Daksh Gupta: the accidental salesman with a big heart

Daksh Gupta was studying at university and washing cars to make ends meet when he sold a car by accident. He’d found his calling, but the coronavirus crisis has presented new challenges.

Who’d be a business leader right now? One false step in the court of public opinion and you’re liable “to be put in the stocks and pelted”, says The Sunday Times. Still, reputations are being made too. For every corporate “villain”, there’s a hero “going the extra mile to look after their people” and, in Britain’s traditionally sharkish motor trade, Daksh Gupta of Marshall Motor Group is setting the pace.

Arguably one of the sharpest dealer bosses in the business, Gupta, 49, has the salesman’s knack of laying things bluntly on the line. “We are at war,” he told Car Dealer magazine last week, mulling the industry’s “most bizarre week ever”. Gupta reckons the current three-week shutdown could continue for up to 12 weeks – with the industry taking, perhaps, “three years to recover”. But his immediate priority, in the company argot, is to “stay Marshall” (treat everybody well). “We’ll worry about sales on the other side.”

A meteoric rise

The business does have a cushion: before the crisis, Marshall announced £33m of operating profit on revenues of £2.3bn. Most of the group’s 4,300 staff are now on furlough (Gupta is paying 90% of wages – adding 10% to the state contribution). Four hundred or so are still working – the company has turned over its garages to service ambulance, fire and police vehicles.

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Gupta, who grew up in south London, the son of a retired businessman and an NHS interpreter, is sometimes known in the trade as the “accidental” car salesman, notes The Daily Telegraph. The story goes that, when studying computer science at Oxford Brookes University, he took a job washing cars at a local dealership and “accidentally” sold one. “It’s absolutely true,” he beams. “Actually, that day I sold three.” He soon became hooked on the fast-moving pace of business. His family weren’t best pleased, he recalls. They were always “waiting for me to get a ‘proper job’ in IT”.

Gupta shot up the ranks at “meteoric speed”, noted Director magazine in 2010, shortly after he landed “one of the top three jobs in the industry” as boss of Marshall Motor. Previously, he put in stints at Nissan and Camden Group, building a reputation as “a turnaround specialist”. Old hands thought Gupta’s potential was evident from the start: “he understood the mechanics of how you sell cars extremely well,” says one. But it was at distributor and retailer Inchcape that he really earned his spurs, becoming franchise director at just 31.

Doing the right thing

“Since being handed the wheel” at Marshall, he has led the firm, which was spun-out of the family-owned Marshall Group, through a flotation, buying and selling 140 businesses along the way, says The Daily Telegraph. Marshall rode the wave of Britain’s booming car market, largely driven by the rise of personal contract plans (PCPs). By 2018, more than 80% of new car buyers were in PCPs and almost 60% bought used cars. Some feared a bubble, but it’s one that hasn’t burst yet.

Gupta views the current hiatus as a good opportunity to take stock of the business – and the “opportunities that could come out of this crisis”, says Car Dealer. Doing the best for his staff is a no-brainer. “If you do the right thing, right things will happen. You can’t forget those things you’ve built over many years,” he says. “We are going to need these people because I believe there is going to be a massive bounce-back.”

Jane writes profiles for MoneyWeek and is city editor of The Week. A former British Society of Magazine Editors editor of the year, she cut her teeth in journalism editing The Daily Telegraph’s Letters page and writing gossip for the London Evening Standard – while contributing to a kaleidoscopic range of business magazines including Personnel Today, Edge, Microscope, Computing, PC Business World, and Business & Finance.

She has edited corporate publications for accountants BDO, business psychologists YSC Consulting, and the law firm Stephenson Harwood – also enjoying a stint as a researcher for the due diligence department of a global risk advisory firm.

Her sole book to date, Stay or Go? (2016), rehearsed the arguments on both sides of the EU referendum.

She lives in north London, has a degree in modern history from Trinity College, Oxford, and is currently learning to play the drums.