Staying driven: Infiniti Motor Company president Roland Krueger tells us what keeps his engine running
Seeing new car models come off the production line, working closely with the latest hybrid technology and having the chance to build sales in fast-expanding markets are just some of the reasons why Roland Krueger has found his dream job.
As Hong Kong-based president of Infiniti Motor Company, the luxury brand of Japan’s Nissan group, Krueger is responsible for managing a global business, which now encompasses sales operations in more than 50 countries, and he gives every impression of being in the right place at exactly the right time.
“What is exciting is that the business is growing,” says Krueger, noting that year-to-date results are up around 7 per cent and that the month of June, in isolation, was up 15 per cent. “That shows things are developing well and our efforts are coming to fruition.”
Originally set up in 1989, the company now has manufacturing facilities and design studios in Japan, the US, Britain and China. Production of a new model will start next year in Mexico. And while the US is still the biggest market by volume, a strategic decision in 2012 to make Hong Kong the firm’s global commercial headquarters signalled a determination to tap into the huge growth opportunities in Asia, especially mainland China.
That gives Krueger plenty to contend with. But his enthusiasm shines through, whether explaining the sensors used for autonomous drive technologies, describing key features of the Q30 – a crossover hatchback recently launched in Hong Kong – or outlining expected changes in market demand over the coming five years.
“For any new generation car, there is a certain focus on the technology and ergonomics, but you must also give it a distinct identity through the proportion, lines and surface,” he says. “Local needs are also a factor. For example, the Q50 sedan sold in China has an extended wheel base, which customers there want.”
Brought up in southern Germany, Krueger took a four-year degree in industrial design at the University of Applied Science in Munich, aiming to pursue a career in the automotive industry.
“It is very simple – I love cars and always wanted to work with them,” he says. “If you have a passion for something or a fascination, you should go for it. That is very important.”
After graduating in 1992, he took another significant step by joining Mitsubishi Motors Europe as a designer for exteriors. Stints in both Germany and Japan preceded a switch to the Daimler Group, where he worked as senior designer for “smart” interiors and then on the company’s strategic planning group.
“As a designer, you think with your pen to visualise your ideas – that’s a skill I’m still using,” he says. “You must develop something that does justice to the brand identity from the first look or touch. But to take the larger decisions, in a company, you also have to understand structures, organisations and how decisions are actually made.”
To get the business credentials to complement his technical know-how, Krueger completed an MBA at the Insead business school in 1998. The same year, he accepted an offer to join BMW Group as manager of strategic product planning. A subsequent series of promotions brought ever wider geographic, pricing and product responsibilities, culminating in the post of senior vice president and regional head of operations for the German market, before the switch to Infiniti early last year.
“For me, the main thing is to empower people, hold them accountable, and make sure the company has long-term vision and direction,” says Krueger, who doubles as senior vice president of Nissan Motor Company. “Overall, we have a small and very agile team, with 130 staff in Hong Kong, and need to be creative and focused to take the business forward.”
Plans now in play include further research on autonomous drive functions plus putting in place dealerships in third- and fourth-tier Chinese cities to spur expansion in the mainland market.
In certain respects, Hong Kong, with its high-density urban environment, is proving an ideal test ground for trialling hybrid models and detecting a change in driver needs and expectations.
“You have to differentiate between customer preferences and actual customer usage,” Krueger says. “The market may be moving towards fully electric vehicles, but high-performance hybrids can give the best of both worlds.”
Apart from handling an ongoing whirl of corporate duties, Krueger is also lending his support to the Accelerator 2.0 programme. This initiative backs eight local start-ups with innovative ideas for the “smart cities” of the future.
The basic aim is to encourage, and then fast-track, inventions with the potential to make cities cleaner, more efficient and, in broad terms, more intelligent. For example, one of the start-ups admitted to last year’s programme came up with an outdoor air purifier which, positioned at street level, uses damp moss to filter out ambient pollutants. Another came up with an app to help drivers find and reserve parking spaces.
“The start-ups develop the ideas and software, and we take a look at what could be useful for us in helping customers.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Krueger has an interest in collecting vintage cars and is a big fan of Formula One, particularly the mental strength and physical courage of drivers like Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.
“This season, Infiniti is a technical partner of the Renault Sport Formula One team, contributing its expertise in the area of hybrid performance and drive trains,” he says. “We have some specialists working with the team on the technology for next season, and that expertise will come back to our development centre in Japan.”
TO INFINITI AND BEYOND
Roland Krueger’s guide to success.
Be inspired “I truly believe you must have or develop a real passion for what you do. That can carry you a long way.”
Don’t give up “Building a career takes patience and persistence. You will have setbacks and will have to overcome obstacles.”
Stay focused “You should always show a certain dedication to the job, whatever level you are in a company.”
Diversify your talent “We have people from every field of expertise, from engineering to finance and marketing. Also, it is important to bring in recruits from outside the industry.”
Keep pace “There are now many more ‘touch points’ and channels where you can engage with customers. The switch between preferred media can be very fast.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Staying driven.