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29.07 2019

Marc Llistosella: They thought we were crazy

These guys are smart. Really smart. If they don’t understand what you’re talking about, you might be on the right track.

Marc Llistosella has a history of ignoring “sound” advice. In 2004 he was the Head of Strategy at Daimler, on the lookout for new business opportunities, and identified India as an emerging market.

People told us it was impossible; no-one had done a commercial vehicle greenfield project in India for years.But the conventional approach – to go in and acquire something or someone – was not an option for us. So, we went in with nothing but a clear vision and built a new company from scratch. Today it’s one of the main players on the Indian truck market.

The next challenge was Japan, and electrification.

When we came to Fuso (the Mitsubishi truck brand owned by Daimler), the first thing we asked ourselves was: Why are we here? Not: How can we tinker with this product to make it slightly better? But: What’s the point of it? And we decided to take the radical approach.

Again, the industry people thought we are crazy. Lithium batteries were fine for cars, but not trucks. We listened, of course, but like before we followed our own vision. And in 2014 we introduced a batch of electric trucks for testing in Portugal. The feedback from the customers was So, we tried something more challenging, and deployed the electric vehicles in Stuttgart, where there’s a lot of uphill and downhill. And that worked out fine, too.

The problem is getting stuck in old stereotypes of thinking.

Here’s the thing with industry experts: They’re very knowledgeable, but what they know is the present: Existing business models, existing technology, conventional ways of doing things. And so, when you introduce a new solution, they compare it to the old one, vehicle to vehicle: range, power, cargo capacity… But you can’t always do that, because the new solution is a complement, not a substitute. Or it belongs to a completely new paradigm, and the old points of comparison are irrelevant.

There are multiple examples of highly reputed experts being caught on the wrong foot. Larry Ellison’s (the co-founder of Oracle) quote on cloud computing is legendary: “It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?” – even though later he picked it up extremely successfully. Others weren’t so lucky. Or Bill Gates who called smart phones “a niche product”. And everyone knows what happened to Nokia after being the undisputed world market leader for mobile phones in 2009.

He’s got one piece of advice:

Experience is great, but it’s knowledge of the past. It’s not enough to ask people about their experience. I ask them what movies they like. If you’re not into science fiction, you will not go for the unthinkable, for imminent change and finally for the long-term success.

That’s why I’m no longer with Daimler. They’re a great company. And they’re heavily invested in electric – which is the future, along with self-driving – but their approach was not mine.I wanted to change things rapidly and drastically, but ultimately, if you ask for change, you must be prepared to change yourself. So, I did, and I left.

Road freight is responsible for a very substantial share of global CO2 emissions. That must change. There is no alternative, no way back now. Fast moving companies like Einride will change the face of transport forever.

Marc Llistosella has joined Einride’s board of directors. Read more here.

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