20 QUESTIONS: Nikki King, Isuzu Truck

Isuzu Truck boss Nikki King - a rare woman in the male-dominated truck industry - on dealing with stress and ridding Whitehall of career politicians.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 11 Nov 2013

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1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE, WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I would have liked to have been a teacher. I really like young people and they seem to like me.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

There is no other name for the business. That is what we are.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY, WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Having suffered a 64-mile journey around the M25 to the office for 20 years I would base it in my home city of Rochester in Kent. ITUK was originally a Lex company so we had to locate where they decreed. By the time of the MBO, we had so many wonderful local staff we had to stay in the same locality.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

The original start-up was funded by our parent company Lex so they took all the pain of the early days.  Unbelievably, just as the business was turning the corner they allowed us to do an MBO so we were very fortunate. I was adamant that I didn't want a venture capital company involved and we were able to agree a funding arrangement with Bank of Scotland who, under Lloyds TSB, remain as our bankers today. We have always involved our bank manager in the business. We have tried to be honest and have given good notice of any problems we might have had. Banks hate nasty shocks.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

My most important decisions so far was to effect the MBO in 2004 and then to sell the company back to Isuzu in March this year.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

My biggest mistake was promising the 10 people who joined us in the first year of our business that, if they worked hard, they would grow as the business grew.  I promoted out of loyalty and affection not because they were promotable. It took me 10 years and a lot of pain to put the right management team in place.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Amazon and Google!

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

I can honestly say I have never lost a night's sleep worrying about the business. A friend once taught me the "what is the worst, worst scenario" technique. If you keep asking yourself this question, you find nothing is really life-threatening. I was poor until my 40s so I know I can survive anything. I also never look back. The past is gone.  If I am temporarily stressed, a walk and cuddle with my Akita dog usually works.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

My first job was as a bi-lingual secretary for a partnership of engineers.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

My worst job was every secretarial job I had until my 40s. I was a really bad secretary and never could type or take shorthand. That is why I value my PA so much. I am sure she could do my job but I know I couldn't do hers!

11.WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

My best job is my current job. I have had a ball! I have visited countries all over the world and have received so many undeserved honours from my industry and the government.

12.  IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE, WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM NAME BE?

I would never be on the Apprentice. Ghastly programme that trivialises business and couldn't be further removed from reality. 

13.  WHICH COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

I would, and have, invested in Ocado. They were just a little before their time. Why would you waste a whole Saturday morning walking round a supermarket and carrying heavy shopping home when it can be delivered to your kitchen? And if you were a grocery store, why would you pay for huge multi-acre sites and employ hundreds of store staff when you can pick, pack and deliver from a regional distribution centre? I really would not want Tesco's land portfolio on my books.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

God made me fat so I could have enough money to retire! Otherwise you would find me on the front row at London Fashion Week. I indulge myself with Art Deco jewellery.  My most expensive purchase is a diamond bracelet. It looks okay on my old wrist but absolutely stunning on my daughter: I'm looking after it for her.

15.  SUITS OR JEANS?

As a 60s hippy, it is jeans all the way but I wear suits when I need to.

16.  FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Flexible working. I strongly believe that the reason we don't have many women in the boardroom is because we don't make it easy enough for young women to combine family commitments and a career. We encourage our female staff to change their hours to suit, work from home wherever possible and bring their children to work where necessary. As a result, we have retained all our brilliant women who are now 50% of our management team.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT YOUR OFFICE?

My fantastic team of people and my dog who potters around making everyone feel de-stressed and happy.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Dropbox. It keeps me in touch with my beautiful identical twin granddaughters when I am away on business.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

My business idol is Terry Leahy of Tesco who completely changed the company and grew it to become a world leader. It is very obvious that the company misses him since his retirement. I also admire my old friend Hilary Devey, who came up with an idea, mortgaged everything to fulfil her dream and became a role model for single mothers.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINISTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

I would get rid of all career politicians and fill the House of Parliament with experts in each field.

Nikki King will be part of the "Succeeding in a man's world" panel at this year's Inspiring Women conference on 27th November. Check out the full programme and book tickets here.

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