Filling the glass
The management of MAN Truck & Bus South Africa is on a mission to be the best business partner in the commercial vehicle industry. GAVIN MYERS speaks to the captains of MAN …
They are, of course, Geoff du Plessis, managing director of MAN Truck & Bus SA; Dave van Graan, head of truck sales at MAN Truck & Bus SA; and Philip Kalil-Zackey, head of bus sales at MAN Truck & Bus SA. All three men have extensive careers in the commercial vehicle industry, both locally and abroad, and all have found a special home at MAN.
“I was offered the position to head up MAN SA, as chief executive, in 2005, at a time when I felt I was ready to take on the leadership of a complete entity and not just be part of a leadership team. MAN gave me that chance,” Du Plessis begins. As a qualified mechanical engineer, it was the smell of diesel, which he came to love when working on military vehicles in the army, that set him on a path into the trucking world.
Van Graan has spent 13 of his 27 years in the commercial vehicle industry at MAN; after being enticed by the then managing director, Ferdi Roche, and marketing director, Adolf Moosbauer, to head up MAN’s National Truck sales division. “I liked the idea of joining two colleagues whom I have immense respect for in the industry, in order to restrategise the sales activity of MAN in southern Africa,” he says.
“I find the transport industry very interesting and dynamic; every day is different. Our customer base is similar, so, in our business, you’ve got to be a real all-rounder,” he adds.
Kalil-Zackey, on the other hand, has never been concerned with being an “all-rounder” … While this mechanical engineer grew up in a family involved in the trucking and transport industry; buses have been his specialty since he began his career in 1999.
“Being in the bus business is special – you’re moving people around, so there’s an emotional side to the business. Selling a bus is like selling a car; you have to think about the passengers, and interact with the people who use the buses, in order to deliver the product that will best meet your customers’ needs,” he enthuses.
For all three men, meeting their customers’ needs is only the tip of the iceberg. Du Plessis says: “My goal is to make sure MAN is a respected business partner in this industry. We deal with such a diversity of customers, and they all have their own challenges, but we have a very engaged and loyal client base and we need to be a part of giving them what they need to differentiate themselves.”
Van Graan adds: “The South African market is very competitive and challenging. Our operators are very professional and we need to be a consistent, reliable supplier that meets their expectations. This business is about customer satisfaction; we have to continually work on the things that delight our customers, and their customers.”
This goes back to Kalil-Zackey’s earlier point, and is something the MAN bus business has always got right: “MAN has a strong foundation and leadership in buses. This is a people’s business and we have a very good team that understands every element of it, which has been the cornerstone of our success.
“Customers see the benefit of one point of contact, in that we offer a chassis and body solution (incidentally, Kalil-Zackey says this was one of the major attractions when he joined MAN). We’ve done very well and I’m very happy with the performance of the bus business,” he smiles.
Both Du Plessis and van Graan are keen to point out that the truck side of the business still has a lot more to offer the market. “I like to look for the good and see the glass half full,” explains Du Plessis. “Our glass is half full, but there’s opportunity to fill it completely … we are moving in the right direction.”
Van Graan elaborates: “We have had challenges in recent times and our product offering has had great success in certain niches, but, if we aggregate that on a national performance, we could definitely improve beyond a ten percent market share. We are proud of our recent good performance in the extra-heavy commercial vehicle (EHCV) category; it shows some green shoots which indicate where our performance should be.”
The men know what has to be done to sustain this performance and fill the glass. “The professionalism of our customers is phenomenally high and is something to be respected. With that comes a push to optimise total cost of ownership,” Du Plessis begins to explain.
“We look for the right solutions and configurations. Our strength is to find customer-specific solutions and meet demands for their requirements. The product then has to operate at the right cost. We also look to optimise uptime; on-site servicing is an example of an area we’re working on to lower the cost of ownership for both our bus and truck customers,” he adds.
“As a premium brand, we have to ensure we can offer two or three economic lives for our products. We need to ensure that the products remain reliable and have a competitive and significant resale value. That then ties into our business solutions, such as financial services and MAN Top Used, for example, which we’re also continually working very hard to optimise,” van Graan continues.
Du Plessis, van Graan and Kalil-Zackey reiterate that MAN’s business is more than just its proud engineering pedigree …
“Our customers can expect the leadership of the business to stay with them, listen to them, engage with them and understand them and their business,” Du Plessis concludes.