Global Development Institute Blog

On 1st December 2017, students on the MSc programmes in Organisational Change and Development and the Management and Implementation of Development Projects visited the Auto Trader Group headquarters in Manchester.  Auto Trader is a large private sector company, listed in the FTSE 250 index, which has undergone a remarkable transformation from a paper-based to a high technology digitally-driven business organisation. The visit, organised as part of the two MScs’ programmes of enhanced activities, provided the students with an opportunity to gain insights into some of the practice-focused people and change management challenges faced by private sector organisations.  We asked two of the MSc programme representatives to reflect on the visit. 

Melissa Henao Palacio (MSc OCD representative) writes:

The visit to Auto Trader was useful and also enjoyable. It was great to have an opportunity to visit an actual organisation and to bring to reality some of the theory we have been listening to and reading about. The change experiences that the Auto Trader team shared with us were fascinating and provided us with an opportunity to get deeper knowledge about the reasons for changing and the processes through which effective change is brought about. I’ve been working as a Change Management Practitioner in Medellín-Colombia, for the past few years and I was able to compare and contrast my own work experiences with what was happening in this high technology private sector environment in the UK.  The visit also helped me to have a broader picture of my future role within organisations.

I particularly enjoyed the group activity where we were given real survey results about from the latest employees’ engagement project and then asked to analyse and suggest how to improve the aspects that we considered relevant. Again, having the opportunity not only to review the actual organisation’s engagement survey results and to propose some actions for them to possibly take into account, was definitely a huge contribution to our learning process.

As an international student, it was also fantastic to get to know a UK organisation and compare it to the ones that I know from Colombia. I obtained a perspective of their different culture, structure, processes, and dynamics and saw how they were reflected in the visible aspects of the business, for example; the buildings, the workspaces (they have cars inside the offices!!), and the way they dress and talk to each other. Additionally, the Auto Trader team was very open to answering all of our questions. In fact, I think the visit did not run as it was first planned; we all were so keen to know more about them, that we spent about 1.5 hours in a very lively Q&A session. I want to thank the Auto Trader team, Chris Rees and Kate Rowlands who made this visit possible and contributed to it; it was a great experience!

Si Yang Noel Bay (MSc OCD representative) writes:

We were privileged to take part in this visit which was hosted by Auto Trader. The visit, organised by Dr Kate Rowlands and Dr Chris Rees gave us a first-hand understanding of the HR operations and employee engagement work that the organisation does.  The visit brought to life the theory and academic literature that we are learning about in our academic setting. Auto Trader’s staff were very forthcoming in sharing their HR processes, how they recruited graduates and how they trained their managers to be competent in handling performance management matters. They were also very open in allowing us to analyse their recent employee engagement scores and provided suggestions on how to improve engagement in organisations. It was undoubtedly an eye-opening experience for all of us.

As part of the visit, we treated to a tour of the office space which was beautifully set up. They had cars fitted up to serve as meeting spaces. They also adopted a ‘hot-desking’ system where staff were not allocated specific seating spaces but were expected to move around to encourage greater interactions. At the end of the visit our professors encouraged us to reflect upon a range of issues including how the design of the office space was both influenced and influences culture within the organisation. We genuinely enjoyed the opportunity to visit a private and well-established organisation. We learnt much by engaging their staff and it will definitely help us to have a better practical understanding of what we are taught in lectures and seminars.

For further details about the MSc programmes in Organisational Change and Development and the Management and Implementation of Development Projects, please visit our website at:

Thanks again to Christos, Sarah and the rest of the staff at Auto Trader for making this visit possible.

Kate Rowlands and Chris Rees

Note:  This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.