Dirk Adelmann, 45
CEO, Smart Europe
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
I started working for Daimler Middle East in Dubai. That is when my interest in cars, especially in Mercedes-Benz, really took off. I was part of the massive expansion of Daimler’s representative office there and took on additional responsibilities. For me, this was the best way to launch my career after graduating from university.
Your greatest achievement?
Personally, it’s my family, who have accompanied me through all the highs and lows of my career, moving with me to places such as Saigon, where we were based for four years. With each challenge we grew stronger together. Professionally, I have been abroad a lot and still have contact to many of my former colleagues. It’s great to see how they have developed and progressed as people and professionals. I’m proud to have made a small contribution, along with a slight nudge or two, to help facilitate their growth. I’m also very proud to have won the Mercedes-Benz Market of the Year award in 2015 for the work we did as a team in Vietnam.
Born: Wertheim am Main, Germany
Languages: German, English, basic French and Spanish
Education: Degrees in business engineering and international business, Karlsruhe University of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
My first year in Vietnam was tough. The market dropped by 50 percent. We had a huge inventory of produced vehicles at our factory. Classic German management tools failed miserably so we did a complete re-start after three months. We closed the factory for six months, used the local team, including the retailers, to generate ideas and measures to dig us out of this ditch. We also established regular exchange sessions on all levels and between cross-functional teams. The best ideas didn’t come from the sales or marketing teams. Instead, they were generated by people in the aftersales and controlling departments. When my Vietnamese management team started to argue with me without holding back, we moved the company to more stable ground and later on to a very successful future. I learned that it’s usually not your great ideas but rather the ideas of your quieter team members that can make the difference.
What is your current challenge at work?
I’m trying to build a smart corporate spirit across 10 European countries. It’s a completely new team that has had to overcome several challenges caused by the pandemic, which severely limited our ability to have face-to-face meetings. Despite all this we are adding 10 to 15 new employees each month, which is tricky even without restrictions. However, we see light at the end of the tunnel.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
If you don’t like it, change it or leave it. That isn’t easy, but if you can follow this advice, it can save you lot of disappointments in all aspects of your life.
2020-present: CEO, Smart Europe, Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany
2016-2019: Retail strategy and new business models, Mercedes Benz Cars, Stuttgart, Germany
2012-2015: Managing director Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, Saigon, Vietnam
2007-2012: Market manager Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, Singapore
2006-2007: Market manager Chrysler Jeep Dodge, DaimlerChrysler, Stuttgart
2003-2006: Market manager Smart, Böblingen, Germany
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Do it! You will most likely face many challenges because the industry is in the middle of a massive transition. However, this means you have the chance to help re-define sustainable mobility for future generations.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I’m quite happy with the one I have currently. Great challenge, great team and a lot of freedom to co-create a better mobility.
What do you do to relax?
Mountain biking is tops on the list. I also enjoy restoring motorcycles, playing soccer, running and reading when I have free time.
What is your dream location to live?
I have two: Portland, Oregon, and Saigon.
What is your favorite driving song?
That would be “Beautiful Day” by U2.
What was your favorite road trip and why?
We drove up U.S. Highway 101 along the Pacific coast. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery, spent the days with great companions and had a lot of free time to savor.
What was your first car?
A Fiat Panda.
A Mercedes GLE 350de and a Smart ForFour.
If you were a car, which one would you be?
A Unimog because it can handle a wide range of challenges, a bit like a Swiss army knife.