January 03 2011
“I think I may well have the best job in the world. When I was a kid, I would have done anything to work in cars. Now I talk about cars all day in the office, travel all over the world to see amazing car collections, spend weekends attending car events or driving rallies, and along the way meet the most extraordinary people. Six months ago, I achieved one of my life ambitions, selling a 1963 Ferrari GTO for over $20m. Now I am waiting for a 1930s Bugatti Royale – the longest, most luxurious, powerful and ostentatious car of its day. There are only six in existence, but one day I am sure my chance will come.
I meet people for lunch or dinner once a day on average, including Saturday and Sunday. Dinner is for building up relationships, getting to know each other. But if I have been talking to someone for months and now is the time to get the car signed up, I prefer lunch – everyone is more alert and business-orientated. Having said that, I have one client who only ever agrees something if we are sitting in China Tang at about two in the morning. Our haggling takes place between one dim sum and the next.
The point about this business is that it is fun. Cars are a hobby and a pleasure – so the way we do business reflects that. There is no typical client, either. One minute I may be with a wealthy Italian industrialist who flies over in his private jet, talking over dinner in Harry’s Bar; the next it may be Chris Evans, who spent over $13m on a Ferrari 250 GT, but who I have never seen wearing anything but shorts or tracksuit bottoms.
You have to match the client to the venue. A place I love myself is Aurora (pictured), a tiny French brasserie close to our office where there are about eight tables all squashed together, but the food is really good. It wouldn’t suit all my clients, however. At the other end of the spectrum is the Lansdowne Club – the Italians and French in particular are very impressed by private members’ clubs in London. It is calm and discreet, which is important when discussing multimillion-dollar deals. Somewhere between these two is Cipriani, which I like because it is buzzy and does great food. It is surprisingly difficult to find really good Italian food in London.
I travel for about two weeks in every month, mainly to North America and Europe. My favourite restaurant in the US is Sushi Roku in the W Scottsdale hotel in Arizona. And I spend a lot of time in Turin, because so many famous Italian car companies are based there. The best of the best is Tre Re – absolutely top-notch setting, food and service.
However, my favourite restaurant in the world is Le Relais de l’Entrecôte in Geneva, which only does steak. Ironically, it was also the scene of my biggest corporate dining disaster: I took a new client there who turned out to be vegetarian. When I realised my mistake, I tried to persuade him we should go somewhere else, but he politely refused and ended up eating just salad and chips. It was the only time I could not enjoy one mouthful of my own food.
My most memorable deal over dinner was at Le Petit Nice in Marseille, looking out over the sea. Usually, it is just me and the invariably male client, but this time the client’s wife came too. She quickly became bored of our negotiating about his Ferrari 250 LM, so we stopped talking business and just had a great time together. At the end of the evening, she turned to her husband and said, “Come on, just sell it” – and he agreed on the spot. Without her being there, that deal would have taken a lot longer to strike.
As for me, I own a 1960s Alfa Romeo and a small collection of rally cars, but my main transport is my bike. With all this eating out, the only way I can keep my figure in check is by cycling to work and back each day.”