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|Founded||London, England (1932)|
|Key people||Harold Rolfe Owen, Founder Joe Doyle, CEO|
Harold Rolfe Owen was born in Yorkshire on 6 November 1899, and served in the Royal Flying Corps in World War I. Serving in Northern France in 1917 the 18-year old Captain Owen was badly injured in a crash, spending a week in a coma. It was almost a year before he could walk again, but after the war was over he returned to uniform, joining the Indian Army.
Owen subsequently served for some years abroad, principally at Bombay, Karachi and Aden, before returning to Britain and beginning work at the National Benzole Company. A keen sportsman, Owen’s skill as a polo-player made him welcome at society house parties. This gave him many useful sales contacts when he joined Rolls-Royce and Bentley retailer Jack Barclay in 1927, becoming general manager a short while later.
Harold Owen and Jack Barclay parted company amicably five years later when the former decided to start out on his own in motor retailing – though the two names would be linked once again 68 years later, when the two companies bearing their names were reunited. The new H.R. Owen Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealership opened in Mayfair’s Berkeley Street in February 1932 and continued trading until the outbreak of war, when luxury car retailing came to an enforced halt.
Harold Owen fully intended to resume the motor retail business post-war, but he fell ill when on tank manoeuvres with his regiment, the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, and died February 17, 1940 following an emergency operation to remove a brain tumour.
Post war 1946-70
Following Harold Owen’s death, the H.R. Owen business was bought by Percy Fritz Swain, who reopened the business in 1946 on the old location in Berkeley Street. An astute trader, Swain began to build a larger motor empire, buying up retailers as well as coachbuilders and suppliers. On the death of A.J. Webb in 1955, Swain bought coach builder Freestone and Webb.
The post-war years were not kind to independent coachbuilders as prestige manufacturers such as Bentley and Rolls-Royce progressed from supplying only the chassis and drivetrain of a vehicle to building the complete car, bodywork and all. With Freestone and Webb’s main chassis supplier relationship at an end, the coachbuilding business continued to refurbish and build bodies until 1958, when it became a pure showroom brand. In 1963, after Swain decided to divest H.R. Owen of its coachbuilding arm and focus on motor retail, he sold the entire division under the main brand of coachbuilders Harold Radford to a group led by Radford.
Growth and consolidation 1970-2013
In 1970, H.R. Owen was sold to Gerald Ronson's Heron International, remaining under that ownership until bought by Malaya Group plc in 1994 under the leadership of Nicholas Lancaster. In 1997, on the 65th anniversary of H.R. Owen's foundation, Malaya Group changed its name to H.R. Owen plc.
In 2000 the group bought Jack Barclay, thus becoming the world's largest dealer for Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars. Although the two brands were split at manufacturer level in 1998 between Rolls-Royce Motor Cars (bought by BMW Group), and Bentley (Volkswagen Group), H.R. Owen continues as a Rolls-Royce retailer, while Jack Barclay of Berkeley Square remains the world’s largest Bentley dealer.
In 2004 the H.R. Owen group sold its Volkswagen and the majority of its BMW brand dealerships to their respective manufacturers. A year later the firm would be appointed official UK dealer for Bugatti and by 2008 would become the world’s largest Bugatti dealer. The company is quoted on the London Stock Exchange under the securities code HRO.L
In early 2011, as part of a new alliance with Ferrari, the company opened a flagship Ferrari 'Atelier' in London's Knightsbridge, where potential customers can customise their new car. In August of that year HR Owen announced the acquisition of Broughtons of Cheltenham, a smaller luxury motor dealer, for an enterprise value of £2.8 million. Broughtons owned three Bentley franchises in Cheltenham, Pangbourne and Byfleet (strengthening HR Owen's relationship with Bentley) and an Aston Martin franchise in Cheltenham, forging a relationship between HR Owen and Aston Martin for the first time.
As of 2012, under the leadership of CEO Joe Doyle, H.R. Owen continues its focus on customer service in the field of luxury and supercar retail. This service-oriented ethos is encapsulated by the company’s strapline ‘Experience is everything’. By 2012, cars sales revenue was £210m, a 29% increase on the previous year, whilst aftersales revenue was £34m, a 15% increase.
Brands and dealerships
The Group operates retail outlets in London, Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, and Manchester, which includes fourteen sales franchises and thirteen aftersales franchises for the Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Pagani and Rolls-Royce marques. The Group also operates aftersales-only franchises for Audi, BMW, Lotus and MINI.
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