Mercedes-Benz USA promotes marketing chief Steve Cannon to CEO
Cannon, 50, has been vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA since June 2007. He will replace Ernst Lieb, and become only the second American to head Mercedes' U.S. unit.
Photo credit: MERCEDES-BENZ
Mercedes-Benz USA will promote marketing chief Steve Cannon to president and CEO, effective Jan. 1.
Cannon, 50, has been vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA since June 2007. He will replace Ernst Lieb, 56, who was fired abruptly in October for alleged misuse of company funds.
Cannon is only the second American to become CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, according to a company spokeswoman. The first was Mike Jackson, who is now CEO of AutoNation Inc.
Herbert Werner, 56, vice president of finance at Mercedes-Benz USA and the only German on the automaker's U.S. executive team, has been serving as interim CEO.
Cannon will oversee responsibility for the Mercedes-Benz, Maybach, Sprinter and smart brands in the United States. He will report to Joachim Schmidt, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Mercedes-Benz Cars.
Cannon began his automotive career in 1991 as executive assistant to the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz of North America.
He later relocated to the automaker's global headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and joined a small team assigned with the development, manufacturing and launch of the M-Class.
It was the first Mercedes-Benz SUV ever made in and for the U.S. market.
Dealers applauded Cannon's appointment.
"We're excited and we're pleased," said Michael Cantanucci, president of New Country Motor Car Group based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and chairman of the Mercedes-Benz dealer board.
Cantanucci said Cannon has "in-depth knowledge of Mercedes USA, the dealer body, the market and the products," and "he has been part of the success."
"It's a good decision."
Cannon, an amicable executive who is fluent in German, is the father of nine children.
He is a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger and was stationed in Germany for three years where he served as a 1st Lieutenant before the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Raising the bar
The military's focus on precision and discipline has remained with Cannon throughout his career.
He starts most days -- hours before employees arrive -- working out in the company gym.
He said in an interview with Automotive News that his top focus will be "to continue to raise the bar of what is a high performing organization – you could not say that five years ago."
Cannon was part of the new management team under Lieb that turned Mercedes-Benz around by improving its tarnished image, quality, and dealer and customer relations.
Cannon said Mercedes-Benz relations with its dealers -- based partially on its improved results in NADA dealer attitude surveys -- is at a 20-year high.
"With this appointment Germany has validated the strength of this team in that they believe we have the talent from within. It wasn't necessary to take someone from the global organization or Stuttgart and parachute them in to run this show," Cannon said.
The United States is the second-biggest market worldwide for Mercedes-Benz. But the brand is facing enormous pressure from BMW, Audi and to a lesser degree, Lexus and even Porsche, here and in other regions, notably China.
"I feel like I really understand the Mercedes-Benz brand," Cannon said. "For the last four years we have been focusing our communication on the things that make us different – safety, innovation, design, performance and craftsmanship.
"Those are the strengths that I will build on while I am getting comfortable in parts of the business that I have spent less time in."
Mercedes-Benz is jostling with BMW for the U.S. luxury brand crown this year, which it lost to Lexus in 1999.
Mercedes' U.S. sales, excluding Sprinter and Maybach, have climbed 12 percent to 219,443 units this year through November. During the same period, BMW's U.S. vehicle sales were up 12 percent to 221,073 units.
Cannon said although Mercedes has narrowed the gap with BMW to about 1,600 units, he'll be content it "if happens naturally."
"We will not go crazy chasing a luxury crown."