More changes are on the way. Slaven has confirmed with his peers and Exler that no policy going forward will be issued from any technical department -- marketing or sales or aftersales or finance -- without the new dictate being vetted across the executive team. The idea is to prevent too many changes at once or inadvertent side effects from a new initiative.
Mercedes-Benz USA also will trim its written dealer policies and programs, Slaven said. Those could have been typed on two sheets of paper in 2008. Today, they fill 34 sheets.
New items have been added since 2008, but nothing was taken away, he said. The policies and programs will be reissued in the coming months, and Slaven has asked his team to reduce them to roughly two pages.
"It's going to be a lot leaner, a lot easier to understand, with a lot less bureaucracy to it," he said.
That's the kind of change Exler and dealers want.
"All these processes were put in place with good intention," said Mike Loeber, president of Loeber Motors. But each adds complexity that makes it harder for dealers to spend time with employees and customers, he said, and that can hurt the business.
He praised Exler for launching the immersion program and noted that it's being left to the hosting dealer to guide the visit. There was no predetermined agenda from headquarters and regional staff stayed away.
"Drew was very open: We had to tell him a couple times, 'Sometimes your baby is ugly,' and, 'This thing doesn't really work,' " Loeber said. "With Dietmar and his openness and his commitment to simplifying things, we can be more effective with some of these procedures if they're just simplified, and we see it happening already."
Simplification has been the hallmark of Exler's first six months as U.S. brand chief. He has spoken of his commitment to it repeatedly -- though he is clear that he won't reduce standards. He told dealers in May that he would look for ways to streamline training programs and reduce travel and time out of the store for dealership leaders.
Dealers have praised his efforts so far. They already knew him well. Exler, a native of Austria, was Mercedes-Benz USA's vice president of sales for two years before being promoted to the top U.S. job after Steve Cannon left the company in December. He ran the brand's captive finance arm in the U.S. for four years before that.