This month we’re pleased to publish an interview with a great friend of Gerrell & Hard, Paul Checkley. Never one to shy away from a challenge, early in 2021 Paul decided to relocate from the Midlands to Croatia for a role as Head of Logistics at Rimac Automobili, before his rapid promotion to Head of Supply Chain.
Founded by Mate Rimac in 2009, Rimac is a Croatian electric hyper sports car, drivetrain and battery systems manufacturer based at Sveta Nedelja. At the time of production its first vehicle, the Concept One, was the world’s fastest production electric vehicle. Now merged with Bugatti, Rimac has delivered its new Nevera – the ultimate electric hypercar and the world’s fastest production vehicle.
Thanks for your time Paul. Talk us through your experience of how the role at Rimac came about.
I had retired after close to thirty years at a motorcycle brand when I was approached by Nick Gerrell for a senior logistics role at Rimac Automobili. I’d already spoken to Nick about a couple of other roles; he took a personal interest in my journey that I found surprising and motivating, and he kept very close to the detail. It was a relationship I really enjoyed.
When Nick asked if he could share my CV with Rimac I was only too pleased to agree. I had to tell my wife I was potentially in contention for a role in Croatia!
Rimac flew me out to spend seven days and nights in Croatia, where I spent a lot of time getting to know Rimac Automobili and the team there. It was inspiring and everyone was incredibly approachable.
The conversations continued when I got back home. I liked the company, but a job there would represent a big change. We have elderly family members so we had to talk it through and think a lot about the implications should I take the role.
Even so, at that stage it all felt quite hypothetical, so when I got the offer letter from Rimac it was an abrupt reality check: this was really happening now. I had to respond to the letter within five days and it sat on the kitchen table for three days while conversations between my wife and I became more frequent, and quite intense! Crucially, I always felt more excitement than concern; I had the insurance of knowing that I could take the opportunity because I wanted it, not because I needed it. I was interested in the role because I wanted to be engaged and excited by a job and the company culture.
So I took the job. I moved alone from a spacious house in the Midlands to an apartment in Croatia, with everything I thought I’d need from 55 years of life carried in two holdalls! It was a challenge and early on there were a couple of occasions when I wondered what I’d done - but in those moments I was sustained by the excitement and dynamism of the company and the support and warmth of my colleagues and leadership team. My colleagues and the people out here are fantastic, incredibly welcoming and friendly.
After only a few months as Head of Logistics at Rimac I became Head of Supply Chain which includes logistics and purchasing, so it’s been a really exciting time. There’s a lot of variety in my role and our merger with Bugatti has meant that I now wear many hats. And the partnership has provoked a certain “wow” factor amongst many of my friends and family, especially any engineers I know!
What do you especially enjoy about Croatia?
The beautiful weather means outdoor living takes on a different meaning here compared to the UK. When I was finding my feet I’d be able to go for a walk and sit outside a café or bar - when allowable, since I started here during the pandemic - and people would be laughing and joking and drinking coffee. The friendly, social culture here is so refreshing; you can easily get involved in conversations with strangers. And summer here would make any English person question why they’d ever want to be back home!
The language isn’t a challenge either. I’m afraid that like many English people I’m lazy when it comes to languages so I’m fortunate that English is widely spoken here. I’m trying though, but I tend to bungle some key phrases. But at least I make my colleagues laugh.
The people are lovely here; strangers are so friendly that it’s initially a bit of a culture shock. My team are fantastic and the engagement has been brilliant – I have a lot of respect for them and receive a lot back. It really is a super-supportive environment. When I moved out here I was picked up by a member of the HR team who told me it was nice to have someone from outside the country joining the business, and that they were looking forward to learning from me. That’s typical of the positive, welcoming and humble attitude of the people I’m surrounded by.
What have been your biggest challenges?
There’s been a substantial mental challenge to travelling during the pandemic and the safety measures I’ve had to take, and like all people I miss my loved ones at home. My wife hasn’t joined me out here yet but should soon, and I can talk to her or chat on WhatsApp any time, though sadly I can’t WhatsApp my dog! I have my moments where I feel the distance from home, but it’s mostly good and I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve viewed over thirty houses with a view to buying out here but it’s not like the UK market, so it’s a slow process.
How would you describe the company culture at Rimac?
Fantastic – it is relaxed but very professional, disciplined and ambitious. The ambition here is clear for all to see, there is a very bold and ambitious roadmap for the business, by the whole team. At the same time, everyone here feels greatly appreciated for their input, the dress code is very relaxed and we’re dog-friendly, which is highly motivating and great for morale! I’m still acclimatising to this joyous mixture of bold ambition and a relaxed, laid-back culture. It’s great.
What have been your key learning points about relocating to Croatia?
I’m working in a culture that is fundamentally different to ours in the UK. Croats are generally much more laid back than we are. More often than not this is really energising and enjoyable for me, but I’ve had to adapt and understand that there are different ways to get things done and I need to manage people differently. I love that people are so positive here; if you’ve got money for beer or coffee, life is good. That attitude has proven really useful already, because we’ve taken a lot on at Rimac. It’s rewarding to see how a fundamentally different perspective on work can make a challenging workload much more enjoyable than it would be in the UK.
My colleagues and friends here are having a positive effect on me. I’ve always been very bad at relaxing, even on holiday, but since moving to Croatia I have become a little more laid back. My daughter commented on it a couple of weeks ago. There was a national holiday here so I took a few days off to visit my daughter. She found it hard to believe that I just wanted to relax and spend time doing so!
What’s your take on your new boss?
He’s inspiring. He’s a visionary and super intelligent, and he puts ideas across very well. He sees our roadmap as a curve, even though it’s pretty challenging and dynamic, and I love that. And he is still only a young guy. I have the experience of working with more established brands and I can see areas where I can support his vision and ambitious ideas and help overcome any barriers we may encounter. I can see how the merger brings 2 different companies together who can both learn from each other.
That’s a reminder that this is a big responsibility you’ve take on. What do you bring to it?
I don’t think there’s much in this sector that I haven’t experienced! I’ve run quality, engineering, purchasing, supply chain, customer service and many more teams, had strongly commercial aspects to my roles and taken on some fantastic special projects that have involved a lot of travel and some pretty hefty project management. There’s loads of intelligence at Rimac and I bring a lot of pragmatic experience to that. In the course of my career I’ve also worked with some influential individuals so I’d like to think I’m comfortable and pretty credible with anyone – they’re all just people, after all. I am not sure if I could have done this role ten years ago – life experience has given me a lot.
You’ve clearly embraced both your role and your new home fully…
Yes, I mentioned earlier that my motivation for this role is that I wanted it. I throw myself completely into any job I do, so being okay with your position in life when you’re working is a bit like climbing with a safety harness on: you soon forget you’re wearing a harness. You need to embed yourself with your employer and commit fully to the job. I was delighted to be promoted so soon, because I saw that as a statement of their trust in me and recognition of my commitment. I told Nick at Gerrell & Hard that I wanted a fresh challenge and my job is delivering on that.
My approach to my career now is: when the fun stops, stop! But I’m loving my new role and I hope it lasts a long time. I can imagine retiring and living in Croatia and I’m going to see how the job develops. I am open-minded and I love that so far, it is challenging and rewarding.