Fred Crawley talks to Peter Cakebread of
Marshall Leasing about back-to-basics leasing.
Peter Cakebread, managing director of
Marshall Leasing, is a man who understands the value of doing
“I can’t abide things that put barriers
between a business and its customers,” he says, summing up his
opinions on automated call-handling systems in a way that makes
very clear how he feels about traditional methods of doing
True to form, he has taken the opportunity to meet
in person in the middle of Victoria Station’s rush hour, rather
than talk contract hire by telephone from his office at Marshall’s
HQ in Cambridge.
Having found a quieter spot in which to talk, his
description of his business soon sets out why he feels the way he
does about “old-fashioned” customer service.
The Marshall group has roots stretching
back as far as 1909, when David Gregory Marshall first founded his
eponymous chauffeur-drive company. The business grew to incorporate
vehicle distribution, becoming the first Austin dealership in
Cambridgeshire in 1920, and made a surprising move into aviation
with the acquisition of an airfield nine years later.
Marshall Leasing came about in 1975, and grew
steadily under the banner of Marshall’s Motor Holdings division,
which now also owns some 45 dealerships in the East of England.
In 2006, Marshall complemented its organic growth
with the acquisition of fellow independent Gates Contract Hire, and
ploughed into 2007 with expectations of more growth.
“And then” says Cakebread, pausing for a moment to
choose the right, industry-approved euphemism, “the market became
challenging and interesting.”
At the time of speaking, Cakebread had 24 hours
remaining in his capacity as chairman of the BVRLA’s leasing and
fleet management committee, a role he has held throughout the
development of the current recession.
“The final quarter of 2008 was the worst time for
most,” he says, talking about the climate at the BVRLA’s
But for Marshall Leasing, the hardest challenges
were already underway, with the unprecedented 22 percent drop in
used car values that had been developing even before the banks had
fallen fully into crisis.
Whereas Marshall’s healthy parent company
ensured that funding never became punitive to acquire in 2008, its
exposure to used car residual values meant that losses on
termination posed a significant potential problem when values
But Marshall had time to adjust its
pricing, extend hire terms and position itself for greater
resilience to future value fluctuations – a position that it
intends to hold for the foreseeable future.
And the legislative climate?
“Changes to capital allowances have been a positive
move, and there is no longer a leasing disallowance on vehicles
with a value under £60,000,” Cakebread notes, having been involved
in the BVRLA’s lobbying on the issue.
Cakebread, who entered the fleet contract hire
market in 1980 during a previous period of depressed values, is a
great proponent of the cyclical market, and is confident Marshall
is in a good position to pick up business when the market
“You can’t expect every year to be a good one, so
we have decided to play the long game. Because of the nature of our
business, the decisions taken by Marshall today will have their
impact felt in three years.”
And what predictions for 2012 can be relied
“One positive factor that comes from the current 30
percent drop in new car production is that, if only 1.7 million
vehicles are produced this year, there will still only be 1.7
million three year-old vehicles in three years’ time – meaning a
big improvement in RVs.”
But Cakebread doesn’t intend for Marshall to sit on
its hands while the used market cycles round. Although he is loathe
to wheel out the phrase “green shoots”, he has increased Marshall’s
funded fleet size around 10 percent to reach 5,200 units in the
last six months, mostly through sale-and-hireback arrangements.
Additionally, he thinks it will not long before
long-term fleet users, cagey about new contracts over the last 18
months, will soon be coming back to renew agreements.
“Around 10 percent of our customers are extending
their contracts at present, but extensions only last so long,” he
says. “And although new fleets will be smaller due to redundancies,
there has not been the huge drop-off in fleet use that some people
From talking to Cakebread, it becomes apparent that
Marshall’s greatest strength while things remain tough will be its
stability, and its attention to the details of its business
Barring any more nasty surprises from the economy,
it looks like Cakebread will be telling a story of growth again
before too long.