When your new boss used to have your job, there’s nowhere to hide.
Derrick Hatami left Hyundai Motor America in January 2014 to become Nissan’s U.S. sales chief. Last September he returned to Hyundai as vice president of sales, working under CEO Dave Zuchowski, who managed sales at the brand from 2007 to through 2013.
Now Hatami has a key role as Hyundai works to mend ties with its dealers and to position itself as a top-tier brand in the U.S. It helps that he and Zuchowski seem to agree on nearly everything, right down to an affinity for golf and cigars.
“It’s a very positive thing,” Hatami, 43, said of working with Zuchowski. “Nothing gets lost in translation. He knows exactly what’s going on, and we’re on the same page more times than not.”
Hatami has been climbing the ranks since 2000, when he earned an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He began in consulting, working at Accenture and J.D. Power & and Associates before joining Hyundai in 2005 as director of revenue management and strategic planning. In that job he was in charge of pricing, incentives and market research.
Five years later, Hatami was asked to merge California and Western sales. He was general manager of the combined regions from 2010 through the end of 2013.
“My job was to integrate them, which as you can imagine can be challenging based on cultural differences between how regions run,” he said.
Hatami’s other task at the time was to turn California from a weakness into a strength. Hyundai executives were disappointed in the brand’s low market share in such an import-friendly state.
Starting with a well-executed 2010 launch of the redesigned Elantra, Hatami’s team helped to boost share in California.
At Nissan, Hatami implemented a new incentive program for dealers that rewarded customer satisfaction and loyalty, not just sales. Upon returning to Hyundai, he faced a new set of problems.
Hyundai was ascendant in 2010 but now is patching up frayed relationships with dealers — whose margins have suffered from a lack of trucks — and with Hyundai Motor Finance, which critics have accused of being more concerned with its own financial health than the welfare of Hyundai Motor Group.
“You’re never going to have everybody completely happy,” Hatami said. “We’re at least having some open dialogue about what the problems are.”
— Gabe Nelson