‘Loyal’ Unipart Automotive staff in quandary while takeover talks continue

Reports of at least one bidder recruiting Unipart Automotive staff

We know Unipart Automotive is in need of a buyer. We know at least three companies including Euro Car Parts and Better Capital are talking to the owners about a takeover/rescue plan. But a lot remains unknown. And so Unipart Automotive’s roughly 1600 employees are facing a great deal of uncertainty while the talks continue causing some to consider their employment options moving forward.

Indeed while Unipart Automotive’s owners (H2 Equity Partners – 50.1 per cent and Unipart Group – 49.9 per cent) sit round the table with potential rescuers, the company’s workforce are increasingly raising questions about their future. Some have even taken to social networks such as twitter to air their concerns. In such a pressured situation the occasional individual venting their frustration is inevitable, but there is now a widespread expectation for a resolution by the end of the week.

There are also isolated indications that the HR department of Euro Car Parts (remember ECP is one of the bidders, which in many ways can be considered to be a frontrunner) are phoning ex-employees and key branch managers in a bid to cherry-pick the best and most experienced staff. One such manager tweeted that he had been called by ECP recruiters more than three times already. It would be foolish to base any conclusions on this one-off source, but it does raise questions about what the strategy of any future owner would be. Private equity or otherwise the chances are that there would be branch closures and therefore experienced people are likely to enter the jobs market again. The questions are how many? And what are their options?

Recruiter speaks highly of both Unipart Automotive and “loyal” employees

One automotive recruiter has gone some way to answering that question with an insightful blog on this precise subject. Beginning with an overview of the HR context of this part of the market, Cathy Richardson of CR Associates explained how the UK automotive parts aftermarket distribution sector is as complex a market where people are concerned as it is logistically. She also pointed out that it is a fairly small fish bowl. And this means there is a significant of movement between employers in the sector. The downside is that if something goes wrong this can also affect a lot of people.

What’s interesting is that Richardson speaks very highly of both Unipart Automotive as an employer and the company’s “loyal” employees. This could be part of the company’s relationship with the wider Unipart Group, which was recently named as a top company for graduates (however it remains worth pointing out that Unipart Group and Unipart Automotive are two separate companies with two separate financial contexts). Nevertheless while the Automotive business seeks to solidify a deal, Unipart Group published details of how it has been voted the best in its class for graduates to work for in the transport, logistics and distribution sector by graduates providing reviews on TheJobCrowd site.

TheJobCrowd is a graduate recruitment site often described as the ‘TripAdvisor’ for jobs. It hosts thousands of reviews, all written by graduate employees. Graduates stated that Unipart Group has a “culture, respect, openness and can-do approach to everything” and that their employer “takes huge pride in their graduates”. Unipart graduates said that “getting such a large amount of responsibility, and being put outside of my comfort zone at such an early stage has been brilliant for my development”.

Training and support was scored highly with reviewers commenting on “amazing investment” in training and supporting graduates, “brilliant training opportunities” including “emotional intelligence development”, “training relevant to my job” and a strong emphasis on “lean and six sigma” principles, which underpin The ‘Unipart Way’.

Perhaps this ethos can also be found amongst the staff at Unipart Automotive, which recruiter Cathy Richardson went on to describe as “a long-standing, highly respected and somewhat iconic brand in the parts aftermarket.” Adding that they “have always invested well in their people. Many employees have long service records, and there is a very loyal employee base that has given the company stability over the years. It has been a safe, secure and supportive working environment for a lot of people. I believe that this investment is now being repaid with well-earned loyalty.”

Her point in the article that came shortly after the initial news at Unipart Automotive was that despite all the uncertainty, Unipart’s loyal employee base are “holding fast”. And this, she said, was unusual: “One would expect a flood of CVs and job seekers at the first bit of bad news. So far, this has not happened. I have not seen an increase of Unipart employees applying to all the branch based roles I am advertising. I have had a few phone calls from worried people and past contacts who want to assess their chances of getting new jobs.”

Contrary to the negative tweets visible online and contrary to reports that ECP is taking steps to reach out to staff it seems Unipart Automotive employees are “waiting for salvation” in the form of some kind of rescue deal and are sitting tight until then.

Richardson continued: “This is a real testament to Unipart Automotive as an employer. The values they have instilled in their employees are now prompting staff to keep fighting the good fight, in the face of a very limited and debilitated trading environment.”

But the reality is that no-one will stick around forever. Richardson is confident that employees are loyal and will remain whilst salaries are being paid. However with administration looming if a buyer cannot be found this is something of a big “if”. Her fear is that in the event of a massive influx into the job market, companies will be relatively short term in the recruitment policies and that long-term succession planning will be overlooked – something that remains a challenge in the wider aftermarket/garage/fast-fit industry.

In the meantime all eyes are on shareholders H2 Equity Partners and Unipart Group as the industry waits for news on the possible rescue plan.

Are Unipart Automotive rescue bids in? July 17, 2014
[…] now passed suggests things are becoming increasingly urgent. It is also putting pressure on its loyal workforce. However, the official line from shareholders Unipart Group and H2 Equity as well as one of the […]

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