From consulting in the US to media in Germany to London for entrepreneurship, Sebastian Peck hasn’t been afraid to go off-roading with his career, which is why he's found comfort as the managing director of Jaguar Land Rover's InMotion division
Starting his career in New York a few years earlier would have made for a different experience entirely. However, Sebastian Peck began working in the Big Apple at the Boston Consulting Group in 2001 following the horrific September 11 attacks. “I came into the firm just after September 11 when there was a lot of turmoil,” he recalls. “So I was there at a very interesting but also quite frightening time when you’re suddenly in a city that’s just gone through a traumatic experience. In that sense, I probably didn’t have the usual experience of someone starting their career in calm waters.”
Today, Peck is the managing director of InMotion, the Jaguar Land Rover-owned investment and innovation subsidiary. But back in 2001 he was fresh out of education and finding his feet as an associate at the NYC-based consultancy firm. “I think the role was a fantastic finishing school post after university,” he says of his time there. “As a consultant you obviously work on a variety of topics across industries and one of the exciting things is that you see a lot of different business aspects and solve problems. The analytical methods were a very good toolset for fostering a career to pursue.”
The aforementioned turmoil in New York had put a passion he held for media on hold which prompted him to shift his focus, hence the run with the Boston Consulting Group. But with his consulting toolset firmly in his grasp after two years, Peck made his way to Munich where he chased his original dream by working with ProSiebenSat.1 Media, the German multimedia firm. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the media business,” he explains. “Before university I worked in advertising on MTV, the music channel. My original aspiration was to become a journalist funnily enough.”
After scratching that media-based itch, the globetrotting continued from Munich as Peck made his way to the UK for additional study, having previously completed a history MA at Cambridge University and an MSc in philosophy and public policy at the London School of Economics. Back in the capital to complete an MBA at the London Business School, which he claims was quite a natural course of action for him, he entered investment banking while still keeping the media dream alive. “While I was doing my MBA I worked in the media team of UBS Investment Bank, building on the earlier theme of working in the media industry, on a lot of large transactions,” he says. “That was a lot of fun until the next crisis hit,” he adds, laughing.
Although he’s tapped into different roles and sectors, it was never a specific ambition of Peck’s to cover such a variation. “I think it happened along the way,” he says. “But I’ve always felt it’s interesting to work at the intersection of the commerce and the creative industry.”
He soon had the chance to get more creative than ever before as a doorway to entrepreneurship was swung wide open, which led him to co-found Digital Science. It was achieved through a strong relationship he’d forged with Holtzbrinck, the German publishing group. “One of the senior board members there approached me and said ‘Would you be interested in starting a new business for us?’” Peck recalls. “I met my co-founder and the two of us started a company called Digital Science, which was a really interesting business focusing on how you can improve the life of researchers, institutions, scientific publishers and grant-giving agencies. We built digital tools for them that improved the effectiveness of their research endeavours.”
Of course, not everyone would be cut out for the transition from employee to employer but Peck believes it’s achievable for someone in possession of the right characteristics. “There’s a certain type of personality that does these things and I would describe that as someone who isn’t very good at accepting the status quo and that things are what they are,” he opines. “I think I always had that trait in me, to see how we can do things differently, to see if there is an opportunity.”
Peck admits he was in a situation perhaps more fortunate than most because of the way his entrepreneurial switcheroo came about. For others in a comfortable role, it’s perhaps tougher to take the leap. “Once you go into investment banking, you’re incredibly well paid and it’s certainly not boring,” he says. “And the opportunity cost for me to start something new grew higher and higher because I was having success in the career I was pursuing. It was a unique situation where someone I had great trust in approached me with an idea. That certainly helped us to take the plunge.”
With Holtzbrinck as a cornerstone investor, Peck grew the business over six years to great success before feeling it was time to bow out in 2015. “It was a really interesting journey, very much innovating and I’d created something entirely new,” he says. “We saw something grow from literally two guys in very small dingy basement room with bars on the windows that looked like a dungeon into a thriving global software company that’s now the envy of the industry.” Having reached that point, he felt like his original mission had been truly accomplished and as though there were other opportunities out there to explore. “I felt like I needed a break, frankly speaking, because it’s quite exhausting to build a company from scratch,” he adds.
After some time off weighing up his options and getting that well-earned respite he so desired, Peck’s next move took him into yet another different sector with InMotion, which he joined at the end of 2016 – eight months after it launched. “While Jaguar Land Rover is a car manufacturer, I really think first and foremost it’s a design company that has some wonderful creative talent,” he says. “I’ve always been drawn to the industries that create desirable things – that sell dreams if you like. If I can help with my financial brain and entrepreneurial spirit to make good things happen in those industries, then that’s something that attracts me.”
InMotion by its very inception is an interesting creation. The product of Jaguar Land Rover, a world-famous luxury brand, it’d probably feel like a prized pedigree if it was sentient. According to Peck, InMotion was envisioned amidst the changing transportation sector, which has seen the rise of ride-hailing, ride-sharing and such, so it was a case of what should Jaguar Land Rover do about it? Sit on its hands or get its hands dirty? Like an engineer in its mechanical department, it ran with the latter. “The appropriate strategy team within Jaguar Land Rover set out this new unit to effectively experiment with unique concepts and new business models,” Peck says. “It started off as a type of project to inform the strategic thinking of Jaguar Land Rover. When they started to recruit me, they really wanted to step it up into a more serious undertaking rather than just a group of people trying to inform the corporate strategy.”
His arrival saw him reshape the business. It was split from just InMotion into early-stage investment arm InMotion Ventures and mobile solutions incubator Studio 107, which helps to develop ideas into standalone businesses. “So far it has worked really well for us,” Peck shares. “As an investor we’ve been incredibly active and done about 15 transactions in the last 15 months. It’s been a really interesting journey so far.”
The car giant has long had a fan in Peck, as he admits it conjures up fond feelings of nostalgia. “I love the brand,” he says. “I think it takes me back to my childhood – I grew up in an equestrian household and I’ve always had a huge passion for anything that has a strong heritage.” But he admits that no legacy, no matter how beloved, can stay standing still without accepting change is coming one way or another, which drew him to InMotion. “I would love to ensure this brand remains relevant for future generations and I think I have a fantastic opportunity here to help reinvent those two brands and ensure that in 20, 30 or 40 years’ time they’re as much household names as they are now.”
As is the case with any new company though, especially one spinning out of a corporate firm, there are learning curves to negotiate along the way. “It’s taken a bit of time to draw a clear line around InMotion to understand what we’re doing and what we’re not doing,” Peck says. What he means by that is recognising the next generation of consumers are being catered to as the importance of car ownership isn’t top of their agenda. “If you’re a young professional living in London, the likelihood that you don’t have a car is quite high and the likelihood is buying a car also isn’t a very high priority either,” he reasons. “As a company you need to then ask yourself ‘how can I ensure that my brand remains relevant with consumers who may not necessarily prioritise the purchase of the kind of product that you’re known for?”
Despite being a Jaguar Land Rover admirer, the first step was for Peck to familiarise himself with being an active part of not only the automotive industry but also the still relatively new and constantly-evolving sector of mobility. “I came to the role as an outsider which was a huge benefit because I didn’t automatically fall into the usual trap that people might fall into after working in this industry for 20 years,” he says, believing he could offer a fresh perspective rather than doing things just like the old days. “At the same time, I needed to ensure I learnt about the industry and how it works, which I’ve certainly done. Of course my ideas have evolved to the direction we should pursue.” Peck’s evolution of planning was a combination of his growing market understanding and by the very fact “mobility is one of the most dynamic sectors there is.”
Tapping into said dynamism meant that Jaguar Land Rover needed to give InMotion the room to manoeuvre without slamming on the brakes. “To think about mobility in a different sense to the approach it had adopted for decades, Jaguar Land Rover first had to accept InMotion had to run on its own steam to a certain extent,” says Peck. While he acknowledges that large corporate drawbacks tend to be the longstanding processes that are in place, which can hamper creativity, InMotion was given the keys to put its foot down. “In our case the format was there to set up as a separate business based in London rather than the Midlands to allow us to develop our own culture that would be more conducive the way in which a startup would work,” he explains.
With that in mind, Peck notes that Jaguar Land Rover’s profile is enviable, both from a financial point of view as well as its PR power. Yet the way the two entities work are entirely different, with the car firm running on a product cycle basis while InMotion must be at the forefront of software updates weekly or fortnightly. “You need to facilitate different working factors and make it clear where to draw the line between a corporate desire to make sure all the processes are in place and what we need to do, which is to move as fast as we can and not get bogged down in committee meetings,” he says.
Having garnered industry awareness and distinguished the differences between InMotion and Jaguar Land Rover, it was a matter of the team diving right into the mobility marketplace headfirst. Of course, the concept of mobility is open to interpretation depending on who you ask but Peck defines it as “the unbundling of the car,” so moving around without owning a car yourself. Elaborating, he continues: “There are so many more options and convenient ways to travel around that don’t involve an asset rotting in front of your house. That’s what we mean by mobility. It’s the chance to move away from asset ownership and to tap into a much richer service ecosystem for whenever you need it.” The challenge it presents Jaguar Land Rover is how to adhere to such expectations, which is why InMotion’s split into two arms has worked out particularly well.
With InMotion Ventures investing in mobility concepts, all innovative eventualities are covered. “As an early-stage investor we want to ensure companies have the space to grow and to mature,” says Peck, which is reminiscent of the approach Jaguar Land Rover has with InMotion. To that end, it’s much more forward-looking and leans towards what can be accomplished in five to ten years. And to get access to funding from the company, expertise is key. “I think ideas are cheap,” he continues. “There are a lot of people with the same idea, so it’s really coming down to the operational execution but most importantly technical execution.”
Comparatively, Studio 107 is about bringing visions to life. “We have developed a mobility strategy within Jaguar Land Rover and Studio 107 is really the place where we build new proprietary mobility services with that strategy in mind,” Peck details. “The businesses are effectively developed, refined and then carved out into separate entities that can stand on their own feet.” With a portfolio being created, the potential is then there to either integrate the developments into the car firm or look for strategic partners and external investments. “It all depends on what the business is,” he adds.
With almost two years steering the direction of InMotion, Peck expects the next couple of years will generate “really exciting businesses” ready to scale across London and other leading cities. “I hope that in two years’ time the things we’re putting out will become a part of everyone’s lives as people are trying to move around and a have good time.”