But now Zetsche has conceded that he and his other lieutenants at the German industrial giant that owns Mercedes-Benz need to speed up their decision-making so that they can function at the pace of Silicon Valley.
Zetsche plans to assign 150 executives to a new program designed to figure out how the company can speed up innovation and accelerate its leadership model to stay ahead of a quickly evolving industry driven increasingly by the digital-tech giants halfway around the world, such as Google and Apple, that have taken on huge influence in the auto industry.
“Our world is moving at record speed, challenges are more complex than ever, and many trends are anything but stable,” Daimler said in a letter signed by Zetsche and other management board members obtained by Bloomberg. “We will re-evaluate, and if necessary, redefine the way we lead our employees, our business and ourselves.”
Dubbed “Leadership 2020,” Daimler’s program will begin in January and run for six months, involving eight teams from around the globe but lacking a “predetermined outcome,” according to the letter.
Zetsche is pressing the issue while Daimler is on a roll. The company also makes Smart minicars and Freightliner trucks and owns the Car2Go car-sharing service, but it is Mercedes-Benz that he has operating on all cylinders these days. The iconic luxury-car maker has leveraged new product successes such as its relatively economical CLA sedan and GLA compact SUV into a position that threatens Volkswagen’s Audi brand as the world’s second-largest maker of luxury cars.
And even though the media are enamored of the threat that Silicon Valley giants pose to traditional automakers in the rapidly developing self-driving arena, research group Navigant has said that Mercedes-Benz is one of the clear leaders among car companies. Its technology and expertise in automated driving was featured prominently – along with that of Google – in a recent report on 60 Minutes.
Zetsche has fought through some reverses to get to the pinnacle he now enjoys. The 39-year veteran oversaw Chrysler from 2000 to 2005 under Daimler’s ownership, but after a mixed performance by its U.S. investment, once he was back in Germany running Daimler, Zetsche decided to get out of Chrysler.
But his helming of Daimler over the last decade mostly has put the company on a steady upward arc. And as illustrated by his move to establish Leadership 2020, Zetsche wants to keep it going.