Michael Schaller, 45
Head of digital marketing, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Daimler
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
I started as a marketing strategist for target group management at Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. The automotive world has always been exciting to me. I like the industry’s ability to innovate and, as someone working in marketing, the strong emotions cars can evoke. That is much more inspiring and motivating than having to work with toothpaste or laundry detergent.
Languages: German, English, basic French
Education: Master’s degree in international business, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, USA; master’s degree in international marketing, European School of Business, Reutlingen, Germany; master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, Stuttgart, Germany
Your greatest achievement?
When I became head of global brand and marketing communications at Smart my job was to change the image from being a provider of simple A-to-B transportation to a “wanna-have-one” brand. We achieved this by setting many marketing levers, developing a new brand model, creating a new corporate identity, changing the agency setup and implementing an interactive international campaign development process. As a result, Smart went to the top of the charts in influential creative rankings of brands in 2016 from not even being mentioned in 2012.
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
During my time at Smart we tried to develop a comprehensive global marketing campaign for as many markets as possible. I brought in key players from all major markets and worked with them extensively from the beginning. I trusted they would all pull together and become a team. However, I soon discovered they secretly forged their own path. It taught me that each project requires close and continuous tracking as well as interim targets, no matter how carefully you choose your team.
What is your current challenge at work?
I am currently putting together a team from mixed responsibilities to work on digital touchpoints for Mercedes-Benz Vans to increase the consistency of our customers’ digital journey. I am trying to apply the lessons I learned at Smart about teamwork, targets, KPIs and tracking to this project.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
I find the industry’s constant engagement with change both surprising and impressive. While large, more traditional automotive companies might be slower to adapt than a startup, most of them have proved they can adapt rather quickly to factors such as new legislation, urban development, environmental and societal changes as well shifting customer expectations.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
If you want to start real change you need to leave your comfort zone. Don’t waste time looking back or speculating on the future. Use your time to concentrate on specific topics, focus your energy on the here and now so you can move things along.
2011-2016: Head of global marketing communications, Smart, Daimler, Stuttgart
2008-2011: Head of brand communications and strategy, Mercedes-Benz Cars, Daimler, Stuttgart
2004-2008: Executive assistant to VP of product marketing, Mercedes-Benz PKW, Daimler, Stuttgart
2003-2004: Head of product management powertrain, DaimlerChrysler, Stuttgart
2000-2002: Product manager Mercedes-Benz E class, DaimlerChrysler, Stuttgart
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
This industry is for you if you are open to fundamental changes, constantly rethinking established ideas and you are ready for many challenging years to come. You need to be aware that it will take a lot of energy and the willingness to go beyond your limits and those in the industry.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I would like a job that gives me the opportunity to create and develop things that will bring the automotive business to the next level. That means creating a different understanding of mobility, newly developed products and services as well as a holistic customer experience.
What do you do to relax?
I like to play with my 3-year-old daughter. It’s always very relaxing, inspiring, truly funny, sometimes exhausting but always extremely rewarding.
What is your pet peeve?
I don’t like spineless people. The ones who take the easiest path and aren’t willing to step out of their comfort zone.
What was your first car?
A third-generation VW Golf.
A Mercedes-Benz E450T 4MATIC.
If you were a car, which one would you be?
I would be a fuel cell car – efficient, sustainable, future-oriented. Most likely wearing a three-pointed star.