Alain Visser, Senior Vice President Marketing, Sales, Services and PR Geely Auto
Senior Vice President Marketing, Sales, Services and PR at Geely Auto
„One rarely meets Alain Visser in a bad mood. His charismatic character gives off a sense of great happiness and optimism.“ If you search online you will find out that his personality is described along these lines.
I had the pleasure to meet Alain in this year’s League of Leading Ladies conference (LLL) with the motto “Smash the Box - if you can dream it, you can do it.“ He hosted one of the workshops.
Born in Belgium, Alain started his career in the automobile industry in 1986, where he worked his way up to various senior positions. He is now Vice President Global Marketing, Sales, Service and PR at Geely, one of the largest Chinese car manufacturers. Before joining Geely, he served as Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Customer Service at Volvo.
Alain is well known as someone who constantly challenges the status quo in the rather conservative automobile industry, someone, who has the courage to think different and wants to “shake up a century-old industry and smash the automotive box of legacy“, according to his workshop title at the LLL. Alain was nominated by Forbes as one of the ten most influential CMO’s worldwide in the last two years in a row.
His different way of thinking came also clearly across in an interesting conversation we had about the automobile industry and women. He disapproved how the automobile industry uses women for advertising, where certain ethics seem to be lost totally. Alain is a lateral thinker in this regard and an opponent of this practice.
It is a great honour for me to share with you my interview with Alain Visser as part of my series of Inspiring People interviews. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Alain for his inspiring thoughts.
How would someone who knows you best describe you?
I know what I would like to be described as but only my colleagues can judge how I really come across. Anyway, I will give it a try with the following description: positive, friendly, innovative and creative, somewhat chaotic and impatient. I have not at all achieved to be the leader I want to be yet, and I make mistakes every day, but I do not give up trying.
What does being courageous mean for you?
I think human beings are by nature herd animals. We like to follow the crowd as it is safer and risk is low. Being courageous for me is about escaping the herd, going against the flow, doing the unexpected, but also daring to go for your cause even if a majority does not believe in it. That also means that being courageous needs to go hand in hand with good judgment. If you decide to go your way despite a majority not supporting it, you better make sure your judgment is solid. Otherwise you end up like the car driver on the motorway listening to the radio and hearing that there's a ghost rider on his road and he reacts saying 'One ghost rider, I see hundreds of them.'
My experience is that there are always more reasons NOT to do a new thing then to go for it. If it is the right thing, that one killing argument can be enough. Then go for it. That is courage to me.
When did you last face up to a challenge, whereby you really needed courage?
For me it comes with the job and the industry. I try to innovate in an industry that has hardly moved for more then a century. The car industry is big, powerful, arrogant and somewhat disconnected from the new consumer trends. As someone trying to innovate, I hit walls all the time. It motivates me. I could quote so many examples but rather recently when I was in my Volvo period responsible for launching the XC90, we established a concept to launch the car on internet sales only, limit the offer to the best equipped car (so at high price level) , start selling before the car was even shown and not to launch it on a traditional motor show. Particularly selling the highest priced Volvo ever online only without being able to show the customer the car was perceived by the majority of my board colleagues as 'way too risky'. We went ahead anyway and it was probably the most successful launch Volvo ever had.
What happened? What did you do?
At the end of the day it all depends on getting the right people convinced, not all people. You need to sell your ideas, convince, not explain. If you are convinced of something, you should not give up. Strangely enough at any position you end up in a company, you always just lack that bit of responsibility to make all the calls you want to make. You have your colleagues (you cant work in isolated silo's) and you always have a boss. The VP marketing needs to convince his VP sales and marketing. The VP Sales and marketing needs to convince the CEO. And the CEO needs to convince the board and/or the shareholders. It is probably the biggest frustration in the careers of leaders, which is predominantly driven by an addictive desire for more power.
What advice, or which thoughts and inspiration would you give to people in a similar situation?
Do not be stubborn but be persistent. Sometimes, during your battle for your idea you get confronted with arguments that destroy your cause. If that happens, be professional and give up. In all other circumstances, stay on course. Build a case, get facts, create allies and if you do not have the talent to persuade others, engage others to do it for you. Do not ever forget, there are always more reasons not to do a great new idea then to go for it. Yet, if it is the right thing, it is your responsibility, it is your job to fight for it!