Mark Raine leaves a successful legacy – not just for Mercedes-Benz Malaysia but for the Malaysian luxury car segment – to take on new challenges in one of the automaker’s top five markets in the world, Korea.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?
I was born in Berlin in Germany, but I grew up in South Africa. My mother is German and my dad is from the U.K. I have been with Mercedes-Benz since 2002.
Before Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, where were you?
I started with Mercedes-Benz. I was lucky to receive a scholarship from Mercedes-Benz for my studies. I joined the company upon my graduation. My first job was in sales in Stuttgart. After that, I moved to Dubai to be in charge of sales and product management for the Middle East region for three and a half years. I was recalled to Stuttgart to become the global executive assistant to one of the senior board members of Mercedes-Benz, and for the last four and a half years, I have been in Malaysia.
And how have the four and a half years been?
It has been fantastic. Personally, I have grown and learnt a lot in Malaysia. Privately, it has been wonderful. My family loves it here and my son was born in Malaysia. Professionally, it has been a fantastic journey, especially looking at the transformation of the (Mercedes-Benz) brand in the last four and a half years. It has been an exceptional journey for the brand as we have made a real impact. I have always said, I probably give a lot of the impulses but it is the team that has done a fantastic job. What is crucially important – and this is also my philosophy – is to always integrate the stakeholders. Obviously, the core stakeholder is the customer but our dealers and agencies, the government and our media and creative partners, are also important. Our dealers play a huge part because they are our face to the customer. Aligning our strategy with theirs is absolutely essential and important in making the brand a success because they question us critically. But in the end, we align and we execute together and that’s probably our success factor. We have a holistic approach and we all drive in the same direction.
Your positivity is obviously very infectious, and I think it has also rubbed off on Mercedes-Benz Malaysia because we’ve seen a tremendous jump in the ownership of the cars since you took up this position. How do you determine what sells in Malaysia? What has been the company’s strategy that has propelled it to the top of the premium car segment?
What I did when I came here was for the first couple of months, I did a detailed analysis of the situation to see where the potentials were, where we need to become better, where our strengths and our businesses were, and I created a strategic roadmap for Mercedes-Benz in Malaysia. The roadmap exists till this day, but we enhance and revise it on a quarterly basis. This means we discuss it internally and with the dealers. We integrate everybody’s views, and finally, we inform everyone what the direction is, and that has been very successful for us.
Is that how you determine what sells in Malaysia?
Our market analysis is based on various pillars. On one hand, the product portfolio, on the other, the brand perception or the image, utilising the strengths of the brand, including communication, activations and engagement. The third one is what I call best customer experience, and that includes our dealer network, all our touchpoints, the digitalisation of the brand, the customer journey and obviously, the sales aspect of it.
The product portfolio was fairly thin when I arrived in Malaysia in 2014. In 2014, we sold 6,932 cars. In 2015, we sold 10,845 cars, out of which 27 were SUVs because we didn’t actually offer this in the market. In 2016, we sold 1,800 SUVs, and last year, we sold 2,600 SUVs out of a total of more than 13,000 cars. So, that has been essential in terms of our growth story. I think the key decisive moment, to a certain degree, was the decision I took to dissect the portfolio into four product segments, which is compact cars, limousines, SUVs and the dream cars, because that allowed us to curate the tonality according to the individual product groups and the target customer segment.
Mercedes-Benz has always been synonymous with luxury and exclusivity, but in my view that wasn’t enough. It needed to be more than that. Our task was to rejuvenate the brand without pushing away our loyal customers, and finding that balance is obviously a challenge. The tonality for our compact cars is more progressive, edgy and youthful, and this is reflected in the activities that we do. If you compare that to what we do with the SUVs, which is about pursuing an active lifestyle, this again differentiates what we do in the limousine segment; for instance, if you look at the launch of the S-Class family in August last year, it was very grand and exclusive. That has to be my favourite launch because it was the most challenging. The expectation towards what we do for our S-Class is so high because that’s our pinnacle of luxury (cars). Changing that perception to make the Mercedes-Benz brand more progressive and more desirable while retaining its luxury and exclusivity was a huge task.
There has been a number of new launches in recent years that have really appealed to millennials. Was the intention to capture a younger generation of buyers?
Yes, on the one hand, but also the customer mindset is changing. Nowadays, if you’re in your 40s and 50s, you don’t want to be considered as old. Most people in that age bracket still live a very active lifestyle. I have many friends who are in their 40s and 50s who go running and cycling with me. But if I look at my grandparents’ time, if you are 50, you are, not stone age, but you are old! There is also that “young at heart” factor. I mean, we capture a lot of young customers, but we also needed to make the brand more edgy and youthful in order to appeal to the older generation. I don’t like any segmentation by ethnicity, gender or age. For me, it’s the mindset, the attitude and the lifestyle that determine the perfect match (car) for the person.
Is this going to be the company’s strategy in the next 2-3 years?
What we always try to be is agile and flexible, never be dogmatic because the environment we live in is so fast-moving and changing. You always need to be at the forefront of future development, for instance, the introduction of the GLC coupé as locally produced cars. The Malaysian market has come from a traditional three-box limousine sedan market. It has progressed a lot in that a lot of SUVs are being driven, and I think the next big thing is the crossover segment. It’s a combination of the usability of the SUV with something which is more design oriented, more visually appealing like a coupé.
Having a lot of new cars to launch is very important, but the investment into the after-sales facilities and into the dealer network to provide the promise of first-class service is also very important. We have invested a lot into training and into our people to ensure that we have the human capital to deliver on that promise. Also, our sister company, Mercedes-Benz Financial, has looked at new ways and means in terms of financing and our leasing products. Driving, developing, exploring, and to a certain degree, disrupting the market are all very important to ensure the agility of our strategy. This is something that I hope I have instilled into not just Mercedes-Benz Malaysia but also our dealer network, to really break the boundaries, and I hope they continue doing that.
So your next challenge is the Korean market. The auto industry there is significantly more competitive. Are you up for it?
I’m very excited because Korea is one of the top five markets in the world for Mercedes-Benz after China, the U.S. and Germany, so it’s a huge task and it’s a great privilege to have.
How do you feel about leaving Malaysia?
When I came in 2014, I found a market which may not be as progressive, and that was the window of opportunity for us to come in with a new conviction to turn things around. But in the last two to three years, our competitors and the entire market have observed what we have done, and they have been adapting and trying out new things. I feel that one of the legacies that I am leaving behind is the impact I have made on the market in terms of changing the speed in which auto manufacturers have gone about doing their business. This disruption to the market is very good because at the end of the day, it’s the customers who are benefitting from it. I’ve launched more than 50 cars in Malaysia. For me, that is a strategy in itself – to always be relevant, to always be on top of people’s minds. I may be launching the Maybach or the GLA and you may not be interested in them, but that’s irrelevant. The brand recall (from the consistent launch of new cars) will stay with you and you will perceive Mercedes-Benz to be the most relevant in the automotive industry.
Mark Raine answers our rapid-fire questions.
Your favourite Malaysian food.
Chinese noodles, and green lobster in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
Mamak or kopitiam?
Your favourite kopitiam food.
Noodles and dim sum.
Spicy or non-spicy?
Teh tarik or kopi “O”?
Your favourite word to use.
Your favourite Malaysian state for a holiday.
Your favourite place to chill out in Kuala Lumpur.
In the morning, Huckleberry in Damansara Heights. In the afternoon, somewhere in Bangsar. In the evening, exploring the many restaurants in Bangsar, Sri Hartamas or Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
What are you most passionate about?
My sports, Mercedes-Benz cars, my favourite football club VfB Stuttgart, and hanging out with friends and family.
If you were not in sales and marketing, what would you be doing?
I would love to be a professional football player, but unfortunately, I don’t have the talent for that. I’ve also always wanted to be an investment banker, just to see if I can be good enough to not manipulate but steer the markets.