What will the manufacturers' managers in the car distribution groups do?

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Beyond the anecdote, the chronicle of transfers kept by the professional press indicates a fairly obvious increase in the movement of managers who have spent 20 or 30 years working for manufacturers and are being seduced by the offers made to them by distribution groups. One can read this cynically and say that they are finding a way to work less to earn more. Above all, we must understand that these professionals know how important it is to innovate in terms of distribution and automobile service and have acquired the conviction that the innovations they believe to be necessary or useful will be easier to implement in a distribution group than with the manufacturers.

At the end of April, we learned that Patrice Ratton had left Renault to join Pierre-Elie Gérard, head of the Gémy Group, as Chief Operating Officer, in charge of the Stellantis Retail business. At Renault, he held the position of Director of Organisation, Methods and Network Skills within the French Sales Department and was, in this capacity, in contact with the Gémy Group, which is a candidate for the purchase of the Renault branches in the west of France that RRG wants to sell. Previously, he had spent almost 20 years at BMW France dealing with distribution issues. A few weeks earlier, it was the Mary group that announced that it had poached two PSAs: Christophe Bergerand was recruited as general manager and Olivier Marquer as director of strategy and transformation. Christophe Bergerand was director of PSA's operations in Eurasia (Russia, Ukraine and CIS) between 2014 and 2018 and had been working for three years on the development of Opel's strategy in Germany. Olivier Marquer was Sales Director of Opel France between 2018 and 2021. At the beginning of 2021, Benoît Alleaume, former Director of the Renault network, joined LS Group as Director of the Renault and Dacia brands.

Since the recruitment of Carlos Gomes by Bymycar Car in July 2020 and then Jacques Rivoal in May 2021, we can indeed have the feeling that the world of distribution groups attracts and try to understand why such movements, which have always been observed on the fringes, have increased so clearly in recent months. 

The first explanation would be individual and would correspond to the fact that at certain manufacturers, and at Stellantis in particular, the pressure to achieve results is such that, at around the age of 50, one may be tempted to find a way out and stop being pushed around by one's employer from one job to another, from one brand to another and, for some, from one continent to another. In the same way, in these very large bureaucracies that are the automobile multinationals, even with a lot of responsibility and high salaries, one very often remains at a good distance from the top management and without much hope of ever joining it. In addition to the fear (sometimes the certainty) of seeing oneself 'cornified' as dashing forty-somethings with high potential and long teeth arrive, there is the accumulation of disappointments, defeats and snacks that must be swallowed: all the strategic and operational choices that one has defended with conviction, which have not been considered relevant, which have been rejected in favour of alternatives that have proved to be of little relevance...

The profile of the managers that the distribution groups recruit from the manufacturers is certainly a little less "field" than when they stole site managers or sales managers from each other, but - except when Mike Manlay left for AutoNation - it still corresponds, in the organisation chart of the manufacturers, to operational people who have inevitably suffered in their careers from the gap between what they experience and the analysis produced by the head office, to which they certainly have access but which decides without them.

What changes for Patrice Ratton, Christophe Bergerand, Carlos Gomes or Benoît Alleaume is that they have direct access to the top on a daily basis. Their chances of being listened to by the bosses of the groups that have hired them are infinitely greater than when they were with the manufacturers. The consequence is that, instead of expending a lot of energy to put forward their point of view on a small part of the car distribution file against that of other departments, other countries, other brands, etc., they can finally have the feeling of being able to conceive and implement strategies in which they believe from beginning to end.

Of course, this is the world of car distribution and strategies are still constrained by those defined by the manufacturers and in which they must be integrated to the best of their interests, but because they know better than anyone else what is happening on the other side of the contract, they can live with this.

Given the changes that are taking place in terms of motorisations, modes of consumption of cars and the services that go with them, business model structures, relations with manufacturers and the profiles of distribution groups, we can only understand the attraction of distribution groups for executives from manufacturers: They know both how important it will be to be innovative in the years to come and how difficult it is to be innovative when one is caught up in the meanders of the bureaucratic organisations of the major manufacturers, which have a structural tendency to treat commercial and distribution issues as "the last wheel on the cart".

Basically, when we take a step back historically, we realise that, very often, manufacturers have had a tendency, in terms of distribution, to take ideas from distribution groups and implement them with varying degrees of success. Two cases illustrate this idea. The first is that of parts, for which groups such as Dubreuil in France had understood long before PSA that sticking to original parts and to single manufacturer logistics organisations made little sense. The second is that of used vehicles, the digitalisation of sales and the diversification of the offer towards multi-branding and low cost. Here too, many groups were - and still are - ahead of manufacturers who have, in recent years, become convinced that they have left whole sections of the customer base and value creation channels untouched and are trying to remedy this. 

Thus, beyond the "mercato" and what it tells us about the balance of power, what we will have to observe in the months and years to come will be the innovations and initiatives that these defectors will take in these old fields as well as when it comes to positioning themselves in the sale and maintenance of terminals, the marketing of new mobility devices, subscription offers, etc.

 

The weekly column by Bernard Jullien is also on www.autoactu.com.

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