A search is in progress for the next head of Mercedes-Benz U.S. operations to replace Ernst Lieb, who was fired in October amid a crackdown on ethics violations at Daimler. Five names are being touted at the Stuttgart headquarters:
-- Marcus Breitschwerdt, former Mercedes-Benz Canada CEO, who moved to head Mercedes in Britain in April. He joined the carmaker in 1991 and has held senior roles in marketing, planning and sales, including director of marketing strategy for Mercedes-Benz Cars. Under Breitschwerdt's leadership Mercedes-Benz Canada more than doubled its sales and market share from 2003 to 2010. But Mercedes may not want to tear him from his new role so soon.
-- Wolf-Dieter Kurz, CEO of Daimler's Turkish subsidiary since 2009. Kurz started his career with Mercedes-Benz in 1989 in the passenger vehicle unit. After posts in sales and marketing, aftersales and parts, project and product management, he was named head of aftersales in 2003. From 2004 to 2009, he was head of marketing for Mercedes passenger vehicles.
-- Matthias Luehrs, head of sales at Mercedes-Benz Cars, who is close to Mercedes global sales chief Joachim Schmidt. Luehrs had been managing director of Mercedes-Benz Cars for the Australia/Pacific region and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Latina.
-- Philipp Schiemer, vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz Cars, also one of Schmidt's confidants. He has been vice president of project management and vice president of sales in markets such as Brazil.
-- Michael Slater, head of Mercedes sales in the United States. He has no experience in leading a big market, but company insiders say it might be wise to promote him because he is familiar with Lieb's master plan for the United States and he has close contacts with dealers.
Theoretically, a hot candidate should be Klaus Maier, CEO of Mercedes-Benz China. (That's not the Klaus Maier who was Mercedes' former head of global sales and marketing; he left the company in 2009.) "But we won't tear a hole in China to fill one in the U.S.," a Daimler source told Automotive News.
It's delicate decision. Whoever accepts the new challenge won't be available to succeed Schmidt, who likely will retire in two or three years.
The United States is Mercedes' second-biggest market -- after Germany and ahead of China. So Lieb's successor needs to be picked quickly. And the new boss must continue to have a strong and close relationship with the brand's U.S. dealers, as Lieb did.