Nicolette Lambrechts is the Vice-President of Mercedes-Benz Vans Canada. Prior to joining Mercedes-Benz Canada, she was the Managing Director of the Vans Division at Mercedes-Benz South Africa, where she led her team to consistently surpass targets and built a strong relationship with the local dealer network. She joined Daimler (Mercedes-Benz’s parent company) in 2001 as a Graduate Trainee and has held numerous roles such as Sales Planner for Chrysler Jeep, Distribution Manager for Commercial Vehicles, and National Sales Manager and Brand Manager for Mercedes-Benz Vans in South Africa. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and Economics from the University of Pretoria.
Please give some brief details about your professional background, such as how you started?
I started working with Mercedes-Benz South Africa 19 years ago. I started as a graduate trainee in the distribution and logistics department and have had great opportunities within the company to get me to where I am today. I was a sales planner for Chrysler at that time. I then became the head of distribution and logistics for commercial vehicles. In South Africa, we looked after all of the Daimler brands: Freightliner, Fuso, Mercedes-Benz Trucks and Mercedes-Benz Vans. In 2008, Mercedes-Benz South Africa, decided to have a much more Vans-specific focus. As a result, I was offered the position of Sales Manager for Vans and I have been with the Van division ever since.
It’s now been more than two years since your appointment to Vice President of Mercedes-Benz Vans in Canada, what are some of the achievements you have made in your new leadership role?
So it’s been quite an exciting time in Canada over the last two years. I’m proud of my team and what we’ve accomplished. We’ve continued to show steady growth within the Canadian market. In 2017, we mapped out what we want the future to look like for Vans in Canada, and developed our current strategic approach to getting there. We’ve since placed a greater emphasis on fleet business and focused on the value we add for our customers.
We’ve also established a dedicated customer service and parts team within my department. This team has been tasked with supporting our customers, fleet and dealers, and the after-sales business.
For its eighth year, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has won the Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Award in the Full-size Van category. How has Mercedes-Benz maintained such a successful track record of providing the best value to their customers?
We are very proud of this achievement. We’ve always been very proud of the quality of our product and the lifecycle and total cost of ownership of a Mercedes-Benz Van. To get the recognition from Canadian Black Book for the 8th year in a row– it’s really a proud moment for us.
What are some things that you wish to accomplish in your role as Vice President?
Well, the market and overall industry are changing rapidly, and I think we have to change with it. The economic situation in Canada is evolving, and we’ll need to move from a vehicle producer and seller to a full-scale mobility provider—that’s definitely something I’d like to help achieve Ultimately, I want everybody to be as passionate and excited about Vans as I am. I love what I do; I always say I have diesel in my blood.
How does Mercedes-Benz differentiate itself from competitors?
We pride ourselves on what we stand for. At Mercedes-Benz Vans, our slogan is ‘Born to run’—we want to provide vehicles and service that ensure uptime for our customers. Beyond product, it’s about relationships and trust, and we do everything to gain our customers’ trust. We hope this approach differentiates us from our competitors. We want our customers to have the confidence to believe in us. We want them to know we have their best interest at heart and that we’re here to provide them with the right tools that enable them to be successful.
What initially inspired you to go into the business of vans with Mercedes-Benz?
I started with Mercedes-Benz in the commercial vehicle department. Growing up, I didn’t really envision this type of position. I didn’t think “Oh, I’m going to go into the trucking world.” It’s really something that just organically happened. But in my opinion, it’s the most exciting industry. It opened this entire world for me. It also showed me that we need to market different career opportunities to young people because there is something for everybody, and there are many industries young people don’t think about or don’t even know ex
In your 18 years with Mercedes-Benz, how has the company reached the levels of success it has on an international level?
I believe that Mercedes-Benz has always been a company that is in the business of innovation. We invented the automobile, and have continued to innovate for the past 130 years. We always look to the future, and we’re always looking at what’s next. Not just for the next two to three years, but for the next 10 to 20 years. I really think that we are shaping the future of mobility and that passion for innovation is what I believe makes Mercedes-Benz such a fantastic organization.
What advice would you give a Canadian small to medium business owner when it comes to choosing a Mercedes-Benz Van vs. a competitor?
I think it is essential for any business owner to do their research. Make sure that you explore all of your options to find the right fit for your business. In the end, I do believe that Mercedes-Benz Vans offer unique selling points that cater to SMEs. The Sprinter is so versatile. The Metris is the only mid-size Van in its class within Canada. I encourage all customers to do the research because I’m confident that through this research many will come to the conclusion that the right product for them is a Mercedes-Benz.
Ultimately, we are a business consultant for our customers; we provide mobility solutions based on their needs.
Mercedes-Benz Vans won the Best Fleet Value in Canada Award in 2018. What is one thing that you and your team do to ensure Mercedes-Benz Vans are achieving these kinds of accomplishments year after year?
We don’t actively do anything to win awards or recognition. We are consistently recognized with industry awards because our product speaks for itself. It makes us very proud to win these awards, however we don’t campaign for them.
Mercedes-Benz Vans is one of the top luxury van solutions for Canadian small to medium business owners. What are some of the key introductions of the 2019 fleet that business owners can benefit from?
The tagline for the new Sprinter, which launched in September, last year, is ‘Built for you’. We fully believe that we have a product that caters to any small to medium enterprise business. Later this year we will launch a gas engine variant. We will also launch a 15 seater passenger van, ideal for companies that have transport or shuttle services.
We’re excited about the expansion of our Canadian product portfolio, and ultimately we think Canadian SMEs will benefit from it because we’re offering an even wider variety of options to suit an even wider variety of business needs.
How does Mercedes-Benz define small and medium size customers in the target market?
We follow the industry standard to define SMEs. In 2018, Mercedes-Benz Vans Canada re-evaluated our fleet strategy at a national level. It was evident that our most significant opportunity was with small/medium enterprises purchasing vehicles through our robust Dealer Network. As such, we revamped our sales offers to small/medium enterprises to make the qualification process much more straightforward for these valued customers and to offer a variety of special sales offers depending on the purchase channel.
For example, qualifying small/medium enterprises are eligible to receive reduced lease and finance rates through Mercedes-Benz Financial Services and additional cash incentives. We also offer affiliate programs for some key accounts. These new programs helped increase our share of the market in the Commercial Fleet business in 2018 and we continue to see the share grow in 2019.
In your words what would you say sets Mercedes-Benz apart from similar organizations?
We aim to be a one-stop shop for the customer, offering the product, finance, and after-sales support. So for me, what sets us apart is our vision of being a mobility consultant and a mobility solutions provider to our customer. That is our key focus.
You have almost two decades of experience with Mercedes-Benz in both sales and leadership positions. How do you believe your experience has helped you in your current role as Vice President of Vans?
I have been very fortunate in my career to have great leaders and mentors who have helped me and guided me in developing my leadership style.
I grew up with the values of integrity, openness and honesty. As a leader, the ability to provide and receive constructive feedback has proven to be very valuable.
I also think it’s important to be proactive, to be open to change and to always adapt quickly. Over the span of my career, I’ve been able to spot certain trends and have reacted to them swiftly. You have to be open to new ideas.
What are the major differences you saw in the market within South Africa and Canada?
The Canadian market has been very stable over the last decade and has enjoyed consistent growth in the automotive segment. Whereas the South African market has seen its share of challenges. In South Africa, economic and political challenges lead to volatile exchange rates and economic growth.
That said, when looking at Vans customers specifically, a South African and a Canadian are the same in terms of their thinking, buying behavior and what their requirements are. In either country, a van is a tool for people to run their business and their focus is the total cost of ownership and uptime. Beyond those factors, our customers all have their unique ideas and needs. Our job is to make sure that we provide them with the right tools.
Since being appointed Vice President, you have probably encountered many challenges. What are some of those challenges and how have you overcome them?
My biggest challenge has been winter. That has been my biggest challenge in Canada.
Joking aside, there is a perception that the automotive industry is a man’s world. I’ve never seen any industry as a man’s industry and I’ve been fortunate to have very supportive colleagues throughout my career.
I think we’ve come a long way over the last few years to be driving diversity in this industry because it’s very, very important. When you sit around a table to discuss new ideas and new ways of doing things, if you don’t have diversity – be it gender, be it culture, etc. – you will never come to the most innovative solution. You need different ways of thinking, different backgrounds and different experiences to drive business forward.
What is your advice for women entrepreneurs and women in leadership roles?
Believe in yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you or insinuate that you do not belong around the boardroom table. See an opportunity, take it, and go for it.
Be confident enough to ask for help. Surround yourself with leaders and mentors who you can turn to for guidance.
Another valuable lesson that I learnt from one of my previous mentors is to never be afraid to employ somebody that you think is smarter than you. These people will challenge you and challenge the performance of the team.
Where do you see Mercedes-Benz Vans 10 years from now?
Ten years from now I see Mercedes-Benz Vans as the mobility leader in the industry.