Kicking the tyres on lateral hires

One of my very good friends is something of an expert on classic cars (and a damned good lawyer to boot), and over a glass of Malbec the other day – we got onto the subject of lateral partner recruitment and how the partner market was quite similar to the classic car market.

Mark Brandon
Mark Brandon

“Eh?” I thought, but almost immediately warmed to the idea. This is the kind of stuff I love, having been christened by the very editor of this august publication ‘The King of Analogy’ when we used to work together in the 1990s.

My friend explained that the classic car market works a bit like this: There are always a few real gems floating about, but they are very few and far between. Then there will be some ok buys at the lower end of the market – your good-condition MGB GT – which represent a good start and not too expensive if you end up with a bit of a dud.

Then, in the middle, there will be a whole raft of quirky, oversold and superficially-interesting oddities – Maserati Quattroporte 2, Triumph Stag, Jaguar XK-E V12 series III –  a real draw only to inexperienced collectors unaware of how crap and/or overpriced they are.

“It strikes me there are parallels with the lateral partner market,” he said. “Every time I see a report that a firm has taken on some idiot, I think ‘who would be so daft?’. It’s the same feeling I get when I notice someone has bought a bad classic car.”

From the number of failures among lateral hires – average market attrition rate 24% across five years according to my own research, and a wallet-stripping 44% at the five year mark – there must be a fair few duds.

So how do you spot them? Well, at the risk of losing my ‘crown’, here goes a few rules:


Make sure you going to drive it – do you need it?

Is there a genuine gap in the collection or is this just a vanity-purchase?

There’s no point just following the herd, and buying an E-type because everyone else is. They are overpriced and steer like a cow on roller-skates.


Don’t just kick the tyres

Kicking the tyres is the kind of thing you do as a buyer to convince the salesman you know what you’re doing but are too embarrassed to ask questions.

Look under the hood

Failing to open the bonnet and take a look inside is a rookie error. Analogous to failing to fully investigate a partner’s business plan and just falling for the salient figures, really. Mind you, no point rooting around among the carburettors and spark plugs if you don’t know what you’re looking for, either, so make sure you are well informed or hire someone to help you. I’mpretty reasonable, for instance…


Just cos something’s old, doesn’t mean it’s quality

Remember the Lotus Elite? You certainly would if a bit of your engine had gone through the fibreglass monocoque bodywork…Twenty years on the road is no guarantee of a good runner if it’s spent half the time in the garage and the other half undergoing repairs.


Ten careful owners?

Definitely take a good look at the log-book and think about how many owners the old banger has had. If they’ve only kept it for a year or two, what’s wrong with it?


Make sure you can afford it

You might want it, but can you afford it, not just the purchase price but the running costs, especially if it’s in a bit of a state and takes you a little while – and some cash – to bring it up to spec. There’s no point breaking the bank and stretching yourself to get the dream car if it’s going to leave you boracic(which, by the way, for those of you under, er, well, my age, is cockney rhyming slang for “skint”, from ‘boracic lint’, and usually pronounced ‘brassic’; so there you go, learn something every day etc).

So, next time you’re running your eye over a tasty-looking slab of British Racing Green bodywork and thinking “that’d look great in our corporate department”, just have another little think before you buy, and make sure you’re not being sold something which turns out to be a bit bobbins (‘bobbins and cotton’ = rotten).

Mark Brandon, managing director of Motive Legal Consulting