ATLANTA -- Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon is leaving the automaker to head the company that owns the Atlanta Falcons.
Dietmar Exler, 47, U.S. sales chief, will become CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA effective Jan. 1, Mercedes said in a statement today.
Cannon, 54, will be a consultant to MBUSA until Jan. 31.
On Feb. 1, Cannon will become CEO of AMB Group, parent company of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, the Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer and other interests. The company is owned by The Home Depot co-founder Arthur M. Blank.
“This is a truly special opportunity for me to move from an iconic brand that I love to a role working with an iconic leader and the diversified Blank family of businesses,” Cannon said in a statement released today by the Blank organization.
“I made an immediate connection with Arthur because we have very similar value systems and a shared vision for what the customer experience can and should be. I look forward to working closely with the leaders within AMB Group and across the individual businesses to drive growth and deliver even greater value to the fans, customers, partners and communities that we serve.”
Exler's new role
In his new role at Mercedes-Benz USA, Exler takes over responsibility for Mercedes-Benz vehicles and the Smart brand for the U.S. and NAFTA regions. He had been vice president of sales for Mercedes-Benz USA since January 2014. Prior to that, Exler, a native of Austria, had various executive roles at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, Daimler Financial Services Europe and DaimlerChrysler Financial.
“Dietmar’s appointment is central to reinforcing our strategy and our standards around the world, and will continue to strengthen the ties and collaboration within our marketing and sales network,” said Ola Kaellenius, member of the board of management of Daimler AG responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars marketing and sales. “I would like to thank Steve for his leadership and contributions to our success story in the U.S., and wish him all the best in the future.”
Cannon had led the automaker’s U.S. arm since 2012. In July of this year, Mercedes-Benz USA moved to Atlanta from its longtime home in New Jersey. Cannon orchestrated that move.
Soon after the U.S. operation arrived in Atlanta, Cannon announced that the brand would sponsor the new Atlanta Falcons stadium under construction. It will open in 2017 as Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mercedes also sponsors the Superdome in New Orleans.
Mercedes-Benz is in a tight race for this year's U.S. luxury sales crown. After 11 months, Mercedes sold 308,885 vehicles, up 4.2 percent compared with the same period last year (the tally excludes sales of Sprinter commercial trucks). BMW leads with 311,398 sales, while Lexus is third with 303,221.
Meeting with employees
Cannon met with employees at the company’s Atlanta offices earlier today and announced his departure.
He told the group that it was a great opportunity, said one employee who attended the meeting. Cannon described the offer as “a new challenge,” said the employee, who did not want to be quoted by name. “He’s always told his kids to step outside their comfort zone, and he’s following his own advice.”
Another source, who also did not want to be named, said that Blank, who got to know Cannon during the negotiations for the stadium sponsorship, “came after Steve hard.”
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” the source said. “It was something Steve couldn’t say no to.”