A people’s person

A people’s person

Kobus van Zyl, executive director Daimler Trucks & Buses, believes that investing in people is the best way to sustain growth and make a difference in the lives of stakeholders. GAVIN MYERS finds out how he goes about this

This is a Captain’s of Industry profile with a difference. While Van Zyl is, indeed, our cover star, one thing becomes eminently clear the deeper we go into the interview … he values every bit of interaction he has with other people, bar none.

Whether we talk about business, or life away from the office, people are the common thread throughout our conversation.

Van Zyl begins by enthusiastically introducing me to a special member of his team; “Customer Clive”. Clive has a permanent seat at the boardroom table in Van Zyl’s office and, despite the pressures of the job, a permanent smile on his face.

“Clive makes sure that we can find a direct link between what we discuss in our meetings and how it affects the customer. When I feel a discussion is not achieving that, I ask Clive what he hears … It forces us to make sure that if the customer was in the room listening, he would want to deal with us,” Van Zyl says.

“The customer hires and fires us,” Van Zyl elaborates. “We must put ourselves in Clive’s shoes all the time and look at our business from his perspective.

How can this be achieved – given that South Africa is, according to Van Zyl, the most competitive market in the world for Daimler?

“Our market has evolved over the last 15 years, and all original equipment manufacturers have been forced to lift their game. Competitive products and value offerings are no longer enough.

“We place great emphasis on people development; success in people is the most difficult thing for a competitor to replicate, Human capital is by far the most important aspect of sustaining a successful business,” Van Zyl says.

In this regard, Van Zyl believes that boxing people into their comfort zones of technology, PowerPoint presentations and remote communication only leads to repetition …

“Our organisation must ‘make magic’. This means we go into the creative side of the business, allowing people the opportunity to come up with innovative and better ways of doing things. We even create diary opportunities for people to create magic!” he explains.

It’s this sort of differentiator that Van Zyl believes creates success. It also forms the basis for his outlook on life in general, and ties in with what he has planned for the future.

“I don’t like to use the term ‘work/life balance’; that assumes that work is not life. I prefer to talk about ‘life balance’. Ten years from now I’d like to be deep into my second career, passing on what I’ve learnt.

“I want to further my studies and find a way to teach leadership and how to successfully accomplish something, or how to bring a PowerPoint to life,” he continues.

“I want to be able to move people towards a value-driven business, where the ‘right thing’ is done because it’s the right thing to do. My future career will definitely be aimed at the human side of business.”

A real people’s person, you see.

“I never thought that I’d work in such a people-centric business – I’m a trained banker. The people side is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding side of my job. Every minute I spend with a customer, dealer, or anyone, is hugely rewarding,” he smiles.

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