Fast Track: CV John Leigh, senior vice-president of Republic Industries Automotive group

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The Independent Culture
JOHN LEIGH, 53, is senior vice-president of Republic Industries Automotive Group in Europe, whose car rental divisions include National Car Rental and Alamo. Mr Leigh was sacked from his first job at a car rental firm because of a bust up with his boss. But no one can doubt that he's had the last laugh, because he now runs the UK's largest daily rental firm.

My first experience with work was spooky. I was 15 years old and was sent to an interview at a big department store. When I arrived, I discovered my job would have been to make coffins for the undertaker's department. So I scuttled away very quickly.

Then, I took the next job that came along, at a manufacturer of floor polishing products called Ronuk. I started as a messenger boy, and the way I was moved around the departments gave me a basic grounding in business practices.

Unbelievably, I became a manager at 19. I was given a company car, and thought I was a real lad, racing around. But two years later the firm closed and, although I'd never been particularly obsessed with cars, it hurt because I could not afford to replace mine. So when I saw an ad to join a car hire firm called Godfrey Davis which boasted a company car, I went for that.

I started there as an agency representative and it wasn't long before I met the chairman, Cecil Redfern, who sent me off to work in Scotland.

Mr Redfern is still a bit of a mentor to me today. I think it is important to have people like that, because they can benefit you even in subtle ways when you come into contact with them and see their characteristics.

Although I became a regional manager, my career at Godfrey Davis came to a juddering halt when they appointed a guy as my boss who was a complete twit. I did not keep my cool - and, because of the hierarchy, he won.

At that point, I decided to keep with something I knew and got a job at Swan Rentacar, where I was quickly promoted to operations manager. A couple of years later, I became a director. In 1989 I became managing director. At that point, we changed our brand to Dollar, so we could create a European presence with Eurodollar.

In 1993, the owners, TSB, decided that they wanted to move out of that industry, and I led a management buy-out. Then in October last year, the American consortium Republic Industries bought Eurodollar for pounds 95m as part of their global aspirations. We were an ideal fit for them in an agreed take-over.

People tell me I've been at the company for an awfully long time - 26 years - but I think that's just because people move on a lot more frequently now. If a business is evolving and continues to give you challenges and opportunities, why move?

My advice to graduates is to make it clear to heads of department that you want to get on.

You need to have regular dialogue with your employers about your career path. Don't just slide in to a job and keep your head down. You've got to make a noise.