Editor’s letter

WE’RE ALL EXPERTS, RIGHT? DOYENS OF THE DAY-AFTER DISSECTION. AFTERMATH AUTHORITIES WITH ALL THE ANSWERS. WE KNOW EXACTLY WHERE THE CEO WENT WRONG, AND WHY HIS COMPANY CRASHED. AND WE’LL TELL YOU, IN THREE EASY STEPS, HOW OUR PLAN WOULD HAVE SAVED THE DAY.

GLENN BUTLER

Such is the benefit of hindsight. Imagine if you could witness a strategy’s impact before putting it into action; teleporting into the future, taking notes, and returning to the present to fine-tune your master plan.

And yet that’s how we judge the actions of car industry CEOs. We watch as they implement their business blueprints, and observe the outcomes dispassionately. Then we assess and critique with vigour and with hindsight.

What if you were the CEO, with thousands of employees looking to you for job security and prosperity? With millions of dollars riding on every signature? With overseas bosses focused on profits, expecting you to grow them, axe-wielding when you don’t? Could you make those far-reaching plans without the benefit of hindsight?

Could you bring the curtain down on 68 years of manufacturing? Put the sword to nameplates embedded in a nation’s identity? Would you back yourself to make such momentous decisions?

If we could jump back to 1995 and take the helm of Holden, Ford, Toyota or Mitsubishi, we’d know exactly what to do, right? Because we’ve seen 2015.

What if you were Graeme Whickman, Ford’s new CEO, who succeeded the indefatigable Bob Graziano in April. Or Mark Bernhard, who takes Holden’s helm in July. What decisions would you make today to position your brand for the future?

Personally, I don’t envy these corporate leaders, or Toyota’s Dave Buttner. Each is faced firstly with respectfully shuttering local manufacturing operations without adversely impacting brand image or sales of import models. Secondly, they, like all local automotive CEOs, are faced with an emerging generation of Australian consumers who simply don’t care about cars or driving as much as their parents did.

Then there’s the electric propulsion revolution that’s gathering steam. Not to mention the insidious invasion of the autonomous car, which will take the wheel-nut (AKA you and me) out of the safety equation. Out of the equation altogether, in fact.

The ownership experience is changing rapidly.

More and more Australians care less how a car drives, so marketing pied pipers must play a new tune to lure buyers. What good is ‘Zoom Zoom’ in a world dominated by autonomous boxes? Who cares about steering feel if there is no steering wheel?

These transformations won’t happen overnight, but make no mistake: the rate of change in the automotive world is accelerating. Today’s leaders face more challenges with greater ramifications than any before them, in a more discerning yet disengaged and ever-fragmenting marketplace.

I cannot imagine the stress or the personal toll that comes with running Ford, Holden, Toyota or any of Australia’s import-only brands. I do not envy Bernhard or Whickman the challenge of cracking the code for automotive success. It’s a tempestuous time to be at the helm, particularly for these two brands in Australia.

I’m sure both these blokes have bold plans for their respective brands. They need to, because their rivals won’t cut them any slack. And I look forward to watching as these visions are implemented.

Hmmm. I wonder what they’d pay for a Tardis…

It’s a tempestuous time to be at the helm of a car company, particularly Holden and Ford

Bon voyage, Bob

FORD Australia CEO and president Bob Graziano called time on March 31, not just on his stint leading the Blue Oval in Australia, but on a global career with Ford spanning 32 years. I fi rst met Bob when he came to Australia in 2008, and spent some time with him ‘off the clock’. There, the taciturn and tightly controlled Bob took a back seat to a bloke with passion, enthusiasm and a love of life’s little pleasures. Good luck in retirement, Bob. You’ve earned it.