The leading men at MAN
Employees are an organisation’s greatest asset – and that includes the management team that steers it into the desired direction. JACO DE KLERK discovers that MAN Truck & Bus is in safe hands with its captains of industry.
MAN Truck & Bus’s South African customers felt a bit uneasy when the company decided to move its southern African headquarters from a Johannesburg base to Dubai.
“Customers’ initial reactions were ‘Wow – if I want to speak to the boss, I have to phone Dubai …’,” says Ray Karshagen, MAN Truck & Bus Southern Africa deputy CEO responsible for the bus business. “However, they’ve now gotten used to the fact that they can deal with us locally.”
Both Karshagen and Bruce Dickson, deputy CEO responsible for the truck business, were promoted to these positions on July 1 last year.
Markus Geyer of MAN Truck & Bus AG says that, with his promotion to CEO of Sales Region Middle East and Africa, his responsibilities have grown, creating a need to be more specific in his focus of attention, which led to the appointment of Dickson and Karshagen.
“They assumed more responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the South African company,” says Geyer. “That freed me up to some extent to focus on the bigger region and the most strategic challenges we face.” (More about those later.)
Geyer’s career at MAN started nine years ago in the central service department, where he oversaw and controlled activities for all worldwide sales. “After three years, I moved to the German subsidiary, which at the time had a turnover of about €3 billion and 5 000 employees,” he says. “I took the position as a managing director of finance.”
After another three years, he was appointed as regional head for the Middle East, with Africa being added 18 months later – forming the Sales Region Middle East and Africa.
This additional duty is one of two things Geyer is most proud of in his career. “I’ve been assigned the responsibility of overseeing Africa and the Middle East, which is a huge area of the world, presenting huge potential and huge challenges,” he adds. “It is quite an honour for me that the company put me in charge to look after that.”
The second highlight of Geyer’s career is that he has been able to uphold a high level of integrity in all respects, be it dealing with customers, suppliers or the company’s own employees. “My biggest aim is to wake up every morning and be proud of what I see in the mirror, not having to be ashamed,” he explains. “I believe that I have upheld those standards in my career and hope that the sentiment is shared by my colleagues.”
I’m sure they would all agree, especially taking into account the success the Middle East and Africa sales region is achieving. “Our performance in the Middle East and Africa in 2012 has been very good,” Geyer points out. “We have increased our margins and market share in a tough market, and are very pleased with what we see.” He specifically points to Saudi Arabia, with the company on track to selling between 2 000 and 2 500 units in that market this year, demonstrating the significance of this country to the region.
“We are very optimistic for our sales region Middle East and Africa again for 2013,” notes Geyer. “We are planning even higher volumes, and we are confident we will be able to achieve them.”
However, he believes the market is going to be tough for our country in 2013. “We are already seeing that the South African market is slowing down,” he says, adding that it is still level with previous years, but that the trend is negative. “We believe the market in South Africa will remain tough and be very competitive next year.”
However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as MAN SA’s bus division will end as market leader this year, according to Karshagen. “I’m confident of that fact,” he sates. “There will also be some innovations in 2013 that will ensure that we retain that position.”
Karshagen has led the company from a good number two or three in the bus market to number one, a position it has held for the past 11 years, except for 2010, when another company won the FIFA World Cup order. “But we won it back the next year,” he points out.
MAN officially added this driven individual to its arsenal in January 1999, when the company took over TFM Bus & Coach, which Karshagen had been with since January 1997. “My service from my TFM days counts because that was bought as a growing concern to the business,” Karshagen points out. So in terms of service, he has been with MAN for 15 years.
However, Karshagen’s involvement in the bus industry goes back to 1974 when he joined Busaf, which was one of the longest established bus body building companies in South Africa. He left the company in 1996 when he disagreed with a strategy going forward. “I didn’t like what they were going to do, voiced my opinion, which they didn’t agree with, and that’s when I made the change,” he says.
This demonstrates that Karshagen stands for and sticks to what he believes in. And his 38 years of service in the bus industry, including only one company shift, is an indication of his loyalty as well. “It’s what gives one credibility in the industry, not chopping and changing in line with one brand being better the one day and another the following day.”
In his early MAN days, in 1999, he introduced liaison meetings for the company’s bus customers, demonstrating the importance he places on them. “I was initially criticised by others who said I was inviting the customers to complain,” he says, adding that he was asked what agendas the liaison meetings could deliver on.
“We see if the products we are delivering are working, and we find out where we can improve, and if we are living up to the expectations of our customers,” was the typical answer from Karshagen. The company still holds monthly liaison meetings with big operators, as well as quarterly meetings with smaller operators.
However, Karshagen doesn’t only invite his customers to come to him – he also goes to them. “My main office is the airlines, getting to the customers,” he emphasises. “My best days are when I’m out there in the field with the customers, my second best days are when I’m in the office talking to customers on the phone and my third best days are when I’m in meetings.” His love for the industry and his customers is clear.
And as much as Karshagen has a love for his customers and what he does, so does Dickson: “I love the company, people and our customers,” he says. This means that Dickson’s days generally include a host of meetings, both internally and externally with customers and colleagues.
And this commitment doesn’t just form part of Dickson’s personal business ethics, but the entire organisation as well, as he points out. “Our personal commitment to relationships and the open accessibility to our top executive committee, which facilitates quick decision-making for our customers, is what sets us apart from the competition,” he explains.
Dickson joined MAN in March 2009, when the tough times were at their peak, but he says it has been an amazing journey. “It has been filled with highlights, such as a very successful Johannesburg International Motor Show last year, coupled to excellent truck sales performance and the most profitable year of our existence in South Africa,” says Dickson.
This year has, however, seen the market for heavy commercial and extra-heavy commercial vehicles decline – but this isn’t raining on MAN’s parade. “We are such a highly motivated team that this couldn’t dampen our spirits,” says Dickson, pointing out that the company continues to break into new fleets while maintaining excellent market share month on month, backed by MAN’s EfficientLine Campaign.
“This is showcasing our strength as a committed OEM that aims to add value to our customers’ businesses by virtue of lowest total cost of ownership and best fuel efficiency,” he explains, adding that it also illustrates MAN’s commitment to saving the planet and proving that “economy is ecology”.
“Despite the severe market decline in terms of volumes this year, we have still managed to achieve our strategic targets,” notes Dickson. As for 2013, he states that, by all indications, it will be another successful year for MAN. “I am positive that the truck market will perform at levels at least equivalent to 2012,” he says.
“I believe we have no reason to expect anything other than a positive and bright future, as efficiencies are constantly being improved.”