Self-assured and at the same time unassuming, Juergen Rochert could be called a man with a mission. “We’re a captive,” the recently appointed leader of Daimler Truck Financial states plainly. “And our mission is clearly to support the sales of our brand partner — Daimler Trucks North America.” The veteran of the Daimler Benz organization began his tenure as a trainee some 28 years ago in his native Germany. Over the years, Rochert proved himself to be an apt and versatile finance executive and was a natural choice to succeed Richard Howard, who, in early 2010, was appointed to a new role to manage the Africa/Asia Pacific region.
“For the last 15 years, I’ve literally been non-stop in the North American financial services division,” Rochert explains. During those years, Rochert has more than demonstrated his leadership skills and versatility by, among other things, merging companies in Canada, separating them in Mexico and through his involvement with Daimler’s U.S. trucking business since the mid 1990s. He notes, “I know quite a lot of the dealers and the dealers’ councils and for most of these years, I’ve been a member of the North American executive committee. So, I’m very familiar with the issues and priorities.”
Today, Rochert sees his chief priority as a continuance of some very important groundwork laid by Klaus Entenmann, the executive who led Daimler Truck Financial from 2001 to 2004 and is now chairman of the board of Daimler Financial Services worldwide. “Klaus made a dramatic difference when he took over truck finance and it was a very difficult time. He mended fences, restructured the business, improved processes and established dealer and customer surveys. Klaus accomplished so much just by talking to our dealers and customers and meeting with them. It’s really what a captive is all about … open communications.”
When asked about his vision for Daimler Truck Financial, Rochert notes that Howard, his immediate predecessor, followed Entenmann’s clear mission of being the best captive possible. He says, “It’s for me to continue in this direction … to pull it ahead, so to speak. We’ll continue to support our sales and our brands — Freightliner, Western Star and Thomas Built buses — and focusing on our customer and dealer satisfaction. So what Klaus began back in 2001, we’ll continue to make better every year.”
And it’s with no shortage of pride that Rochert notes Daimler Truck Financial has won last year’s American Truck Dealers’ award for the best commercial captive. “That makes it four out of the last six years … and last year was probably the most difficult, if not the worst period ever. Frankly, that keeps us highly motivated to make our processes and procedures that much better so we can keep achieving this type of recognition.”
Daimler Truck Financial, which ranks #24 in this year’s Monitor 100 and #9 among captives, also scored well in a recent customer survey. “But,” Rochert says, “We are always looking at things we can improve. We look at all of the results and ask ourselves, ‘What can we learn here?’ Some of the things are obvious and are quick wins while others require an investment in technology or in other things. The point is we look at the things that are not in the highest ranking and ought to be and we quickly assemble what I think of as a SWAT team to impact those areas. We’re not resting on our laurels.”
And resting on one’s laurels would clearly be a mistake given the tough times the trucking sector has experienced in the last several quarters. And while the landscape has been bleak for quite awhile, Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations, recently went on record expressing optimism for the freight hauling business, albeit in the long term. We asked Rochert his thoughts on the matter.
“Well, I’m not an economist, but I can tell you what we’re seeing … for the last two months at least, we’re seeing increases in freight volume and rate. We see a much better utilization of trucking capacity and a lot of trucks that have been parked are now getting repaired. And we’re seeing a spike in orders for spare parts.” Rochert adds, “In addition to all this, we’ve seen our used truck values go up significantly, both in our inventory as well as the whole market. And we’ve seen some very interesting purchasing activity and even more quoting activity.”
As far as a return to pre-recession normalcy is concerned, Rochert sees those days, if all stays as is, most likely arriving at some point in the fourth quarter. “Probably not dramatic,” he says, “but we are actually very optimistic.”
On environmental fronts, Rochert underscores Daimler’s and Daimler Trucks North America’s support for a national program that develops standards for medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks with regard to fuel efficiency and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2014. “We think it’s absolutely important that our industry and the administration work collectively on these very complex, costly and important matters. We are partnering on this years in advance to make sure that the final goal is achieved without placing too many difficulties on the industry.”
As for the heavy-duty truck pre-buys experienced in 2007, is history destined to repeat itself here? “Only if it makes economic sense,” Rochert explains. “Trucking fleets are businesses, so it all depends on the impact that any new technology will have on the purchase price of the truck. What does it do to the maintenance price? Is there an ongoing benefit? Issues like these will need to be considered … it really depends on how the financials work out for the customer.”
Pre-buy opportunities aside, when all is said and done, it’s all about the dealers, the brand and doing what it takes to support sales. With firm conviction, Rochert states, “We’re the captive, we’re here in the tough times and we’re here to stay even while all the others who might be cheaper leave.” To make his point about being there for the long haul, he notes, “We’ve been there for many customers with cash-flow situations within the last two years to make sure they could keep operating. And I think we’ve proven it time and again — the key to everything is proactive, honest, transparent communication and cooperation to make sure we’re doing the right thing by our customers and to make sure that everybody knows what’s coming.”
To fulfill on his mission, Rochert says he really doesn’t have to look beyond Daimler Financial Services’ core values: integrity, openness and respect; financial and social responsibility; inspired and empowered employees, customer focus and commitment to excellence.
“These don’t come from the top down,” he notes, “they were developed through teamwork. We actually do a lot around social responsibility and it’s not just a ‘feel good’ thing, it really adds to employee satisfaction. Our people bond in these efforts … across hierarchies, across functions. And we wind up with inspired and empowered employees with their focus on the customers and a commitment to excellence. I think it makes us a better company.”
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