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When you are the boss, you must lead by example

Interview with Christian Coolsaet, Managing Director Germany of Volvo Group Trucks Central Europe GmbH

European Business: Mr. Coolsaet, how long have you worked for Volvo Trucks?

Christian Coolsaet: I have now been working for Volvo Group for 20 years. I spent several years as coordinator for the African market and in 2002 I went to Ukraine. Then came Romania, the biggest market for Volvo in Eastern Europe where I gained five years’ worth of experience. That was a very enjoyable time for me, both career-wise and personally. From 2012 I spent three years as Sales Director for the DACH region of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. After that I was Managing Director in South Africa for 14 months before coming back here 18 months ago.

European Business: After spending so much time abroad, what is it like to be working in Germany again?

Christian Coolsaet: It is a real privilege to be entrusted with leading this wonderful organization. In Germany, we are very process-oriented. For me it is the goal itself that is important. I always say: ‘Look to the goal and develop the process later’. Together, my operative, goal-oriented approach and the German process-oriented approach make for a really interesting combination.

European Business: How is Volvo currently performing and what have been the most important developments of the last few years?

Christian Coolsaet: Our turnover is around a billion EUR. Martin Lundstedt, our highest-ranking executive says that were Volvo Group Trucks Central Europe listed on the Stockholm stock exchange, we would be among the top 100 companies in Sweden. In other words, the company’s growth is more than satisfactory. Three or four years ago, we integrated two very attractive brands, Volvo Trucks Germany and Renault Trucks Germany into our organization. It was quite an extreme decision to bring two brands together under one umbrella. Sales and brand strategy continue to be separate but we offer a combined service. This strategy has proved highly successful. In 2016, we sold 7,000 Volvo trucks and 2,000 Renault trucks. When taken together with our service, we have grown to a not insignificant size. I work with the best in the world here and that, and the combination of two strong brands, is an important factor in our success. People love France for some things and Sweden for others.

European Business: What are the company’s flagship products?

Christian Coolsaet: One of our top products is the FH16. With 750 bhp, it is the most powerful vehicle in the sector. The Renault T High also deserves the top dog label. It has a flat floor. That makes it more comfortable for drivers spending eight hours of their working day behind the wheel.

European Business: Last year, you implemented an entirely new strategy in Germany. Can you tell us more about it?

Christian Coolsaet: 2016 was a very important year. We have made a lot of changes both internally and externally. We have completely eliminated an entire level of management to speed up decision making and bring us closer to our customers. I felt that our decision-making processes were simply too long and in need of drastic pruning. In addition, we no longer have four regional subsidiary companies but a centralized structure covering the whole of Germany instead. This means a standardized structure, direct contacts with customers and more power – because people on the ground are better able to make direct decisions.

European Business: What do you think is the reason for the success of Volvo Trucks?

Christian Coolsaet: We offer several USPs that other manufacturers are not able to match. For example, our dual-clutch transmissions or independent suspension. Volvo Trucks is also way ahead when it comes to technology and innovation. We just keep bringing out high performance vehicles that are lapped up by the market. This year, our Volvo and Renault trucks won first and second place at the YPTA, a competition for young drivers. That shows us that our innovative trucks are finding favour with a new generation of drivers.

European Business: You mentioned innovation: What are the key trends influencing the market and how is your company responding to them?

Christian Coolsaet: We are currently living through a golden era in the truck sector. The switch from traditional combustion engines to new technologies is in full swing and will likely continue for the foreseeable future. A clear focus is on how to implement new technologies in real-life situations. One of the keywords here is autonomous vehicles. We have already come a long way in this respect. Another topic is connectivity. Here, we can offer active monitoring. Volvo was also the first company to launch hybrid vehicles. That was before the e-mobility trend took off in earnest. Every manufacturer is now working on e-mobility solutions. However, here at Volvo, we still have a few surprises up our sleeves.

European Business: What is behind your marketing strategy?

Christian Coolsaet: Volva has a very creative approach to marketing. It is important for us to sell what we do and what we think is important in a creative way and with a healthy dose of humour. We also try to appeal to young people via a variety of channels. At a local level, we made an award-winning film here in Germany.

European Business: One of the key topics in current affairs is the diesel scandal. What effect have these events and the surrounding debate had on your company?

Christian Coolsaet: The diesel debate has certainly had a negative impact on the entire diesel industry. That is naturally regrettable. All I can say is that our hands are clean; of that I have no doubt. It is important that we now go on the offensive and present plans showing how we can turn the entire debacle to the good. In this respect, it is important that we commit to e-mobility solutions and work with natural gas-powered vehicles. We must show alternatives that will make the work of professional lorry drivers easier. Self-driving vehicles, increased safety, zero lorry accidents in the future – these are important topics that we want to address as creatively as possible.

European Business: Success on the level of that achieved by Volvo Trucks can only come from strong management. Can you tell us more about your management style and corporate culture?

Christian Coolsaet: Management executives have a very strong influence on corporate culture; that is something of which I am very aware. If you are in charge, then you must lead by example. In the last year and a half we have made a lot of changes. For example, I deliberately never wear a tie. A certain hierarchical structure is needed to avoid a complete free-for-all but at the end of the day we are all colleagues and share a common desire to ensure that our customers are satisfied. That is why I use the informal ‘du’ form of address with our customers and dealers as well as all my colleagues. I want everyone here to feel equal. Treating everyone as equals is a core part of our corporate culture. It is seen positively by our customers. Our passion can also be felt in the market.

European Business: Where do you see Volvo Group Trucks Central Europe in three years?

Christian Coolsaet: I hope that we will continue to move in the same positive direction. Our progress so far has been excellent and we have demonstrated how profitable bringing two brands under a single umbrella can be. Unfortunately, the entire industry faces an uphill fight. We want to weather the coming storm and turn it into something positive.

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