What a picture is worth
Raimo Lehtiö has been at the helm of Scania South Africa for five months now. GAVIN MYERS hears his story
Lehtiö’s first interaction with a truck – a Scania, incidentally – occurred before he could remember the experience, but it wasn’t until he had been in the business world for 20 years that he entered the arena of trucking…
“I have a picture of myself, taken when I was three-years old, sitting on the nose of a Scania. During the Second World War my father drove a Scania – he had a small transport company comprising three trucks and two taxis. So, from my childhood I had a connection to Scania trucks,” he smiles.
Growing up in Finland, as a youngster Lehtiö first completed a Bachelor in Engineering – majoring in Engine Technology. He then continued at the Technical University of Helsinki where he did his Masters in Engineering.
Lehtiö has also completed an MBA in International Business, through Helsinki University, while working in Finland for Swedish company ABB – where he spent 20 years.
During his final five years at ABB, Lehtiö held the position as MD. It was while attending an international management training event in Sweden, that a chance encounter, with then Scania CEO Leif Ostling, led to Lehtiö entering the truck business.
“Leif had just started as MD. He gave a presentation on the whole Scania philosophy, after which we had an excursion to the factory, where I met him. I got a very good picture of Scania through him and I’ll always remember his enthusiasm. Leif was the catalyst…
“We met a couple of times afterwards. Then one day Scania’s chairman of the board in Finland contacted me and asked if I want to join the company,” Lehtiö recalls.
That was 15 years ago. During this time Lehtiö has held management positions in Finland, Russia, the Far East, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. He now faces the challenge of maintaining Scania’s strong performance in South and southern Africa – and his first few months (which have been “busy and fantastic”) have definitely set the tone for things to come.
In addition to vising most local dealerships and key customers, Lehtiö has already visited the key southern African markets and met certain customers in those regions as well. This was a natural first step for him…
“As an engineer (and a business man), I’m always interested in motor vehicles and mechanical things. Yet, it’s not the engineering, or the business aspects I enjoy most; but the interaction with customers. Engineering and economics are only in the background … this is about business between people and helping the customer find solutions,” he says.
Given that 2015 was a “boom” year for Scania in the truck, bus and genset segments – and 2016 has since proved to be a much tougher nut to crack overall – how does he plan to put the customer at the forefront going forward?
“Our business is very much about working with customers and delivering a total solutions package, from financing to aftersales support and all the services in between.
“We need to talk about the total operating economy of the customer, not only costs, but also the uptime and possibilities to earn. We need to have a good service network to support uptime, and offering a one stop shop is important to the customers.
“We’ve never had such a broad offering, with 50 different models in the market now, and growing. We need to understand the customers’ businesses to find better solutions for them,” Lehtiö remarks.
That said, South Africa won’t yet see all-new models such as the new R and S-Series launched a few months ago. “We are not in a hurry to introduce the new models; our current range of vehicles is performing excellently in this market.
“We have good, robust vehicles that can handle the road conditions here, which are different to those found in Europe. I’m happy we have time to get experience with the new vehicles in tough environments before they launch here,” he explains.
Lehtiö is not perturbed by the challenge of managing tough trading conditions.
“This is still a very important market and I have a strong belief that South Africa will exceed the figures of 2015 going forward. There are very good opportunities and possibilities, but there are a few hurdles to overcome first. The drought is one thing, and the currency is also a bit too volatile at the moment, for example.
“Yet, we are doing quite well. The Scania recipe is to provide service and technology to aid the economic sustainability and profitability of the customer. This fits in well with what we are trying to achieve in the South African market.”
While some say a picture is worth a thousand words, it would seem that, for Lehtiö, that early picture of him sitting on the nose of a Scania was but a glimpse into his life story.