Richard Laughton has run Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s car rental business easyCar since 2013. His career began at McKinsey, which he left in 1999 to start wine exchange Uvine. Later, he ran data visualisation start-up Fractal Edge and worked in private equity.
What was your best job?
My best job is my current one. It’s great to work in an environment where you’re effectively a start-up (easyCar launched a peer-to-peer business nationally in 2014) but with a profitable business line already.
If you hadn’t gone into business, what would you have done?
I’ve always had an interest in politics, an itch that’s not particularly been scratched. That might have been an interesting career path. It’s increasingly clear that people want to see politicians who have done something other than politics.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
Never get credit card debt and buy a house as soon as you can.
Which business leader do you admire the most?
At the risk of giving the answer half the people you talk to give, Richard Branson. He’s inspirational. I admire the guys from Google too. They’ve done an amazing job building from scratch one of the world’s biggest monopolies. They’re still getting away with it, for now.
What’s it like working in the easyGroup? Does Stelios loom large?
He’s not particularly hands on in the easyCar business. I see him maybe six times a year. The group’s focused on its activities as a brand licensor and the companies are all quite distinct, with separate cultures. Ours is entrepreneurial, as we’re focused mainly on the new peer-to-peer business.
Do you see yourself as a disruptor then, like Uber?
Yes, but less so than Uber. So far we’ve been serving a specific niche, essentially weekend rentals for people in cities. Whereas previously they’d have to travel for an hour to pick up their rental from an airport, now they can get a car from someone who lives next door.
Like Uber, peer-to-peer rentals will reduce the overall number of cars sold to individuals, but it will also lead to greater use of those cars. At the moment we’re too small to be noticeable as a disruptor, but that will change.
I expect the likely response from the big car rental companies will be to copy or acquire. We’ve seen it before, when Avis bought Zipcar and Enterprise bought Car Club.
How big will the sharing economy get?
Renting will be built into most things as they come off the shelf in the not too distant future. The increasing information coming from inanimate objects will grow what we’re currently referring to as the sharing economy. It makes it easier to make rental decisions.
To an extent, it’s also a generational thing. More than 80% of our user activity is among under 40s. Partly that’s because they’re less likely to own a car, but it’s true on the owner side as well.
What do you make of driverless cars?
There have been various utopian studies looking at the future of cities where we have driverless cars. Some estimates are that 95% of cars on road could disappear. Anyone who wants a ride could just hail a driverless car whenever they needed it. There’d be no problems with parking, no cars sitting around idle the whole time.
It sounds great... if we get there. There’s probably quite a lot of improvement needed in AI before driverless cars are in towns on a widespread basis.
What career advice would you give to an 18 year-old just leaving school?
I went down the path of doing corporate jobs before going into an entrepreneurial environment. If you’ve got a burning desire to change something and a strong sense of what needs to be done to change it, go ahead and give [starting a business] a go.
But it can be very helpful to have done some time learning in a corporate environment, even though it will always feel at the start of a career that you’re not being stretched as much as you could.
If we gave you a magic wand and three wishes, what would you use them for?
I’d give the magic wand to my daughter because she loves magic wands. As for the wishes, is world peace too glib? I’d also go for fixing climate change and free access to excellent education for all.
It’s a terrible thing we’re doing, saddling a young generation with vast debts that need to be paid off before you can even think about saving up for a house.
Coffee or tea?
Bentley or Ferrari?
Marketing or finance?