Mike McNaughton, from a humble start to industry icon

At the recent Volkswagen Grand Prix awards, a number of icons in the motor industry were honoured with Lifetime Achievement Awards.

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Kelston Motor Group supremo, Mike McNaughton’s stellar career in the vehicle industry was one of them.

Since founding Kelston in 1996, Managing Director McNaughton has grown the group to almost 20 franchise operations, including 16 dealerships, three tyre fitment centres, a body shop and small logistics business.

His famed attention to detail and drive to exceed expectations when it comes to customer service and a nose for innovation have made him one of the most astute and respected minds in the business.

The Lifetime Achievement Award honours individuals who have dedicated their lives to making significant contributions to and leaving a lasting legacy on the Volkswagen brand, their community and the industry at large.

“The award was for me a culmination of a career with a brand I have been extraordinarily privileged to represent,” Mike says.

“Receiving this among a group of my peers and colleagues was an exceptionally emotional experience that I will not forget.”

The carmaker certainly holds a special place in McNaughton’s heart. His decision to purchase the VW dealership in then Uitenhage with the help of business partners, Jannie Potgieter and Stephen Dondolo in 1996, was effectively the launch pad for everything that was to come.

At the time, the dealership had one salesperson, a single demo and three cars in stock – two of which were used cars.

But his dealership grew in stature and became Market Square Volkswagen and is today known as Kelston Volkswagen Uitenhage. It was inducted into the prestigious Club of Excellence seven times and won the Dealer Micro Group of the Year in 2020.

In 2005, McNaughton was awarded the Golden Pin and in 2009 the Diamond Pin, both of which were bestowed at events in Germany.

In the mid-2000s the group acquired Volkswagen Grahamstown and in the mid-2010s, Volkswagen Queenstown. This was after McNaughton entered into a partnership that ran for 17 years with Dirk Ellis of Humansdorp, which allowed for further expansion.

Today, the Kelston Motor Group sells upwards of 6 000 cars a year across its brands and employs more than 700 people.

He is also a big one for tackling issues head-on, rather than putting them off for another day. By adopting this approach, “you are more likely to make a friend than an enemy”.

The motoring entrepreneur will always remember a sage piece of advice from Alf Debs, a businessman he knew in his younger days, who encouraged him to own the premises from which he traded. He credits this for helping him build a business of scale.

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  • 23 July 2024