The captain of one of South Africa’s most prominent fleet management companies, Murray Price has seen Eqstra Fleet Management grow over the years while surfing the sweeping tides of the country’s economic fortunes to rise up as one of the leading fleet management businesses in the country. But what of the man steering this business forward? What is going on behind those cool blue eyes and corporate exterior. Endeavour was very fortunate to get hold of Murray and ask him some pertinent questions, to see what we could find out.
Murray’s upbringing reads as fairly regular. Born in Harare, Zimbabwe, he went to school and matriculated in South Africa, after which he demonstrated a strong pragmatism when it came to his future prospects.
“I entered into tertiary education but never completed my bachelors,” he reveals, “Instead I got a job and found myself in the film industry.”
A far cry from what he ended up doing, here, working behind the scenes as the Location Manager and dealing with production side of things, it wasn’t until eight years later in 1996 that he joined the Imperial Group. He has been with the same company ever since, although the business is no longer owned by the Imperial Group. Murray does hasten to add that his studies did not end with that uncompleted Bachelors of Commerce, as he recently completed his MBA with Hensley Business School from the UK.
CLIMBING THE LADDER
One could definitely label Murray as a man who is able to manage responsibility very well and you can see this in his demeanour. He has a calm confidence about him and a direct but friendly approach that everyone working with him warms to.
In 1996 he joined Imperial as a sales consultant for the accident management business and two years later he was promoted to manager of accident management and of IT. A further year later he was promoted to Director of RTG (Rentals to Government) and charged with running the first Government outsource contract for the company. He eventually moved from RTG to Business Development Director for Imperial Fleet.
“I then left the business, but not the Imperial Group, as I was Managing Director for Imperial Auto body for just over two years before being approached to return to fleet to take over this business as Director of Imperial Fleet Services.”
This was the name of the original fleet business and it only took two years for him to be promoted to Managing Director, a role he has held now for six years.
Asked if this was what he wanted to be when he was young and he responded candidly, “Never really knew that and I am still trying to figure it out.”
Pertaining to his current role as Managing Director of Eqstra Fleet Management (which unbundled from Imperial in 2008), Murray explains that fleet is very complex and that it took a lot of time for him to understand the business. Added to this were some issues regarding how he had moved up the ladder very quickly. As he explains, “That did come with a lot of politics that had to be handled well if we were to keep a good team, which was important because the challenges of that first Government contract were extreme.”
Hurdles, obstacles and challenges are guaranteed in businesses and Murray reveals that one of the major challenges has been to get EFM to the level it is today, not only through the building of the business but also encouraging naysayers to think outside of the conventional boxes.
“Challenges are good because the more challenges you hit while growing a business means that less competition will be left afterwards. What you need is tenacity,” he says, “In any one of these jobs, you’ve got to have the passion that goes beyond the business. You have to be prepared to take the ups with the downs and hang in there even when you feel you can’t hang in there anymore. I suppose, more than anything, perseverance with climbing the ladder, business cycles and changes in legislation.”
Speaking with Murray, you get the impression of his famous level-headedness. When they started, he says, they were a very small team and when a small team experiences the kind of exponential growth that they experienced it is easy to start getting inflated egos.
“Sure there are periods of doubts and even times where we got things wrong,” he admits, “This is South Africa and the market and the economy is always changing and keeping us on our toes.
There have been some tough times, but I think that we have always felt that what we do is very valuable for customers and that if you deliver value, you will always have a model that works.”
FOSTERING THE FAMILY ETHOS
What about leadership, teamwork and the people behind the company? What does Murray believe in, when it comes to people management?
“I think it’s really about the support of the people within our business,” he tells us, “For me it has always been about not taking it too seriously and that’s always easier said than done but it’s still something I strive for.”
He also reveals that he has his own personal mantra and whereas some businessmen may look at words of poetry or something whimsical, his is very simply, “We are all going to die,”
“How bad could anything be in that context?” he asks, “There are people in much worse positions and remembering that, at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s about the people entrusting me to be in the role that I am in. On a day-to-day basis you can’t, as a leader, say to them that you have lost interest now, so go and sort yourselves out. The decisions I make impact lots of lives in our business and I am as loyal to my team as I hope they are to me.”
OUTSIDE OF THE OFFICE
Can Murray Price separate work and private life?
“I think so yes,” he says, “But not always very successfully.”
The issue for him is that while he doesn’t carry his work with him, he is very passionate about it and so he does a lot outside of working hours, but it’s not all work for him; it’s fun.
“I think you will always have a lot of energy if your vision is compelling,” he says, “If you can see an end state for the business where it’s far better off than it is today you’ve always got energy to get there. If it is just to be same as you were yesterday it would lose its energy.”
He does admit, however, that he is divorced, “So I clearly wasn’t as good at splitting work from my private life as I thought, but I do think that I have a good balance now.”
“One thing that I do want to mention is that when I go away on leave, my team is so good that I do not receive or take one call. People are amazed, but everyone is empowered to do what they need to do and I might come back and find that they have done some things that they shouldn’t have but rather that than them relying on you for every decision that needs to be made. You can’t micromanage people, it doesn’t work.”
He goes on to emphasise the importance of having support from family and friends in order to be a successful person, let alone a successful businessman, “To be content in life, life needs to be a balance. You have to work on being as successful at home as you are at work and not to end up sacrificing one for the other. “
Leisure activities are a good way to ensure a balance and Murray is a South African through and through with a deep love of rugby and cricket. He also likes to ride big off-road motorcycles and goes off on adventure bike rides with friends at least a couple times a year for a week or so.
“And the rest of the time is more socialising,” he says, “Spending time with my family and friends.”
Recently there seems to be a trending topic on how CEOs, Managing Directors and great leaders of people brand themselves with such topical things as wearing the same clothing or speaking in a certain manner. Much of it seems to revolve around superficial things such as whether to wear a tie during a meeting but Murray doesn’t buy into this. He believes however that personal branding is important, fundamental even in certain areas.
“Consistency on appearance is important,” he agrees, “But the personal branding I conform to is being trustworthy and being fair. I ask myself if I am consistent and a man who acts appropriately to his beliefs. I think people will respect you more for that than how you dress. You could look really good and behave in ways that don’t really tie up with the values of the company, so for me it’s more about leading by example. Walking the walk instead of talking the talk.”
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BUILD?
As a main driving force behind the company, I wanted to know if Eqstra Fleet Management was where Murray wanted it to be, or did he see it growing and developing further, perhaps even into something else? He explains that there was only one real vision for him: global presence.
“I have always been tired of us importing and feeling that as South Africans we are not necessarily good enough to go and compete with the best,” he says, “We firmly believe at EFM that we are not only the best, but that we have built a system that allows us to continue to be the best.”
In this regard, he states that their vision for the business now is very much a global approach, creating local employment, “We would really like to be the core centre for fleet support services in the UK and across Europe, obviously where language barriers don’t exist. That’s the long-term vision. To create a lot of jobs locally but earn a lot of money from offshore so that we have a hard currency hedge against the rand.”
This forward thinking has created a fantastic reputation for Murray, who candidly explains that this is not just a job for him, it is a passion to see people grow in the business and to offer more opportunities today than yesterday.
“It is about getting this business and all the people who would benefit from it improving; all the stakeholders, the staff the, shareholders, everyone feels that this is a great business to be involved with. That is what I want to create,” he concludes.