Nissan's Mexico boss preaches the gospel of 'numero uno'
Jose Luis Valls: "Maybe my management style is a little romantic. I tell people, we can make this happen.
DETROIT -- Things are different in Mexico for Nissan -- starting with its president.
With shoulder-length hair and a white scarf over the collar of his business suit as he walks through the Detroit auto show, Jose Luis Valls, 44, could easily make it as Latin America's latest gift to Hollywood rather than an auto executive.
But Nissan would not likely let him go. The automaker is dominating the Mexican market under Valls' watch. Nissan holds a 25 percent share of Mexico's growing market. And Valls' ambition is to expand even that.
"Once you get there, the challenge is to stay there," Valls says. "But that's not the way I look at it. My next step is to go to 27 percent.
"Why not? We had just 23 percent a couple of years ago."
In the United States, Nissan North America is trying to move from 7.9 percent to a 10 percent market share by 2016. But that share slipped in 2012, from 8.2 percent.
Mexico is highly competitive. Fifty vehicle brands compete there, including a few that do not do business in the United States.
Five of the top 10 vehicles sold in Mexico are Nissans. Nissan's Mexican-market small pickup, the MP300, ended 2012 with a 97 percent share of that segment.
"I said, why don't we go for 100 percent?" Valls says of his conversations with his team. "I was just kidding. They were relieved."
Nissan recruited Valls from General Motors two years ago, where he had been head of sales for GM Argentina, to work under rising star Jose Munoz in Mexico. Munoz, a native of Spain, pushed Nissan's fortunes in the growing Mexican market so well that he was promoted to senior vice president over all Latin America, in the hope that he would spread the success to Brazil and other markets.
Munoz then was promoted to manage Nissan's dealer network development all over the Americas, including the United States. He has now been promoted, effective April 1, to senior vice president of sales and marketing for North and South America and of customer quality and dealer network development.
Valls now must keep the sales fire burning in Mexico, and he is tackling the job with a zealous mission he calls "the No. 1 mind-set."
"Being No. 1 here is not a sales target," says Valls, who is president in charge of sales for Nissan Mexico. "It's a culture that we want to instill in the minds of everyone in the organization."
When Valls speaks of "No. 1," it is not the usual car business hyperbole. He requires employees and retailers to concentrate on being No. 1. He asks that plans put forth by his managers address how any particular move will help Nissan remain No. 1 in Mexico.
That includes finance. Nissan is also the market's largest auto lending company and has helped introduce leasing in Mexico as a finance tool for its luxury Infiniti vehicles. Despite Mexican resistance to leasing as a concept, Valls has asked his Nissan dealers to begin offering lease programs this year as an experiment.
Often, when visiting a dealership, Valls will ask the dealer to raise his right hand and take an oath that he will always take care of his customers and strive to be "numero uno" in his market.
Eager to apply Mexico's lessons in other markets, Nissan's home office in Yokohama recently asked Valls and his managers to come to Japan to explain how they are channeling their "No. 1 mind-set" to hold on to their 25 percent market share. Over the course of his visit, Nissan's Japanese employees began greeting him in hallways and elevators with a forefinger in the air, repeating his Spanish "numero uno."
"Maybe my management style is a little romantic," says Valls, who hold a master's degree in management from the University of California-Berkeley. "I tell people, we can make this happen.
"When I first stepped into this role, they told me, there's no chance of holding on to this level. From now on, we can only lose market share. And increasing it will be impossible.
"I don't accept that," he says. "If we keep that mind-set and we focus, it's more than sales numbers. It becomes how we think and act."
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.