The culture at Nissan Australia must change, according to new managing director and CEO Richard Emery, who cites a “distressed selling environment” where cars are discounted due to inflated targets as contributing to a lack of confidence within the company.
Employing an internal strategy tagged ‘Nissan Now’, Emery said he is already turning things around for the brand and its workers following heavy discounts and lofty sales targets in 2013.
“Nissan Now is about saying ‘I know, guys, we did things a year ago you didn’t like; I know you didn’t agree with certain actions that we took, but I can’t fix that,’” explains the man who has been in the top job for four months.
“They’re in the past, and you can bring them up all you like … but I can’t fix them. What do you want me to do right now?”
A lot of what Emery calls “hardware” issues were apparently as easily fixed as saying “guys, let’s stop ordering some cars, let’s get our model mix right, they were all Excel files that punch out a number and having the confidence of saying look ‘I’m going to ring Japan and tell them we’re gonna do that, right?’”.
However he admits it was “the software things – the mental attitude – that’s what struck me first”.
“The whole business, the whole brand, salespeople on showroom floors, they just needed to feel some confidence and some wins on the board, and that’s probably the hardest thing to turn around,” he continued.
“They’d been through the ringer, as a business unit and their relationship with the dealers. So I worked on that really hard in the first 10 to 12 weeks, saying to Japan that I know you think we’ve got ourselves into a bit of a mess [but] we’re gonna clean these things up. Here’s the action plans to get these things cleaned up, can you let us do some other stuff to get people re-engaged.”
To coincide with its 80th anniversary, Nissan has taken 80 salespeople to Japan to see the factories, the heritage museum and speak with executives about future products and plans. Emery said that dealers having photos of them at the factory on their desks while talking to customers is an example of changing the culture within the business.
“There was just none of that positive vibe,” he explained.
“The perception out there was that we were a basket case and we had all these nasty business practices, which were … well, we weren’t the only ones doing them, but we became the poster child to point at [in] the industry and say ‘you’ve been playing games [and] overstocked having paddocks full of cars’.”
The Nissan Australia boss tackled that latter issue head-on with media attending the local launch of the Nissan Qashqai this week in Brisbane, saying that the brand did not have thousands of cars on grass, as had been reported. Getting rid of excess stock due to inflated sales targets has, however, been another strategy employed to improve dealer confidence.
“It helps that we’ve … cleared some stock, some things that were head-knicking them [dealers],” said Emery.
“Everyday they come to work [thinking] ‘there’s that bloody thing I’ve had for a year’ – we’ve cleaned a lot of that up. So they come to work and see fresh stock, they know that Qashqai is coming, they don’t have cars that are a year old in stock anymore, and that changes your mentality pretty quickly.
“When a customer does walk into the showroom floor, you’re enthused to see them rather than: ‘Urgh, I’ll see if I can sell them that year-old red Pulsar we can’t sell’. So it’s a real mental shift, and we’re getting over the hump of that.”
A new retail advertising campaign will begin nationwide next week that is less “shouty” than usual price-driven Nissan commercials, as Emery aims to shift the brand from being a choice made by consumers shopping on price alone. He said that attitude has contributed to an “apologetic” view about Nissan products internally, which in turn created a negative corporate culture.
Emery also said to media that questions about claims made by former Nissan Australia boss Bill Peffer that the brand wants to be the number one importer locally would no longer be answered, as “that’s not the plan [and] that’s not news”.
Emery instead sees consolidation then growth as the plan forward, parallels of which he draws with his six-year stint as general manager of sales at Mercedes-Benz Australia, where he presided over huge sales growth.
“Some of the core issues that existed with Benz exist with Nissan. It took a year to stabilise and prepare for the growth phase, and I think it’s going to take a year, or perhaps nine months, to achieve the same thing.
“The projects that are underway at the moment [are] about getting our house in order. We’ve made a promise to do that by Christmas time. We’re on plan to do that. We’ve got a lot of ticks in the boxes already. Once you’ve dealt with that you can start dealing with growth [and] the opportunities to grow the business.
“I can see a time in 2015 that we’ll start to do that,” Emery said.