While leasing and selling cars is a long way from wanting to emulate Miles Davis, Colin Shea has no regrets.
As the sales manager of Lease Japan KK, an expat car sales and leasing company which opened an office in Tokyo’s Azabudai earlier this month, he is 100 percent happy and at home.
“Cars and the car trade have taken me all around the world.” Now Lease Japan is offering a new product — a personal portable navigation system — that is going to make life easier for not only expats in Japan, but also Japanese. It’s not only foreigners who have a hard time finding their way around.”
So saying, Shea slides a model across the table between plates of green chicken curry and nasi goreng, and demonstrates how it works. About the size of a Blackberry, you can tap in where you want to go, say a club in Shibuya, and up comes the navi-system in English, Japanese or Chinese. Also you can use the walk mode or car navigation in any vehicle all over Japan. It’s a long way from playing a trumpet, he admits.
“I wanted to be a musician. At age 10, I was washing cars to save for a secondhand instrument from Exchange and Mart. Later, I picked up a euphonium, and my music teacher said, “Forget trumpet. That’s your instrument!” I did well too, playing in youth orchestras all over the U.K.”
Sadly, Shea Sr. had other ideas about a career for his son, and at age 17, Colin found himself in the RAF. But at least it was in the band.
“I only ever wanted to play music but when I came out of the military, I was fed up with being broke, so made choices — I grew my hair and played in jazz and dance bands.
Realizing that it was not exactly a career, he decided to go as upmarket as possible, working for a prestige car company.
“I began by banging on Jaguar’s door, because their cars were my No. 1 passion. Eventually Fiat — who had Lotus at that time — took me on. Working for them took me to Germany, the U.S., Malaysia, Singapore, all over. Not bad for a 22-year-old from Hertfordshire.”
In 1999, he was working in the showroom of Aston Martin in Mayfair, as upmarket as you can surely get. When a young Japanese woman came in for a brochure for her boss in Tokyo, he quickly found out that she was a tour guide, with family roots in Shikoku but living in Chiba.
“Her father was in the navy, so she was used to traveling and — luckily for me — spoke excellent English.”
After a whirlwind courtship (on his part, he admits, as he was dashing to and fro between Japan and the U.K. trying to convince her he was serious) they married the following year and settled in Tokyo.
Initially, Shea set up his own business, but then found employment with Lease Japan, as owned by the American corporation Oak Lawn Marketing.
OLM develops direct marketing business, wholesale business and repeat business based on the Shop Japan branding strategy. Its core sales outlet is tele-marketing or TV shopping, with Billy’s Boot Camp a huge success story.
“The Japanese have gone just crazy over Billy. The last time he came over on a promotional tour, he sold a million DVDs.”
OLM also holds an umbrella over the relocation agent Relo Japan, and Lease Japan.
“Lease Japan can underwrite leases and loans for buying cars. Say an American company president’s wife wants to lease a car, or a young German banker wants to buy a sports car, but Japanese banks say no. We can help.”
While it’s Shea’s job to make business, he’s keen to keep it beneficial to both parties.
“Say a guy comes in and his eyes light up at the two-seater convertible. But I know he has three kids and needs a good strong durable 7-seater. It’s my job to bring him down to earth, but have him leaving feeling happy with the perfect choice.”
He describes Lease Japan as above all “user friendly.” That’s why the company’s new portable navi system is lighting up his own eyes.
“I feel sorry for a lot of ex-pat wives. Their husbands are wrapped up in working long hours, and the women have to do everything on the domestic front. Now they can just pop the system into the car, punch the phone number of where they want to go and up comes the map. It has its own antennae, so looks after itself.”
It’s the only portable system on the market, he adds, and this is the first time Shea has unveiled it to the public.
There’s going to be an increasing amount of business too, he believes. “The Japanese economy is beginning to boom, so there will be more and more expats heading this way. That’s my impression, at least.
There are job opportunities with Lease Japan, he adds. “Right now there are just three of us, but I’m looking to hire and train up a complete sales team.
In Tokyo, the emphasis will be on selling cars, but leasing will always be an option. It takes all the hassle out of car ownership.”
Shea never got rid of his own company. His wife now runs it from home as Tokyo Auto Trading — a simple uncomplicated business, he says, that fits in with the needs of two small children. The staff attend auctions in Tokyo, Kyushu and Nagoya and check out vehicles mechanically before export.
“We do the purchasing and take care of all the paperwork, getting cars to the docks and picked up the other side. We can buy a Nissan Skyline here for half the price in the U.K., and get it transported door to door for a total of ¥300,000.”
Just check your country’s import regulations first, he advises. “Google ‘car import regs,” then get in touch. Remember though that cars here are right-hand drive.”
Asked what he drives, Shea laughs.
“You mean what I drive, or what I would like to drive? Well, if I was single, I’d go for an Audi R8. It’s a stunning car. That or a Lamborghini. But what I actually drive, is a Toyota Estima — a people carrier.”
Last week he was at the Tokyo Motor Show. This weekend, he’ll be hanging out at Tokyo Midtown, for the first Tokyo Concour de’Elegance, where 30 classic cars are on show. Mixing business with pleasure makes him the luckiest man alive, he reckons.
“With family, friends and cars, who could ask for anything more.”
Lease Japan: (03) 5575-2565; fax (03) 5575-2341 Mobile: 090-8773-0907 Web site: www.leaseJapan.com