Ken Enders almost started his career in computers instead of cars.
The new vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. was about to receive his master's degree in industrial technology education at Indiana State University. His future father-in-law, who worked at IBM Corp., planned to get Enders hired at Big Blue.
'Right before I graduated, IBM announced a worldwide hiring freeze,' said Enders. He had always loved cars, and he joined Mercedes-Benz in 1985 as a field service manager.
His first car was a Chevrolet Monza, which he drove six years as an undergraduate at the State University of New York in Oswego and as a graduate student. But after two years he grew tired of its slow acceleration. He bought a Cor-vette engine from a friend and installed it in his Monza along with a four-speed transmission and dual exhaust.
'It was the ultimate sleeper,' he said, meaning his small car surprised other drivers with fast acceleration. He now drives the SL500. 'But I drive competitors' cars as much as I do our own cars,' Enders said.
The Huntington, New York, native held various regional and corporate positions at Mercedes before being chosen as U.S. product manager for the new C class in fall 1992. In that job, he coordinated volume planning, product communications and the launch strategy.
'I was involved very early in reassessing our product and market position,' he said. Enders, 39, considers the C class his biggest accomplishment. 'The C class really kicked off the (new) product assault,' in which Mercedes targets younger, hipper customers.
Dealer David Spisak, president of Bill Smythe European Inc. in San Jose, Calif., described Enders as 'a very straightforward guy. He really does have a real enthusiasm for what he does.'
In May 1994, Enders was named general manager of marketing and product management. In that post, he headed the company's customer care program. In September 1996, his duties were expanded to include market research, new product development and pricing. He had reported to Joe Eberhardt, the former vice president of marketing who was recently promoted to CEO of DaimlerChrysler UK.
Enders now reports to Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Paul Halata and joins the division's management team. He will oversee all product marketing, retail development and engineering services for the U.S. operation.
He predicted his biggest challenge will be to retain Mercedes' leadership. 'It's one task to climb to the top of the mountain. It's more difficult to stay there.'