Daimler’s has decided to appoint company veteran Ola Kaellenius as chief executive from next year. This signals a cultural shift by the world’s oldest automaker as it takes on new competitors from the tech sector.
A 49-year old Swede, Kaellenius is the first non German CEO to lead the 132-year-old Stuttgart-based inventor of the modern automobile. He doesn’t have an educational background in mechanical engineering.
With his international experience he incorporates a more informal leadership style as Daimler looks to embrace Silicon Valley management tactics to rival with tech competitors such as Waymo and Byton in a race to put self-driving cars on the road.
“The hearts of our vehicles used to be drivetrains, in the future it will be their hard drives,” stated Kaellenius in a speech at the Consumer Eletronics Show in Las Vegas in 2018, an appearance which seemed to signal that he represented the new transformation of high-tech Mercedes-Benz.
Like Dieter Zetsche, who is going to take over as automaker’s chairman in 2021, Kaellenius excels at impressing worldwide audiences. His polished but casual approach – with no suit or tie – shows a management style more at home in California compared to Germany.
Kaellenius joined Daimler as a trainee in 1993 and moved to contribute in corporate controlling at Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa, Alabama before other postings at performance division Mercedes-AMG. Kaellenius became a management board member for Mercedes-Benz Cars Marketing and Sales in 2015.
Critics say his emergence as Zetsche’s heir apparent in the last two years has happened when Mercedes-Benz has saw record sales and profits, sparing Kaellenius and Daimler’s management board conflicts with labor representatives.
In 2016, Mercedes-Benz overtook BMW to become the world’s biggest selling luxury car brand.
“With Dieter Zetsche’s intended appointment as Chairman of the Supervisory Board, we are ensuring continuity for the sustained success of Daimler AG. In Ola Kaellenius, we are appointing a recognized, internationally experienced and successful Daimler executive,” stated Manfred Boschoff, Daimler’s current chairman.