Reinventing the 21st century car: Daimler executives explore agility on three continents

Client stories

Daimler

20 September 2016

In 1885 Gottfried Daimler invented the first car – a horseless wagon, powered by an internal combustion engine. Today the company is one of the world’s iconic brands, yet it operates within an industry riding a turbulent wave of technological innovation.

We’ve partnered with Daimler since 2010. Most recently, our work with its top management team has evolved from exposing executives to the realities of overseas markets, to illuminating the benefits of business disruption and new leadership principles. Our experiential approach combined with facilitated workshops has been a powerful model.

Beijing Quest, 2014

China is a vital growth market for car and truck companies. But global executives can find that their perspective is limited to their hotel, office, factory, and airport. How can they gain a true understanding of the business culture of an overseas market, and of its people (citizens, customers, employees)? Leaders’ Quest designed a programme of small-group visits in Beijing that took Daimler to domestic companies, start-up parks, ports, state-owned enterprises, art galleries, street markets, shopping malls, media celebrities, bloggers and students. 

We travelled by bus, metro, bullet train, bicycle and on foot. We cooked food, we bargained, we got lost, we drank tea and we shared stories. This kind of grassroots exposure is unique. It generates insight into customer needs, and strengthens relationships with employees and suppliers. We captured learnings in a short ‘reflection’ focused both on their individual leadership and what this means for their teams and customers.

Silicon Valley Quest, 2015

A year later we created an immersion to Silicon Valley. Traditional car companies face aggressive competition from Google, Tesla and Uber. A once-stable industry has become volatile, complex and uncertain. Established car-makers need to learn from their younger rivals and accelerate new technologies. Our programme included giant Silicon Valley brands, VC firms, pitch sessions at incubators, garage start-ups, a hackathon contest and a visit to Stanford University. We explored the Valley approach of rapid prototyping and fast failure, using non-hierarchical teams. And meetings with entrepreneurs shed light on ways for an industry leader to absorb the start-up mentality, but still retain its long-standing advantages.

London Quest, 2016

Silicon Valley showed Daimler the disruptive impact of new technology and the need for different models of leadership. So this year its executives gathered in London to meet some inspiring leaders who aren’t afraid to break the rules. In other words, paradigm-busting pioneers who act with agility. We visited successful businesses, sparred in the ring at boxing gyms, joined theatre programmes, coding workshops and self-portrait classes, and dropped in on community centres working with disadvantaged kids.

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Each Quest shone a powerful light on leadership in a complex environment. As facilitators, we helped Daimler executives explore ways to apply what they’d seen to their own lives – within the workplace and beyond. At Leaders’ Quest we have learned that the passion of great leaders is inspiring and infectious. Our programme created a groundswell of energy for Daimler’s ambition: to re-invent the 21st century car.