Interview with Jean-Luc Mars, new CEO of Honda Moto in France
Asked by Site after his appointment as CEO of Honda Moto in France, Jean-Luc Mars, ex-CEO of Harley-Davidson and Buell France, reveals his objectives for motorcycles in general and for Honda in particular.
Site: What is the hiring process for a position as important as that of general manager of Honda Moto France ?
Jean-Luc Mars, new General Manager Honda Moto France : It’s a very classic process, with a first approach via a headhunter, then specific interviews with the various Honda executives in France and Europe, French, English and Japanese. In addition, the motorcycle is a small world where we know each other and I had the advantage, at the beginning of the process, of benefiting from a certain visibility.
Honda’s position in France seems unusually weak to me
M.-N.C. : On what criteria did the Japanese select your application ?
J.-L. M. : I think that the ability to communicate with the network was one of their major concerns, as well as the ability of the candidates to unite the teams on a project that was both ambitious and realistic.
M.-N.C. : After 18 years at Harley-Davidson, what motivates your "transfer" to Honda ?
J.-L. M. : Several factors were decisive: as a motorcycle enthusiast, it was difficult for me to imagine my entire career in one company, especially as distinctive as Harley-Davidson. Somehow, Honda represents a benchmark and a culmination, in a way an essential step. Then, Honda allows me to have access to new types of activities such as high level competition, off-roading or the 125 market. In another area, I am more and more concerned about the intelligent integration of our passion in our company, and Honda’s position in matters of safety, respect for the environment and the fight against nuisances seem to me very relevant. On this subject, I invite you to take a look at the recent statements (May 21) of our president, Mr. Takeo Fukui, in Japan on ABS and the arrival of latest generation engines (Variable Cylinder Management), which confirm a advanced strategy on the integration of motorcycles into society. Finally, Honda’s position in France seems unusually weak to me and the challenge of restoring color to this brand fascinates me. !
To win the loyalty of customers
M.-N.C. : How your long experience at Harley will help the world number one in France ?
J.-L. M. : The fundamentals of success are not very different for the two brands: product quality, customer satisfaction, network motivation, ability to adapt to increasingly rapid changes, all these elements should be the pillars of Honda’s success in France. The Harley experience will certainly help me to have a very customer-centric approach, his expectations, and no doubt to offer tracks that are currently unexplored to retain existing customers..
M.-N.C. : Did the announcement of the arrival of promising new products (for 2009 and beyond?) Prompt you to take the plunge ?
J.-L. M. : Certainly, but more than the models themselves, it’s what they represent in terms of the evolution of state of mind and ambition within the Honda company that convinced me. The CB1000R and DN-01, each in their own way, confirm that Honda is a brand of the future.
M.-N.C. : In your opinion, what are Honda’s strengths on the French market? ?
J.-L. M. : Clearly, the notoriety, the quality of the motorcycles, the quality of the after-sales service, the solidity and the loyalty of the dealer network.
M.-N.C. : What makes the world number one, however, only third in France, behind Yamaha and Suzuki ?
J.-L. M. : Several factors have contributed to deteriorate the commercial performance in recent years, but in addition to a range not always adapted to the demand of the French market, the complicated relationship with the dealer network and a certain coldness of the brand, not to say a certain arrogance, were in my eyes the most impacting factors.
I start from zero
M.-N.C. : Before accepting this position, you necessarily weighed the pros … and against! What will you regret about Harley? And what could be bothering you at Honda ?
J.-L. M. : After eighteen years with Harley, including four in the United States, I knew the house like the back of my hand. My internal network was very developed and I believe that I had a good image internally … At Honda, I start from zero, I don’t know anyone and no one knows me, but I learn quickly and discovery is good obviously part of the fun !
M.-N.C. : From a purely practical point of view, what are the differences and similarities between working in an American company (especially Harley) and a Japanese company (in particular Honda) ?
J.-L. M. : Difficult to answer after only a few weeks at Honda … Nevertheless, the Japanese approach seems to me to be more structured, more analytical, more rigorous, less intuitive with undoubtedly less space given to individual creativity.
Promoting motorcycles in France is not a modest objective !
M.-N.C. : Is your goal to bring Honda back to first place in France, as your predecessor Florent Lionnet had wished (read), or more modestly to "develop motorcycles in France", as you indicated to our readers during the live chat of the Mondial de Paris (read) ?
J.-L. M. : First of all, promoting motorcycles in France is not a modest objective, but an important cause for the development of our passion! Then, the two objectives are not necessarily incompatible! Clearly, developing motorcycles in France is a major objective and I hope that all my colleagues at the head of the other brands share this approach and are ready to make the necessary efforts beyond partisan battles. As far as Honda is concerned, I will refrain from shattering statements and promises of first place. Of course, I have great ambitions for Honda in France: my objective is clearly to maximize the brand’s commercial performance in the long term. But to big statements, I prefer to roll up my sleeves, respect my competitors, listen and think, share and dialogue with my team, and patiently build the fundamentals of success.
Only innovation makes it possible to sustainably
stand out from its competitors
M.-N.C. : Florent Lionnet, when he took office in 2005, told us: "at BMW, I was not educated in promotions and volumes at all costs". However, in the 125 sector and that of 600 roadsters in particular, the price and volume war is raging. How do you plan to approach this battle? ?
J.-L. M. : You have to know how to adapt to the game you choose to play. BMW or Harley brand recipes do not apply to all product segments. However, we will succeed in reducing pricing pressure by building a strong, respected and admired brand, and by increasing the overall quality of our infrastructure, our services and our processes. On the other hand, only innovation makes it possible to stand out from its competitors in the long term. It seems to me that in the motorcycle world and in the years to come, innovation will no longer apply only to the “motorcycle” product, but also to all the services that surround it. Finally, I like the remark made one day by Carlos Ghosn, head of Nissan at the time: "there are no problems that a good product cannot solve"…
I decided to regroup a certain number of marketing functions within the same department
M.-N.C. : What first important decisions will you make – or have you already taken? Are they breaking with what was done at Honda before your appointment ?
J.-L. M. : It is still a little early to make big decisions. I am in the listening and analysis phase. However, I decided to combine a certain number of marketing functions within the same department. This is part of the logic of a more customer-oriented approach that I spoke about previously. And then, now that the brand that I represent allows it, I also decided to get back to the track seriously…
M.-N.C. : Have you already tested the entire Honda range? What are your favorite models and why ?
J.-L. M. : I have not yet completely finished going around the range … I love the CBR600RR for its ease, its homogeneity and the revving of its engine … I really appreciated the Pan European as devouring kilometers, especially with an engine that is both efficient and full of character, and finally I really like the very, very practical dimensions of the Silver Wing 400 on a daily basis.
Improve the homogeneity of the network
M.-N.C. : Do you intend to continue the policy of Honda Dream dealerships initiated by your predecessor (read)? If yes, what do you expect and if not, why ?
J.-L. M. : The Dream concessions as they are known today are intended to be laboratories making it possible to refine a more general concept, adaptable and transferable to the vast majority of the French network. Today we have a problem of network homogeneity, with very beautiful windows on one side, the Dream concessions, and old, even obsolete, concessions on the other … My goal is to support the evolution of the network so as to offer our customers high quality standards while allowing the concessionaire a minimum of personal touch … Last point, the infrastructures are only the tip of the iceberg. A quality network also involves training and motivating people and the efficiency of the processes in place..
M.-N.C. : Do you have to learn Japanese to be CEO of Honda Moto in France? If so … where are you ?
J.-L. M. : Fortunately, Japanese is not essential … but I do not exclude to get started when my schedule allows it, more to immerse myself in the culture than to communicate on a daily basis….
M.-N.C. : Finally, your position as CEO at Harley-Davidson and Buell France has just been assigned to Gérard Staedelin. Do you have any advice or instructions for him ?
J.-L. M. : Gérard and I have worked together at European level for many years and have often argued about the advantages and disadvantages of our respective markets … Unfortunately, we did not meet in France, since my departure was prior to his arrival . I think it’s important for him to have a fresh outlook anyway … Gérard is a brilliant boy who will undoubtedly continue the development of Harley in France..
Interview by Matthieu BRETILLE
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