PORTLAND, Ore. – When Martin Daum got the call from Stuttgart, Germany, asking him to take the recently vacated global position of Member of the Board of Management responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses, he felt a sense of responsibility to accept.
“This was a difficult one,” Daum said today of the decision in a one-on-one interview with Truck News. Daum has led Daimler Trucks North America since 2009 and the company soared to new heights under his leadership. He also spoke often of his love for the North American market and life in the US.
“I would say it was the responsibility I feel,” he continued. “It started with a huge vote of confidence from (chairman of the board) Dr. Zetsche and the supervisory board. They said ‘You’re a natural candidate, you have the experience’.”
Daum’s varied background includes roles in sales, production, engineering and finance. But what he’s most proud of is the team he assembled in Portland and he credits those people with the growth Daimler achieved in North America under his watch.
“We were able to form a really high performing culture in the US and we want that around the globe,” Daum explained.
When offered the job, which opened when Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard chose to leave the company citing personal reasons, Daum saw an opportunity to give back to the organization that has entrusted him with so much responsibility over the years.
“I worked my entire life for Daimler and I owe the company,” Daum said. “I was given responsibilities, I wondered why they did that at the time. I never failed them so they had confidence in me, but that was pretty courageous. I owe the company; I’m a good soldier.”
Most, importantly, however, was the support of Daum’s family.
“My wife completely understood,” he said of the opportunity. “I wouldn’t have done it without her full support.”
Asked what he was most proud of accomplishing as head of DTNA, Daum said it’s about the “high octane” team he assembled. “Every single person, I would hire again,” he said.
Daum also credited the people involved in DTNA’s dealer network.
“When I took over, it was a pretty tense relationship (with dealers),” he acknowledged. “They agreed they would have to ramp up their game as we were going to ramp up our game.”
He added being on the edge of technology was another contributor to the brand’s growth.
“Daimler is uniquely positioned today to be a global powerhouse,” he said, “because we have the strong local brands in every single location – Japan, Brazil, Europe and North America – with their strong own engineering bases. In every one of those four regions, we could live completely independently. But how much more can we do if we link those four individual powerhouses together and benefit from each other, where not every one has to invent everything at the same time?”
He cited the US launch of the DT12 automated manual transmission as an example. But while much of the engineering that went into the design of the transmission occurred elsewhere, Daum was adamant production occur on these shores.
“That was a huge discussion,” he said about the decision to bring production to Detroit. “It took my whole authority to say, I’m not doing it for the US if I have to import, I want it localized, I want that US label.”
At the time, some thought US demand would not exceed 12,000-15,000 units.
“I think our capacity at the moment is north of 60,000 and we will need every single one for the North American market. We would love to export it to other Daimler markets but we need it here in our own market,” Daum said.
The success of the DT12 rollout is a source of pride for Daum, as it involved taking a technology developed by Daimler elsewhere and quickly and effectively bringing it to the North American market.
“It’s a singular event, but it’s a basic example of what we can do with technology,” he said. “We do it in other areas as well and you’ll see more of that. That’s the true power of Daimler globally, to have these strong local branches that can be so much stronger if they work together on a global scale.”
Asked about the unprecedented market share DTNA achieved under his leadership, Daum said it was the result of focusing on all areas of the business. If it was just a matter of pounding the table and demanding higher market share, Daum joked, every CEO would just beat the table harder.
“For me, market share is the result of great product, of listening to the customer and giving them great service in the market,” Daum said. “To have market share at that level, you have to be good at everything in every market. When I started, I remember in Germany people asking me, where should we attack? I said everywhere. Every place, every segment – vocational, on-highway, day cab, specialized, Canada, Mexico – everywhere. That is the secret. We are not done yet.”
As for the transition, Daum took his seat on the board March 1. His replacement in North America has not yet been named, but Daum said the company has many worthy successors to consider.
“I can say for sure, we have such an incredibly strong bench that I’m sure we’ll have an incredible and great successor,” Daum said.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies