Aston 50th Anniversary: Kevin Morley

50 Aston Greats: Kevin Morley

Kevin Morley

Kevin Morley joined Ford Motor Company in 1977 before being appointed Marketing Director of Rover Group in 1986. In 1988 he was promoted to Sales and Marketing Director, then Commercial Director and in 1990 became Managing Director of Rover Group Cars and a member of the Rover Group Board. 

Instrumental in turning Rover Group around and making it profitable for the first time in over a decade, he left the company in 1992 to set up his own integrated marketing agency. He then grew KMM to become the 6th largest agency in Europe with over £200 million turnover and 300 staff in seven countries before it was purchased by Interpublic in 1995.

He undertook an MSc and MBA at Aston University and was awarded an Honorary Degree in 2016. He is also a Freeman of the City of London, and an Honorary Professor at Aston University. 

How did you first become involved with Aston University?

I did my master degree here, many years ago, in 1978, then I did my MBA in a room above a furniture shop on Corporation Street. That was the Business School! We had a great time. I was accepted by Cranfield and other [Universities], but I came here because then, as now, Aston has the best reputation for getting people jobs. I wanted a career afterwards and that’s why I came to Aston. During that time, Ford Motor Company picked only four business schools to do a milk round to, and they came to Aston and I became a Ford person.

What is your fondest memory of Aston?

The reason I chose Aston over other Universities at the time, was because they taught you, rather than a lot of the other Universities who were just case studies, which can be a bit false. But there was a bit of learning here, I loved it.  University is great fun and it’s a wonderful place to be, you come here enjoy that and still get a good job at the end of it.  Aston has given me a good job, good career, and good prospects.

What do you think is Aston's greatest achievement?

The fact that it continues to grow, to build and create a better environment. As I say, back in the 70s I was taught above a furniture store and now you have the beautiful buildings. 

You were instrumental in turning Rover Group around in the 1990s, making it profitable for the first time in a decade. How did you go about this? 

When I arrived, there was no energy, no enthusiasm, no money. But it was a wonderful challenge.

Simplistically, there were three areas: 

There were the employees. They said were on the dole rather than admit to work for Rover. That’s how bad it was.

There were the owners of the cars. They wouldn’t admit they had a Rover because they were so awful. They were denying they owned them. 

Then there were the dealers. They were completely demoralised. The Rover company were just throwing money at the dealers, saying ‘just give them away’. Because the only thing that mattered was manufacturing. They might be rubbish, they might be unsaleable, but keep on churning them out. There was a dealer in Sussex that had so many cars on a field for so long, that the Council wanted to them to get planning permission to have them there, because they deemed it a permanent structure. This is how awful it was. 

So the job was to turn the employees so they actually wanted to work there. That wasn’t actually that difficult, because they loved the company, they just thought it was awful to work for. 

I gave the customers decent adverts so they were proud of the cars they owned.  I wanted people to throw the Rover keys on the bar in a pub and say that’s my car. 

The middle one was the dealers and I said we needed one name, one standard everywhere. At the time it was ML, or Austin, or Rover. I wanted everything to be Rover, call it Roverisation. I said Rover is a fantastic name and so I want you to be fantastic dealers. I’m stopping giving you all this cash, you need to sell the car on its merits. I’ll put the money into advertising, that will make the cars look good and the company look good. 

Over the period of five years, it turned around and we made the first profit of £160 million and that was the first profit in 25 years. We then sold it, maintaining half the jobs. If you take it as a three stage process. All the stages were handled in a different way, but it worked. 

You then left Rover to start your own marketing agency. What advice do you have for someone starting their own business today? 

If you want to be an entrepreneur, be prepared for a number of things to happen. You will be initially poor, you will fail, you will not be able to afford mortgages and houses and things, nor sports cars, you will have none of that and you will be working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You will be knackered. If you work out your average pay, it’s probably about .20p an hour, for the first five years, and if you are prepared to do that, 10% of those who try will be a huge success. However, that 10% can easily be 20% or 25%. It depends on how hard you are prepared to work.

I was asked by the students at Aston ‘you have been in very big business and you have gone out on your own which do you prefer?’ 

I prefer the big business, because it is much more secure.  But it’s much easier to run your own company than to be at the top [of a big business] because you have got to spend a lot of time to get to the top of a big one. 

As Bill Gates said, ‘the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get’. It’s just hard work, but even in big business you have to work hard. As an entrepreneur you are working all the time. Then suddenly families turn up and it just becomes very difficult, and trying to juggle those two worlds. I didn’t see my kids, basically, because I was always working or abroad or something. It’s hard work, but if you are prepared to put up with it the rewards are enormous. You are your own boss, you can make a lot of money, you have a great life style and you can retire early.