A really sound wager

A really sound wager

Steve Wager doesn’t need a spin doctor – the Scania sales figures speak for themselves. That makes this charismatic managing director the ideal choice for cover star of the annual FOCUS Captains of Industry special issue. We meet the man who has catapulted Scania into a top three spot.

We would imagine that rival manufacturers read the figures and weep. In 2012, Scania had an 8,1 percent share of the extra-heavy market. In 2013, that rose to ten percent. And 2014 year to date? It’s currently at a whopping 11,91 percent.

Now we all know that this has to be thanks to a team effort within Scania South Africa, but, behind closed doors at Scania, staff members whisper about “the Steve factor”. They’re obviously not referring to those hugely annoying banking adverts; they’re referring to the arrival of Steve Wager in South Africa. Since he set his foot on this continent, things have looked decidedly rosy for the company …

Wager, a dynamic, yet humble, man, will deny that he has been responsible for the company’s metamorphosis. “I’m just fortunate to be part of an incredible team of people,” he contends. Having said this, Wager is exceptionally proud of Scania South Africa’s performance over the last couple of years, and he says that being offered this job was one of his proudest working moments.

Growing up, this wasn’t quite what he expected from life. “We were once asked at school what job we wanted to do, and I proudly said I wanted to be a bus driver, because I was quite good a drawing buses …” he recounts. “As a kid I had an interest in lorries, and my father worked in the automotive industry.”

Dreams of being an astronaut and a businessman came and went. Wager eventually decided to do a higher national diploma in business studies, in Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom, and later qualified as a chartered certified accountant. (Wager was born in Salisbury, in the south of England, and grew up in the towns of Exmouth and Bristol, before his family settled in Windsor, just west of London.)

With his qualification (amusingly, Wager is keen to point out he’s never really been one for bean counting), Wager officially entered the trucking world in 1983, joining DAF United Kingdom (UK). After a 19-year career with the company, eventually ending up as chief financial office (CFO) in France, Wager saw an opportunity that had his name written all over it.

Steve Wager has huge respect for South African transport operators, and the feeling seems to be mutual – the company’s market share now borders on 12 percent.“It sounds arrogant, but the job description said ‘Steve Wager please apply’. I was certain I would get the job,” he recounts. It was thus that, in 2002, he joined Scania Great Britain as CFO.

“I was excited by the Scania brand, because of its premium positioning, and the Scania core values were aligned with my own way of working – customer first, respect for the individual and quality. There’s also something quite exciting about seeing the Scania Griffin!”

Ten years later, when the opportunity to come to South Africa as MD cropped up, it was an easy decision and Wager joined the local company in April 2012.

“When I qualified, I had an idea of the milestones I wanted to achieve. My aim was to reach the position of MD by the age of 50, so I was only one year late …” says the 53-year-old with a big smile.

On arriving in this country, Wager set about tackling his goal of restructuring the business to become more customer focused, thereby increasing market volumes. “The market share figures from the last few years speak for themselves. I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made. We’re on the right track thanks to a fantastic team and strong management,” he reiterates.

Wager stresses that the customer will always drive Scania’s business. “Today, customers and operators are far more demanding and cost-conscious, and they are under pressure from their customers. Therefore, OEMs and their networks have to be more customer-service oriented than they were 20 or 30 years ago.”

Lowering the cost of ownership for customers has been a key aspect of the company’s restructure, and Wager feels that, as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Scania can influence up to 75 percent of the total operational costs of its long-haul customers. In order to achieve this, he and his team have focused on numerous aspects of the business – addressing fuel usage, driver training, optimising vehicle specifications and also finite details such as wheel alignment and regular maintenance.

Starting on the ground, Wager felt that dealers needed to have more decision-making power, thus Scania’s business in South Africa was split into five regions. “Our customers have noticed the difference; they say they can see a clear improvement in service levels and decision-making. Because we’re now closer to the ground, we’re more responsive. Some very good ideas also come out of addressing individual customer’s needs on this level, which we can then roll out quickly,” he explains.

To make the sales process easier for the customer, Scania has for some time had its own in-house finance company and insurance options (tied into this is an approved panel-beater scheme).

The finance company is significant in that it is not a joint venture with a bank, meaning totally new credit lines for customers and unrivalled financing flexibility. Wager is also very proud that Scania is now the only OEM that offers a free fleet-management solution with every vehicle sold. “We feel this is a great value offering and it underlines our commitment to keep our customers profitable,” he notes.

Driver training also forms a key aspect of this approach – the company runs a highly successful driver competition to find the best driver in southern Africa (read all about it in the February edition of FOCUS).

“We feel we have a lot to offer,” Wager says. The offerings continue with the company’s rental and used vehicles divisions. “The rental idea came from my European experience. It’s a very flexible plug-and-play product that is now part of our core business. Used trucks are allied to this – a vehicle that’s on the rental fleet is also for sale.”

All of these initiatives have proved to be a big hit with local customers, for whom Wager has the utmost respect. “South African operators are becoming more and more conscious of the cost of ownership. They’re also very knowledgeable, which keeps us on our toes. I like the way they work,” he says.

While Wager is already halfway through his five-year contract, he’s not sure he’ll be ready to leave when the term is up. “We’re still on a journey; we have a very clear strategy, and we’ll see it through,” he says with a determined, competitive smile, noting that achieving results and seeing change motivates him. “But it will be Scania ‘till the end …”

Only one thing could tempt him away from Scania one day. “My other great passion in life is the Chelsea Football Club. If I were to be offered the job of director of the club one day, I would battle to say no,” he says with a laugh.

But, until then, he will be more than happy to captain Team Scania South Africa …

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