategy. We all want to win together, something we want to nurture as we grow. The culture is something special and something I’m proud of what we’ve created, what we’ve built. And it is off the back of, you know, our strategy that we’ve all committed to and we’re all following.
Fiona: What’s next for Tusker? You’ve mentioned some actual deadlines and targets that you guys have set. But what’s next in the near future for you guys?
Gilsh: So, having targets is good, but some of them are quite far away, like that 2030 target, even if I think it’ll probably come into 2028. But, you know, we’re only really at the start of our journey. There are so many businesses that we want to offer this benefit to for their employees. So, we’re focused on providing as many employees as possible with an affordable way to drive electric or low-emission cars.
Over the coming months and years, we’ll launch new features and products to ensure that we remain the market leader and drive down emissions across the UK. That means we’ll constantly be working to improve and better every part of the service we offer. And we’ll continue to work with, as I’ve said a lot through this podcast, the best people. At the moment we know we’ve still got a long road ahead to get as many people, particularly those everyday drivers, into electric vehicles.
Fiona: Well, Gilsh, thanks so much for talking to me today, from baking to “E4,” to now Netflix for cars. It’s a really interesting journey and it’s clear the move to net zero is something that’s only going to grow in momentum. So, thank you for sharing your story. And now I look forward to watching you lead the way in the electric car revolution.
Gilsh: Thanks, Fiona.