Ohn January 1 this year, Bert Paul Sansom took the top job at Volkswagen Group Australia – leading not one but four brands for the first time in his career.
But he didn’t start his working life in banking – or even in the automotive sector.
“Life after college didn’t start in automotive,” Sansom explains. The wheels. “It was in banking, and from there I contributed to a project that led me into vehicle financing and so on. At the turn of the century I was scouted to work at Jaguar, which I did for a few years. For years, although it was not a large company at the time.
“And then I started convincing everyone that I needed to go into automotive, which all my family and friends thought was a crazy idea – after holding a very responsible position in a bank. All that was going well and was nice and safe.
“My dad also worked in a bank all his life, so they all thought I was crazy. And then, when things weren’t really working out at Jaguar, I thought I’d better find an employer I liked. And I believe. Volkswagen Group. I’ve been here ever since.”
I started explaining to everyone that I needed to go into automotive, which all my family and friends thought was a crazy idea.
After finding his place at the VW Group, Sansom rose through the ranks – starting as director of customer service at Audi UK from 2009-2011 and then becoming UK sales director of the premium brand for two years. before
Showing promise for international leadership, Sansom was selected to take the helm of Audi Australia as its managing director from 2014-2017 – where he spent five years until the end of 2021.
By the time Sansom took over as Group MD, Volkswagen and Skoda had split from Audi in Australia, with no such unique set-up in its home market of the UK where VW, Skoda, Seat and Audi were all one. Work under one roof, overseen by group management.
“[The divide of VW and Audi in Australia] It was very unusual for me. I was very familiar with our global business model, which we have in the UK and we had in South Africa where I was before. We didn’t have him here, so we just put him in place and we’re a lot stronger together as an organization.
“We’ve been busy dealing with post-merger issues in those first nine months, but I think it’s clearly moved to all the new ways of working and the way the world is getting back to work and the hybrid model. Is. [after COVID-19]. We have a new office and new ways of working. So, yes, it has been a lot to manage.
“We’ve come a long way while obviously there are still some major disruptions in the supply chain that are affecting us probably more significantly than some other brands in Australia. However, We’re selling everything we can get our hands on. But, and our order banks are really strong across all our brands – including Cupra which has just started.
“We have used this time to really establish the foundations of our business. There is now a new vision and strategy for Volkswagen Group Australia, as we position ourselves as a dominant force here as a European manufacturer. And importantly, we want to be a leader in electric vehicles as well.
Sansom’s views on Australia’s lagging EV policies are well-documented, he’s been outspoken on the subject for the past few years, but there’s always been one problem he’s had whenever he does. Makes the head look ugly – dieselgate.
We want to be the leader in electric vehicles.
“I don’t mind being asked that question anymore,” Sansom admitted to us. “I mean, there was a time if I’m really honest where it was hard to answer because we were in the middle of it, nobody enjoyed that period. But looking back now, there’s no doubt about it. is that it has really shaped the strategic direction of our global organization, in a way that no one else has yet followed – certainly at our scale, we are really leading it.
“As Churchill said; ‘never waste a good crisis’ and, you know, the Volkswagen Group is a good example of that, because we’ve taken this moment in our history, and a few people Recognized actions that had to be corrected by everyone remaining in the organization.
“There were very few people responsible for this, you know, and there are 660,000 people who are now putting, um, right, uh, that, wrong. Um, and that’s what I’m really about, You know, I’m really excited. So, uh, so when people ask me that question, I can admit that it’s not a big moment in our history, but it’s definitely one. has been the catalyst to accelerate the change that was already starting to happen to be honest, and we want to echo that here in Australia.
In a personal capacity, too, Sansom is trying to do good for the community – taking part in a cardboard box sleepover for homeless charity Vinnies in Sydney in June.
“Recently I found myself explaining to my seven-year-old son why he saw some people sleeping on the streets,” he says. “He considered it and asked me to take him home so that he could collect his pocket money and give it to the man he had seen. Not satisfied, my son then went into a nearby shop and asked the gentleman. Bought a chocolate bar.” Not only was witnessing my son’s kindness a moving experience, but it made me stop and think more deeply about the issue of homelessness.
“[The Sleep Out] It was actually a pretty incredible experience. I try and use the platform I am privileged to try to do something good.
“Coincidentally the email landed in my inbox right after Vinnies’ CEO Sleep Out. I saw it a year ago and thought I should join it next year. And so the stars aligned and I did it and personally raised just over $8000 – but that was a drop in the ocean compared to the nearly $9 million that CEO Sleep Out made this year, which was incredible.
“What really struck me about it was just the type of people that I might have thought of as a homeless person before. The majority are just people, like you and me, who have really had a hard time. Maybe they’ve had an injury at work which means they can’t work anymore, they can’t keep up with their payments, etc. And they’ve suddenly gone from a relatively safe environment to a downward spiral. It was dramatic.
It is a very embarrassing experience. I’m glad I did it.
“I slept on the harbor in Sydney and it was freezing cold, and it was wet. It was just horrible and I was lucky enough to drive home and have a hot shower and a cup of tea the next day. But You think about the guys that are on the streets every night and they probably have to get up and go to work or whatever they’re doing the next day.
“It’s a very humbling experience. I’m glad I did it. And I’ve been able to raise some awareness of this problem in Australia – because it’s so bad and unfortunately it’s getting worse.
“There’s definitely a lesson in that for my son, and I hope he grows up to remember how lucky he is.”