‘You don’t want to know.’ I replied ‘I was well and truly kippered. There
was a lawyer present from Renault and they brought in someone from BALPA as well.’
‘Oh shit.’ said Toby.
‘Yes, that’s exactly right. I need to
find out more about what’s happened with Renault Birmingham and Renault Croydon.’
‘Can’t help you much there, mate.’ Said Toby ‘Pam Hillman [Toby's boss]and
Dave Marshall [the corporate sales manager
] have been slagging each other off for years. Dave’s
tried to poach some customers of ours and Pam’s done the same to them. More
than that, I don’t know.’ Then Toby asked
me if I had heard of a particular company name. I
said that the name rang a bell with me, but that was all.
‘Well’ continued Toby ‘that’s the name of the company account that started all of
this. The cars that went on sale on an
independent garage forecourt up North went out under their account. And
now I’ve been told officially to get verification of identity from you for all new
orders under the BALPA account. I’ll
ask Pam if she can get anything from Martin about where Renault is going with this,
but otherwise I don’t know what we are going to do here mate.’
‘Me neither.’ I said, though I already
knew I would need to have one more go at reaching some sort of arrangement with Renault
before things got really ugly and the lawyers started partying at my expense.
‘What about the existing orders?’ I asked.
‘No restrictions yet mate, if you are really lucky you might get a few out before
they put a stop on things.’ replied Toby.
‘OK, let’s see how many cars we can get delivered as soon as possible.’ I
said, as I needed to get a half million pounds’ worth of cars that I had on
order with Renault Croydon out to customers before Renault imposed an embargo on deliveries,
though it seemed odd that they had, effectively, stopped new orders for cars
but not deliveries of existing orders, as Renault knew that none of the existing car
orders were for BALPA members anyway.
Having said that, I owed Renault that half a million pounds for the cars on consignment
and, as some of them were up to six weeks away from delivery, somehow I didn’t think
that they would want to jeopardise things and end up with a half a million pounds’
worth of cars sitting unsold in a compound somewhere. That
would be plain dumb, especially as we were in the middle of April now. The remaining
cars would be arriving in May and June, two of the quietest months of the year between
the sales peaks in March and September (driven by the high profile changes in vehicle
registration numbers in those months). No,
I reckoned that I was probably safe there, but whatever I did I would have to do quickly,
just in case.
And anyway, Toby’s reference to ‘Martin’ meant Martin Hillman. Now
Martin Hillman was the husband of Pam Hillman, Toby’s boss, and he was one of the
senior people in the Corporate Sales Department at Renault HQ, a longstanding Renault
employee whom I had met few times. If
anyone could get more info on what was going on, it would be him.
So I left it for just a few days and then contacted Steve Wilson to set up another
meeting, but just with Renault and not BALPA. Hopefully
without the obvious inhibitions of having a BALPA representative present we could
get to the bottom of what was really going on and work out some way of getting things
back to normal.
The second meeting took place about a week after the first one and from the outset
it was clear that attitudes at Renault had hardened rather than softened. Instead
of a friendly discussion about how the misunderstanding had arisen and how it could
be rectified, the meeting was another question and answer session, with a secretary
taking notes of everything that was said.
Something had changed at Renault’s HQ, but no one was letting on what was behind it
all, and there was even a pretence that the company’s attitude had always been hard-line
with anyone selling cars outside the terms of an account agreement, which I knew was
untrue, not least after my SteerFast days and with the information I had about what
had gone on there through one of its suppliers, good old Renault Birmingham.
You see, Renault Birmingham wasn’t averse to putting cars through a client account
and then paying a commission for the privilege. My
former business partner Dopplegänger had colluded with Dave Marshall on this, I even
had copies of e-mails between them listing the cars involved and the commission to
be paid. But when I hinted about this
to Carolyn as part of my scene setting at the opening of the meeting, I got a very
Carolyn asked just what was it that made me think that Renault didn’t know all about
this anyway, so if I was intending to use the information to bargain my way out of
the situation it wouldn’t do me any good, I should just hand it over anyway.
And that was an absolute killer. So Renault
knew what was going on in its dealer network, and if Renault Croydon and Renault Birmingham
were already up to no good then maybe it was even happening all over its dealer network,
yet Renault wasn’t at all concerned about that. Instead
Renault would ignore the big fish, protect its own people and go after the minnow. Me.
Presumably Renault thought I was an easier target. After
all, I was just a small-time car broker. Hmmm. So
Renault would protect its own people but throw me to the wolves.
There was little point in spinning out the meeting and so, after giving a further
round of non-committal responses to questions from Steve, I packed up my briefcase
and left. This time there was no reassuring
conversation with Carolyn on the way to the car park. I
could see that the entente cordiale which had previously existed between Renault and
me was on life support, and the relationship was probably carrying a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’
notice as well.
In fact, how dead the relationship had become didn’t take long to become apparent,
as within a few days I had a call from another vehicle supplier. It
was a heads up from them about something that had gone on after a recent meeting of
the Association of Car Fleet Operators. 'AFCO' is a lobby body for the interests
of corporate fleet managers. Typically
at these events ACFO would invite representatives of the motor manufacturers to give
presentations to its members on new products and topical issues.
My contact told me that, after this particular ACFO regional meeting, Carolyn Sample
had approached a representative of his brand and tried to find out as much as possible
about their dealings with me, repeating the allegations that had been made to BALPA
about the BALPA account in order to broach the subject.
So, not content with ruining my relationship with BALPA, it seemed that Renault was
now out to deliberately sabotage my business through shutting down my dealings with
other car brands. The word ‘vindictive’
didn’t even begin to cover this. I was
livid and called Toby and asked him if he knew anything more about what was happening. The
response I got was scary.
Toby said ‘Hang on.’ then I heard the background noise of doors opening and closing
and then road traffic as Toby walked out of the dealership. Then
he said that he had been expressly forbidden to speak to me anymore. Not
Despite that, Toby promised to let me know if any information came his way, but said
that now Steve Wilson and Carolyn Sample wouldn’t tell him what was going on and he
was being kept in the dark, presumably as Renault knew how matey we had become over
the last 12 months.
Toby said I could liaise with Pam Hillman about the last few cars to be delivered
(I’d managed to get about 50 cars out pretty sharpish after the last meeting with
Renault), but that otherwise he could not talk officially to me again.
Toby asked me to call him only on his private mobile phone number in future, as he
wasn’t sure whether the numbers for calls to and from his Renault Croydon mobile phone
were being monitored by Renault, which seemed right off the scale of paranoia, but
by now who was I to say what was normal in the increasingly strange world of dealing
But this was to be only the beginning. Because
then an e-mail arrived from a firm of hotshot West London lawyers acting on behalf
of Renault, a firm called Iliffes (pronounced Ifors) Booth Bennett, or IBB Law, a
name with which I was, before long, to become very familiar.
IBB Law said that Renault believed that my company had made improper use of the BALPA
account and that, unless I could prove otherwise, Renault wanted its money back. And
they gave me one week to come up with the proof, or legal proceedings would be commenced
to recover the cash.
get me a lawyer. And bloody quick.