Power 100 2013: Gary Lubner

Power 100 2013: Gary Lubner

CEO of multinational glass repair company Belron/Autoglass

Power 100 2013: Gary Lubner

DPL_5360 1 (2)
CEO of multinational glass repair company Belron/Autoglass

Bullet Bio


  • Hyde Park High, University of Cape Town (finance), MBA (London Business School)

Career trajectory:

  • After graduating joined Arthur Andersen in SA where he qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1981. Completed MBA at London Business School in 1991 and joined Belron soon after graduating.
  • Before being appointed as Chief Executive Officer in 2000, he was responsible for all of the European operations of Belron, prior to that he was Managing Director of the UK business, Autoglass.

What is the connection between the Autoglass business in South Africa and UK?

The UK business that is now Autoglass, and Belron, the holding company over here, has its roots in South Africa. It used to be a family business founded by my grandfather. It grew very strongly in South Africa. In 1999, the group was bought by a Belgian company that did not want to be in South Africa. So, they sold back the South African business to my family in SA. I have carried on with the non-SA business, which is now called Belron. In fact, the original PG, or Platoglass business has no relationship to Belron other than coming from the same roots.


Belron is named after your grandparents?

After my father and grandmother. My father was called Ronnie and my grandmother was called Bella. They were going to name it after my grandfather and my father, but my grandfather’s name was Morrie  – it would’ve meant they would’ve had to call it Moron.


Why did you come to London?

I actually came to study. In the  late 80’s I came to do my MBA at London Business School. Straight after business school, I was offered a job in what was called Belron at the time, which was still linked to the SA business. I took the job and then kind of stayed at the company.


I read that only Toyota buys more glass than you – is that true?

Yes. It’s true. We are in 35 countries. We cover all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Brazil, China, Russia, Turkey. We are the market leader in all the countries we operate in. We employ nearly 26,000 people and our sales are over $3bn. And what we do is replace glass.


You operate in 35 countries in the world but not in SA?

We have nothing in Africa at the moment, purely because when (it’s a historic thing) we split the two, there was an agreement that Belron would not come to SA, and the South African business would not come into Europe.

Having said that, in the future certainly by agreement that could change. I think Africa is a very exciting place, and it’s something we’ll definitely be looking at in the future. We’re excited by the prospects in Africa. We’re in all the developed countries now, and looking for growth in our business —we’re in China and looking at other places in South East Asia and Central America, but Africa is a place that we’re keen on and we will be looking at it.


What are the differences between doing business in SA and UK?

Good question. I’ve been working here for more than 25 years so my experience in the UK is probably  bigger than in SA.

Business contexts are different in all countries. Doing business in SA is as different as it is in UK, as it is in France, in Germany. They aren’t any general rules which say ‘this is the way we do things here’. In my experience, having worked in many countries around the world, if you put customers at the centre of everything you do and you have great people working for you, the nationality of those people is irrelevant. You can build great businesses. I firmly believe that if I look at our Chinese business, our Russian business, purely staffed by the Russians and Chinese. It’s the values that we find important in our business that makes those businesses successful. Effectively, nationality, I think, is often overplayed.

If I had to generalise, and I hate generalising, South Africans have very much a can-do attitude. We employ lots of South Africans here in the UK and in other countries. Yeah, there is a bit of a cliché about it, but they are hard workers, they are smart, they get on and do things.


How do your values shape your outlook? How do you try to remain humble and charitable?

I have always believed really strongly and it’s been a family belief that you have an obligation to all the communities you work with.

It comes from a fundamental belief that businesses do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in a community. We happen to be born into a particular situation. So we always felt that there is an obligation, as individuals and as a business, to give back to communities less well-off than us. So, from a Belron point of view, we have a huge programme where we give back to local communities in every country.

We support a South African charity Ma Afrika Tikkun which I’m very much involved in. We’ve raised millions of euros and built centres in SA for them.


Do you miss SA?

I’m very fond of SA, I miss it enormously. I’ve got a holiday home there. I’ve been there every year since I was 11 years old. I visit as often as I can. My kids love it. They were born in England, but they all support the Springboks. I have lots of friends, lots of family there, strong ties. It’s an amazing country.


Some people say the strongest critics of South Africa are the ones who’ve left…

I’m definitely not one of those! In fact, I have a lot of difficulty with those people, because South Africa gave, particularly us white people, an unbelievable education, an unbelievable start in life whether that was at school or university.  If it wasn’t for what we had in South Africa, none of us would be in the positions we are over here. I find it quite irritating sometimes when people who owe a lot to SA then almost divorce themselves and become critics.

I’m critical about many things that go on in SA, but I do that with love, not hatred for the country. I do that because I want the country to be better – there is a big difference.


Many South Africans said they agreed with Britain cutting aid to SA because ‘the money is going to Zuma’s house’. What do you think about this?

I find it shocking. I’m trying to raise money all the time for South African charities and people say to me — I won’t give money to SA because Zuma is corrupt. My response is: You know, I find it really difficult when I’ve got a four-year-old kid who literally hasn’t got a meal today to explain to them that the reason we  won’t be able to feed them over the next few months is because someone in London thinks Zuma is corrupt. There’s a need, let’s forget about why the need is — I believe we have an obligation, as South Africans, as business people, to help.


How does a Saffer end up supporting West Ham?

I’ve been a West Ham fan for about 42 years. When I was growing up in SA, we were mad about football. My brother and I used to get Shoot magazine sent over every week. It always had a team picture as the centrefold and I remember when I was 10 years old we got a Shoot magazine with the team picture of West Ham. In the middle of this picture was a guy called Clyde Best, who was one of the first black players in the first division.

In SA at the time sport was completely segregated and I remember thinking — wow, here is a team with a black player — that must be a brilliant team. And so I started supporting West Ham. I’ve kind of regretted it ever since… But I’m a season ticket holder there. It all started with Clyde Best.


Maybe you should sponsor them…

Well Autoglass sponsored Chelsea for four years in the 1990s. And before that West Ham were looking for a sponsorship and I went to have a look. It was a real head over heart kind of decision…