Buckle up as Jessica Chipman catches up with Robert Forrester, CEO of Vertu Motors, about all things cars, careers and Burnley FC
If you haven’t heard of Vertu Motors, then you more than likely will have seen its logo on a rear car window. If you’re still unsure, then Vertu Motors plc. is an automotive retail giant that provides an exceptional motoring experience to its customers since 2006.
One of the brains behind the organisation is Robert Forrester, who leads an outstanding team of over 7,000 colleagues to achieve this vision. The Vertu Motors group is now the third largest car retailer in the UK, operating under various brand names, including Bristol Street Motors, Vertu Motors, and Macklin Motors, boasting a network of 190 outlets spanning from Scotland to Exeter.
This diverse portfolio covers cars, vans, bikes, and a strong specialisation in the fleet and commercial vehicle sector. Robert has shared his expertise through interviews on prominent media outlets like Sky News, This Morning, and BBC Breakfast.
Originally from Shropshire, Robert has lived in Gosforth for over 20 years. He is a passionate supporter of Burnley Football Club, and tries to get to Turf Moor as often as he can.
Robert found his love for business after leaving university, where he spent a lot of his time in the company of talented people, who later inspired him to have his own team of passionate car enthusiasts.
He loves being in business, specifically in the car industry as he always feels that he’s doing something worthwhile, whilst enjoying it and making a difference to people’s lives.
Undercover Big Boss
In 2021, Robert featured on ITV’s Undercover Big Boss, where he disguised himself with a beard, a wig, and pretended to be a history lecturer whilst working alongside employees at his own company to gain insight into its operations and seek-out areas for improvement.
When I ask what nudged him to do something like that, Robert doesn’t hesitate:
“Bristol Street Motors is the most well known brand for car retailing in England. And we want to keep it that way. So we’re constantly working on building our brand through TV advertisments, and other promotional routes, like our British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) race team.
“This is why I did Undercover Big Boss. We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to have a slot on prime time TV, and that it’d be a great chance to build the brand.
“I had no hesitation about doing the show, I thought it would be a good idea. They’re not trying to expose businesses, they’re just trying to make entertaining TV. I’m glad I did it, it got me out of my comfort zone to quite a large degree, which I think is always a good thing.”
Robert And Vertu Motors
After doing some background research on Robert, I learned that in a previous interview he admitted that he’s ‘perhaps known for not being very human’.
“Looking back, this probably isn’t entirely true. I think people would say I was exceedingly work focused, as well as having a strong family orientation.” Robert tells me.
“I am very data driven and very matter of fact. I am really quite unemotional about things, and I think this is where that claim came from. If you stick to the facts, you’re probably in a better position to get less emotional about things.
“The counterpoint to it is that we’re a people business. We employ over 7,000 people, and your ability to get on with and inspire people is actually really important. I think there are very few people that would swap and do my job if I’m honest, because my position comes with a lot of responsibility.
“Luckily, I quite enjoy it, because I enjoy working. I think if you get too emotional, you worry about things too much. I try to avoid that happening because I don’t think it does any good.”
Despite his high-pressure role, Robert expresses that he has no trouble dissociating when he’s not at work. He likes to keep track of his health on his Oura Ring, and jokes that he was in a meeting not so long back, where his ring thought that he’d meditated for 45 minutes.
He’s the level of zen I think we all aspire to be, right?
Besides his meditative meetings, I’m curious to find out what downtime means to Robert…
“I’ve still got one of my three children at home and I enjoy taking him to football matches as well as watching him play football.
“Besides that we’ve got a house up in Beadnell overlooking the sea that I love going to, and probably don’t do it enough. I think we’re going to spend Christmas there, which I’m really looking forward to. Finding the time to get away for a couple of nights can be so challenging sometimes, for example last week I left home on Monday and got home on Saturday night… that tells you something!”
For a man who’s always on the move, family time is of high importance to Robert. He also admitted to much preferring a hearty home cooked meal over dining out, as he loves his home comforts.
However, Robert isn’t opposed to staying in hotels; his parents owned one when he was growing up, and so he is used to being in them, though he admits that home is where the heart is.
Jokingly, I asked Robert if his family get equally excited about him returning home, to which he responded:
“Oh I doubt it. I think they probably enjoy the peace and quiet when I’m away.” He laughs.
“My ideal weekend would go something like this: first off I’d go to the gym, then I’d like to go for a coffee, ideally with my wife, followed by cooking some lunch for the whole family. Then, I’d like to watch a football match.”
Preferably Burnley? I interject,
“Definitely Burnley, I wouldn’t watch anything else.”
Vertu Motors – Third Largest Car Retailer
When it comes to achievements, Robert certainly isn’t short of a few. Back in 2006, he and a couple of others set out to create a new company in the retail car business.
Fast forward almost 17 years, and Vertu Motors has now become the third largest car retailer in the country, and will sell over 200,000 vehicles this year. Employing 500 people in Gateshead, they have earned themselves the reputation as a major employer in the North East.
Bristol Street Motors sponsor Newcastle Theatre Royal and the Vertu Motors retail brand has a strong partnership with Newcastle Eagles, the most successful club in British basketball.
The Eagles’ home is the Vertu Motors Arena, which has a 3,500 capacity. Robert is proud to be part of such a prominent name within the local community, and the group is passionate about providing opportunity and access to sport for those who need it most.
I couldn’t help but ask Robert what interested him the most about the motor industry. I assumed his love of cars came from growing up watching F1, or that perhaps his father also had a love of cars. Suffice to say I was surprised to learn that Robert in fact has no interest in cars!
“I’m not interested in cars. I’m interested in the car business, and having been in it for over 20 years, I think the car business is absolutely fascinating. People are often shocked to learn that actually driving and cars is not a massive interest to me.”
Robert goes on to explain that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Vertu represents over 34 manufacturers, so having a favourite might be bad for business.
“In saying that,” he continues…
“We’ve got the Ferrari franchise now, and I went to their factory in Maranello this summer with my youngest daughter who just turned 19, and actually, it was fantastic, especially seeing the Formula One cars on the racetrack.
“All car factories are pretty impressive places if I’m honest, but the way Ferrari go about their business is quite exceptional. It’s what makes them a luxury brand.”
Our conversation shifted towards a reflection on Robert’s career so far, he admits that if he had the opportunity to turn back the clock, he would focus more heavily on people skills, as opposed to technical skills.
“Don’t worry about things because they will pass.” He tells me.
“I think people have a tendency to worry about minor things, and when that goes away they find something else to worry about. I think we tend to worry about things that never actually happen.
“My advice to anyone would be instead of worrying about the future, just be present in the moment and enjoy it, because that’s broadly all you’ve got. The past has gone and you don’t know what the future’s going to hold, so just make sure you focus on today.”
The Future Of Vertu Motors
I couldn’t have put this better myself, and what a perfect way to draw our conversation to a close. I just have time to slip one more question in, as I begin to wonder what Robert’s plans are for the future.
“We’ve just opened a new Vauxhall dealership in Westerhope, and we’re about to open a major new dealership for Ford on Scotswood Road just before Christmas.
“Then there’s the £365 million Co-op Live project next to the Etihad in Manchester – Co-op Live will be a 23,500 capacity music-first arena. It opens in April next year and is really important in terms of promoting the Bristol Street Motors brand.
“The entire atrium area will be known as ‘The Street’, which will be a fantastic space for fans to gather and feel part of a community, whilst enjoying the food and drink venues before and after a show.”
It’s simply amazing to see how Robert stands as the driving force behind an automotive retail powerhouse that consistently delivers an exceptional experience to its customers.
Although if given the chance to turn back time Robert would choose to work more on his people skills, I found him an excellent conversationalist, a driven business owner and a compassionate person overall.
As for his company, I expect nothing but growing success for Vertu Motors, as they continue to be an inspiring testament to the power of dedication, vision, and the enduring pursuit of excellence in the automotive industry and beyond.