Has the role of management changed in rental?

By Lewis Tyler10 October 2022

Andy Wright says reading a management book 30 years ago provided him with some core messages about how to run a business. He says these techniques are just a relevant today and continue to inform his leadership style.

It seems like a long time ago now; and that’s because it is, but way back in the early nineties I was introduced to a book called In Search of Excellence. It was co-authored by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman Jr and reading it was my first foray into the world of management development and books on management theory.

Photo: Sunbelt Rentals

I have to admit that I was hooked from that day forwards and still today I try to keep up to date with the current thinking around how best to run, operate and get the best out of any business that I am fortunate enough to lead.

Operating a successful rental business

In Search of Excellence was first published in 1982 and reading it in the early nineties had a very profound effect on me.

I was a very green, first-time depot manager at the time that I read it and the core messages really resonated with my own thoughts.

It confirmed my ‘first time leader’ theory that the basis of developing and operating a successful business is very simple, it’s not rocket science.

Guess what? Putting our employees and our customers at the centre of everything we do is paramount to building a successful business.

No surprise there, but you would be surprised, I am sure, with how many businesses fail to grasp this simple concept. Peters and Waterman stated, amongst a lot of other things, that paying attention to employees was the largest single driver of workplace productivity.

Improved working conditions also helps but is not the main driver of productivity, it’s the very fact that employees are being paid attention to at all that creates the positive environment that aids productivity but also aids customer service, customer retention and growth.

The natural extension of this for me, was to become a leader that valued the contribution that everyone in the business can make, to try to harness the entire brainpower of the company. In Sunbelt UK that’s 3800 people.

Imagine that? Imagine putting the combined intellect, knowledge and experience of all of those people to work on positively improving the business that you work in. Imagine how your customers will feel when they get the benefit of all of that.

Setting a business vision

If you can unleash the whole power of the whole organisation, it becomes an incredible force for good and very soon you realise that your role as leader is to harness this power in the general direction of the business’s goals and strategy.

Your role is not to ‘control’ what people do on a minute by minute or day by day basis – how can I, as one man, control a business of the size and scale of Sunbelt in the UK? I can’t, or if I would try to do that, I would become the bottleneck in the whole process of running the business.

No, my role as the leader of the business is to create the perfect environment for people to be able to do their jobs excellently, to make and take great decisions in pursuit of the strategy and to feel empowered to contribute creatively and without fear in helping to improve the business.

Andy Wright, the CEO of Sunbelt Rentals Andy Wright, the CEO of Sunbelt Rentals. (Photo: Sunbelt Rentals)

My control, if I have to use that word, comes from setting the vision for the business, engendering the right culture within the business, ensuring that our core values are agreed, communicated and applied consistently, and putting the right team of people together who can deliver on the plan.

Getting the best from staff

Now, nearly thirty years later, I still use this approach to leading Sunbelt Rentals in the UK.

At our conference to launch the new plan and the re-brand from A-Plant to Sunbelt in March 2020, I asked the 800 people in the audience to commit to remembering these three things from the day:

One, that we were going to look after our people and help them to be the best that they can be.

Two, that we were going to look after our customers and deliver a world class rental experience to them.

And three, we were going to do it as one team.

These points are derived from some of the things that I learnt as a young depot manager all that time ago, recognising that the way to get the best from people is still the same today.

In principle they haven’t really changed with time. Yes, the world is a very different place, but human beings are basically still the same and we all want to feel valued, important and successful in whatever we do. That’s still the same.

In Search Of Excellence was my eureka moment and has lead to a lifelong thirst for learning. It taught me that we all have a responsibility for our own personal development if we want to be the best that we can be.

About the author

ANndy Wright is CEO of Sunbelt Rentals UK and an experienced senior executive in the rental equipment sector. His career began in 1989, leading to roles including Managing Director Northern Europe at Aggreko, International Chief Executive of Lavendon Group and Managing Director UK & Ireland at Speedy Services.

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