As local production wraps up for Holden, we sat down with the Managing Director of Holden, Mark Bernhard, in his Port Melbourne office to reminisce about his 31 years with the brand, and what the future brings for Holden.
You can read it below, or listen to the interview at the bottom of this article, as featured on Celebrating Holden: a podcast special.
CarAdvice: What is your history with Holden?
Mark Bernhard: I started with Holden in 1986, the same year we launched the VL Commodore. I worked in the finance function for ten years. I saw some interesting things at that time, including going through a joint venture with Toyota.
I then moved overseas to Zurich and Detroit. From there, I went to Singapore, which at the time was our Asia-Pacific headquarters, and moved to Shanghai in 2002, just as the China market was taking off. I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity by General Motors to work in that type of environment.
What was it like working in the Motor City (Detroit)?
I was only there for 10 months. It was a different environment. The industry dominates the city, and anyone you meet, either works in the industry, one of their family members or one of their close friends works in the industry.
It is very different to here. It’s vibrant because of that, and it’s very competitive, as you hear everything that’s going in within the industry. It’s a lot of fun being there.
Explain a day in the life of Mark Bernhard.
When I came back to Holden, there were two aspects to my job. One was to work through the closure and make sure we looked after the people who have tremendous passion that have their hearts, minds and soul into the business.
The second aspect is – to honour those people – is making sure we build a really bright future for the company, so that tends to be where more of the time is spent, and adding to that, customer experience.
It’s really those three aspects; the brand, the product and the customers, which it is for most automotive companies.
What has been your major highlight?
It’s probably being involved in China, where I spent eight-and-a-half-years. In that time I saw phenomenal growth in that marketplace and being involved with GM establishing new plants, and establishing Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac in the market.
But, I never dreamt of being the Managing Director of Holden, so that’s equally incredible and exciting. This journey still has plenty of legs in it, so by the time I reach retirement, I would say this position has been a highlight.
What is your favourite Holden?
The VL Commodore. At the time when I drove it, it was the most exciting product I’d driven. It was also the year I joined Holden, so I think that holds a special place in my heart for those reasons.
What is Holden’s identity, now that we don’t have Australian-made cars?
Once we reach October 21, the day after closure, the business doesn’t change a lot from a market-facing perspective. We are going to retain 300 design and engineering staff, we are going to continue to test cars at the proving ground and make sure they’re tuned for Australian driving conditions. All of that work continues.
I think the only difference is, now we are focused on making sure we have got products in all the growth segments. In hindsight, we are probably a little bit late coming to the party with some of the SUV products. That’s probably the piece that changes, that we are much more active in getting products to where the customers are.
Which Holden, past or present, you think best represents what the true Aussie spirit is all about?
It’s definitely the Commodore. The billion-dollar baby, the VE. It really pulls together all the Aussie ingenuity, whether it’s the design or engineering team, or all of the suppliers who were involved in bringing that car to market.
Having worked overseas in a number of countries, there’s no country, anywhere, where there’s as much passion for any brand in the industry. Within General Motors, the Holden brand, whether it’s our fans, customers, dealerships or the people that work here, they hold a very special place in everyone’s hearts.
We would like to thank Mark for giving us an insight into his job and his incredible history with Holden. As Mark pointed out, his job doesn't stop after local production ends, and we wish him all the best as Holden moves forward into the future.
Listen to the interview with Mark Bernhard below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.
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