Mercedes-Benz CEO Steve Cannon Steers Luxury To Attainable, Connected New Paths

Steve Cannon, newly minted CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, got his leadership skills from his time spent in fatigues. Though you won't find him telling staff to drop and give him 20, he is leading a charge into new tech territory and looking for a few good Gen Y customers to buy into the heritage brand.

Steve Cannon cut his leadership teeth at West Point (where his record for doing 133 pushups in two minutes is still unchallenged), and as a U.S. Army Ranger patrolling the West German border before and during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now, he’s rallying troops as CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA), a subsidiary of the German Daimler corporation, and leading a charge to position the heritage brand as an affordable, digitally tricked-out alternative for Gen Y buyers. 

"We’ve got a story that no other manufacturer can tell," Cannon says, referring to the company’s claim that they built the first automobile 125 years ago. Mercedes also has dibs on being first to use ABS and airbags, among other now-standard safety features. Cannon, who served as MBUSA’s vice president of marketing until he was appointed CEO in January, can tell an impressive tale about the company’s long history of innovation while keeping a steady hand on safety, mostly because he’s helped drive it.

Cannon’s automotive career began in 1991 when he was executive assistant to the CEO of Mercedes-Benz of North America (predecessor to MBUSA). From there he moved to Stuttgart to join the small team that launched the M-Class, the first Mercedes-Benz SUV ever made in, and for, this market.

"Now, as we move through electric and alternative drive trains, and autonomous cars, there is even regulation in Washington that is embracing that innovation. This march forward is never ending."

Cannon will preside over the launch of a new class of vehicle as well as mbrace2, the company’s upgraded in-car digital platform. Cannon says both the car and the technology are designed to appeal to a younger, virtually connected and cost-conscious consumer. The A-Class compact will debut at $30,000—$6,000 less sticker shock than its nearest cousin, the M-Class sedan.

Paying attention to the needs of the Gen Y customer (who may not even be a customer yet) has informed the some of the features in the mbrace2 that will be installed standard in every new Mercedes. To do this, Cannon says MBUSA made a "heavy investment" in social media and he personally taps an online community of advisors to live chat with on quarterly basis. Cannon says mbrace2’s 3G connectivity (for cloud-based upgrades) and apps (social media, keyless entry), for example, came from a simple question: "Why should I pay an extra $3,000 [for GPS] when I have it on my phone?" 

Eschewing the touchscreen and placing the display higher on the dash may not be as aesthetically pleasing as some of its luxury competitors’ designs, but Cannon says it’s an effort to protect drivers who can’t disconnect. "We integrate in the most sensible and safest manner possible. If we don’t, they are going to be holding up their phone while driving."

That hasn’t stopped him from putting 20-somethings behind the wheel of the most expensive S-Class vehicles, either. "They’re not the target market, but their perception is going to drive perception of the brand," he observes, "In order to win, you have to know who they are. That means digital, social, and all the things we are doing."

And winning is something that’s top of mind for this executive. Globally, Mercedes-Benz sold 1.26 million vehicles in 2011, finishing neck-and neck with BMW. Though Cannon has said he’s "not going to go crazy chasing the luxury crown," it helps that so far this year to date, MBUSA is up over 17 percent, selling a total of 106,364 new vehicles to customers. 

For him, its another chance to use his military background to rally the troops that started right when he was appointed CEO. Cannon says he spent several weeks just going around to the three buildings at MBUSA’s New Jersey headquarters and shaking everyone’s hand. The sheer number of emails he received in gratitude for that personal introduction was "disproportionately positive," he says and distinguished him from his predecessor Ernst Lieb, who "didn’t walk the floor like that."

Cannon leveraged that introduction to do more in-depth reviews of the ranks from each division, starting with top brass and working his way down the heirarchy. "When you are the new guy, you have permission to ask ten thousand questions," he says. The roving SWOT analysis enabled him to see people in action and assess the strength of the team. 

"For me, it is about setting the bar high and being a visible example. In the Army, they say when you see something that doesn’t live up to a high standard and you don’t say anything, you set a new standard," he explains. By getting to know how everyone works, Cannon says he’s more able to see who needs "a pat on the back or a kick in the butt." 

What emerged after five months in the trenches was, "A robust management alignment that got people not just nodding to the vision, but to have a part in creating it," he says. 

Cannon believes this is going to help MBUSA compete in an increasingly tougher luxury market. So by putting customer experience at the top of MBUSA’s priority list —something Cannon says could use improvement— he’s placing himself on the front line to defend Mercedes’ high standard of excellence. "How can you have anything lower for a brand that espouses the best or nothing?" 

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7 Comments

  • petroff56
          Here is the experience I had with my second Mercedes SLK 280 Vin # WDBWK54F96F102305. At some 31000 Miles I had a “check engine” problem. One of the pistons had to be replaced. At 43105 Miles I had another “check engine” problem – cylinder 3 misfire because of coil faulty. At 49 009 Miles I had an “ESP system failure”. The “CONTROL UNIT” had to be replaced. After three days of service I picked up the car and the very next day I had again this “check engine” light on. Under the hood I find a pincers. So far for the good service and reliability of Mercedes.  Ones - it happens, one second time it maybe a bad luck, but the third time and after that it is a systematic problem and failure. All works was made at the address:  4400N DALE MABRY, Tampa, FL 33614 USA. First think I did after the last repair, was to sell the Mercedes immediately, thanks God.  And the next was to celebrate, having a glass of champagne.      Paul Petroff                          
  • Dualseatbelt

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    Safety1st@dualseatbelt.vpweb.com . Dualseatbelt will be the best Safety System for your Customer, they deserve all around Safety, at Dualseatbelt You're Outur Priority . Contact Me ASAP, before You go any further with Ford Motor. My Lawyer and I can prove and show you how are product will be way more Safe and way more Comfortable, plus way more Cost Effective. Safety is Alway 1st at Dualseatbelt, You're Our Priority. ANTONIO CHAMBERS THANKS

  • AMG 55

    My V8 AMG engine is great and glorious.  It's just everything around it that is Mercedes problematic.  Engine and trans mounts, water pump (multiple times), power seat components, cheap glue used on woodgrain and the engine cover logo, crank angle sensor, brake switch, the list goes on despite top dollar genuine dealer servicing.  Then you have Mercedes Australia pricing:  $2000AUD for a drivers mirror and nearly $800 for front brake pads.  Greedy and ignorant as.  Come on now, be fair to loyal Customers.

  • JAZZIJUNICE

    I am an 80 yr old lady who made the mistaKE OF BUYING A USED SMART CAR. i DID NOT BUY IT FROM LONESTAR IN WINNIPEG BUT i DID IMMEDIATELY TAKE IT IN TO BE BROUGHT UP TO STANDARD. tHEY CHARGED ME $1000.00 TO DO SO. tHE CAR SHORTED OUT WHERE THEY SAID IN THE MANUAL NO CHILD SHOULD BE LEFT IN THE FRONT SEAT BECAUSE THEY MIGHT BE ELECTROCUTED, AND IT CAUGHT FIRE. tHEY REFUSED TO STAND BEHIND THIER WORK WHATEVER THEY DID. AND i WAS OUT 16,000 HARD EARNED MONEY. hAVING WORKED ALL MY LIFE i THINK THIS WAS UNACEPTABLE FROM A COMPANY LIKE MERCEDES bENZ. tHIS WAS A FEW YEARS AGO AND i AM STILL ANGRY AND UPSET THAT A COMPANY LIKE THIS NOT ONLY REFUSED TO MAKE GOOD BT ACTUALLY LAUGHED AT ME  FOR BUYING IT FROM SOMEONE ELSE. LIKE I SHOULD KNOW THAT THIER REPAIRS WERE NOT ANY GOOD TO ME.. i ASKED AT THE TIME WAS THE WARANTY OK AND WAS TOLD YES.I WOULD NEVER TELL ANYONE TO BUY FROM LONESTAR OR EVEN FROM MERCEDES BENZ. LONESTAR SHOULD BE CLOSED.jUNICE YAYLOR

  • Alvelos

    I feel your transmission pain. I bought a CPO ML 350 and only now 5000 $ later learned they have had big transmission issues. How can they certify a casr they know has major repair issues. I hear 07 and 09 were very bed, I will kick them if you find them. Susan

  • Lphig

    Have had nine cars over the past thirity years never have had the issue or poor customer service as with my sclass4 2007 the same issue with the transmission has been in the shop over a dozen times and now still can,t fix it now the problem is showing up on my wifes rclass 4 for what it is worth have two WSest Point grads in immediate family at leasdt I would get a return call or someone would get a "kick in the butt"

  • William Seidman

    Steve Cannon is to be applauded for his leadership. It seems
    to me that he is not just trying to change MBUSA’s products, but to change its
    culture. The comment about spending 5 months “in the trenches” and that the
    result is “management alignment” suggests that he is really trying to do
    something quite fundamental with the company. Here are a few suggestions we
    would make, based on more than 15 years of helping large complex organizations
    change their cultures:

     

    ·        
    Focus intensely on articulating the greater “purpose”
    of MBUSA in terms of the social good it creates. This is not some lame mission
    statement, but a short concise statement that energizes everyone in the
    organization to re-think themselves.

    ·        
    Identify your true top performers – the “positive
    deviants” – and ask them about their compelling purpose and how they define and
    achieve mastery of their functions. This is a much faster approach than
    spending 5 months on the road. Typically, we can get the most critical
    information from the positive deviants in a 3-day workshop involving just 6-10
    of these people

    ·        
    Use the latest in neuroscience research,
    particularly the neuroscience breakthroughs on positive images and learning, to
    drive the organization to quickly embrace the purpose and therefore become
    highly motivated to embrace the new culture

    ·        
    Establish social groupings and opportunities for
    individual reflection to guide people to continuously re-frame themselves and
    their work

     

    If MBUSA follows these simple guidelines, culture change
    will happen much faster and be significantly deeper.