Kevin Flynn loves being the underdog, taking risks and travelling through the tougher route. He tells Anu Prabhakar about growing up in London, his absolute love for motor biking, changing countries for jobs and the diverse feast called Mumbai
Kevin Flynn, President and MD - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles India Private Limited
Kevin Flynn gets up abruptly from his chair, mid-sentence, and marches to the door. He flings it open, peeks out of the room and screams out a question to his colleagues. We hear a feeble reply and he returns to his seat, looking pleased. “Indigo,” he announces. “That’s the name of the restaurant I visited the other day and liked.”
Kevin Flynn at his office in Lower Parel. Pics/Bipin Kokate
But such passion is not reserved for food alone. Question Flynn about his craze for motorbiking, Formula one and automobiles, and what you get in response are lucid descriptions of his life. So evocative are they that you can almost hear whoops of joy as Flynn speaks about riding across London’s unfinished motorways in motorbikes with his mates (as he calls them) years ago, high on life, dreams and ambitions.
Need for speed
Flynn was born in Wimbledon, London. “My parents are still there. My brother is in Chicago who is older to me by three years,” says Flynn, who loves rugby, tennis and golf. “I love England, but I was desperate for a broader experience and adventure. I was an incredibly enthusiastic student but I was more oriented towards practical applications. I was always tinkering with cars, so going into the industry was a natural progression,” he remembers. Flynn also discovered his love for motorbiking quite early in life — his first motorcycle was a BSA Bantam, gifted by his brother when Flynn was only eight years old. “Near to where I lived, just outside of London, a new motorway was being built and the work was ongoing for years. Everyone brought whole motorcycles and cut them into dirt bikes to go onto this road. But what I enjoy the most is the camaraderie, when lots of lads ride together and get up to some mischief along the way. I have always enjoyed that fun sense of achievement at the end of the day,” he says.
He describes his family as a “wholesome, Christian family”. “I didn’t know my father to smoke and the odd pint was probably as far as that went. My mother is an amazing individual. They never lacked belief in what I could do and wanted to tackle. They still take press cuttings of news about my company. And, I thank the Lord for Facetime! A couple of times every week I press the button and I am back in the front room, talking to them.”
Post school, Flynn opted for a trade apprenticeship, where he was exposed to junior management roles early on. “I would go to the company in Surrey in my Yamaha motorbike, with my sandwiches strapped to the rack on the back. We also got up to a lot of naughty things,” he adds. We ask him to divulge more, and he bursts out laughing. “Well, silly things. Like we had to set up cars and make sure that they ran. And when you step aside for a minute, somebody would get some brake fluid and pour it down the carburetor. And when that happens, it emits so much of white smoke that it would fill the whole building. It would set the smoke alarms off and everyone had to get evacuated. Harmless pranks like that,” he laughs.
But he also describes the stint as the time he was in his element. “I loved it,” he says. “That was the launchpad for my love for this business. I learnt to drive very early, as we had to put the cars away at night, I was around 16 at that time,” he smiles.
Flynn continued to ride bikes till his teens and got back to the hobby at 28. “My great motorcycling experiences took place probably in my 30s and 40s, which were across Europe,” he explains. “I had fantastic adventures riding down the Tour de France route. I also rode off road and have had fantastic trips through Holland and Beligum. I also did a trip with my mates in western Cape Town, where we rode into South Africa and back.” South Africa, where he was stationed for years for work, is also where his heart lies. “Watching animals at sunrise and listening to them is life changing and will feature heavily in my later days,” he adds.
Meanwhile, he went on to work with automobile giants such as BMW, Lexus in Germany and South Africa, Jaguar Land Rover and now, Fiat. Talking about his career, Flynn says that he loves challenges and looks at himself as a “fixer”. “I like being the underdog,” he says. “It is typical and easy to take the easy route. For instance, going to Germany to run Lexus was a challenge in its own right, when at the same time, I could have been the national sales director for a prominent German car company in the UK. But I knew which one was easier and which one was the challenge,” he adds.
Talking about his future plans at Fiat, Flynn explains that while it is still “early days”, the company plans on identifying and attending to strategic areas as their investment in India is “colossal”. “And whilst we have a long history in the Indian market, the current level of regard isn’t what it used to be and it is important for us to rekindle that and demonstrate the solidity of what we are as a company on a global basis and what our commitment to India actually is,” he elaborates.
New in Mumbai
Flynn may be only two months old in Mumbai, but he has already been to Chor Bazaar and sipped on Sula wines. “I love the diversity and sheer spirit of this place!” he exclaims. “How can something be so busy and mad and still have such tolerance? I have seen a family of four on scooters and you can see the level of care they have as a family unit, all in the middle of the Mumbai madness. I stay at Mahalaxmi and when I look out of my window, wow! It is a hub of activity, with the noise, fireworks, wedding ceremonies. And it all blends in,” he smiles.
He also loves Café Zoe’s prawn risotto, which he swears is the “best in the world”. “I love cooking, although I am useless at working through a recipe. But I am very proficient in cooking meat in an open fire (or, braai), even by South African standards,” he chuckles.
Flynn is also a die-hard fan of Motor GP and sports. “Valentino Rossi is an absolute hero for me. He is at the top of his game and still takes on youngsters, which is phenomenal. I am also a Formula One fan and I have quite a collection of books on the topic.” There are other aspects of the game that he likes. For instance, he continues, he is a huge fan of the UK-based motor sport artist Colin Carter — so much so that Flynn visited the artist with his son who had art as a part of his high school exam. “He paints in oil but you won’t believe it as his images even capture the clear shine of the car. You can even see the reflections on the car,” he explains.
He also loves music concerts and is a huge fan of the British pop band Simply Red, jazz guitarist Peter White and the late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, among other musicians. “I still remember driving my first BMW while listening to Simply Red’s album, Picture Book. That was one group whose every concert I went for. And I was terribly sad when Amy Winehouse passed off. Wow, what talent. And now, B B King has passed away,” he sighs.
His family includes wife Meryl (who he met at BMW), a son and daughter. “I see myself all over again in my son. He has just returned from the UK after playing for one of the prominent ice hockey teams there. He will be off to Canada soon, and is only one step away from living his dream, which is to be a professional ice hockey player. My daughter is a qualified journalist and in South Africa,” he says. Meryl, he says, is “amazing and a brilliant mom”. “We are best mates and soul mates. Next month, we'll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and plan to go someplace lovely in India,” he smiles.
There is also one last quirk. “We have Starbucks mugs from all around the world. When you have morning tea, it’s nice to open the cupboard and see what we can have today.” Curious, we ask him to give us a number. “Well, there is enough, so you don’t have to wash them up too often,” he laughs.
Mantra in life: Live, don't exist
First bike: BSA Bantam
Films: The Last of the Mohicans, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Rush, Top Gear
Born: May 17, 1959
Education: The Bishop Wand Church of England School and Brooklands Technical College, Weybridge Surrey
Favourite car: My recent acquisition, the 50s iconic car, AC Cobra
Fvourite food: Indian food, Italian food and Mediterranean wines
Favourite magazine: Automobile magazines Evo and Octane
Favourite book: Beyond the Limit by Sid Watkins