In the fast-paced, ever-changing and increasingly complex automotive world, there are few moments when an industry can take stock of progress. Call it a line in the sand. A moment of reflection. A measurement of success.
Think about it. Twelve years ago, Verena Grüttemeyer would not have predicted that a woman would be running a car company in Namibia, or that it would be M+Z Group? That time she was caught in what she loved best, nature. The panoramic views of Otavi where she and her husband ran a lodge is all that she called the world to her.
Today, Verena’s decidedly unconventional career arc is now inspiring women in a range of jobs, spanning from ank and fine enginers to car dealers, to think big.
A fourth generation Managing Director of the group and grand-daughter of Ernst Behnsen, one of the original key players of the M+Z brand in the 1920s, Verena Grüttemeyer now runs the second largest dealer group in Namibia, which sells up to 3 260 new and pre-owned vehicles annually. Humble to the very basics of the word, she’s become a bit of an icon, which is cool.
We need those kinds of role models, because a lot of women would not even think of the auto industry. Much cooler is how her brand portfolio has thrived over the last twelve years from Autohaus Truck & Bus, Audi Centre Windhoek, Autohaus Windhoek & Swakopmund, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, M+Z Motors Commercial Vehicles to M+Z Motors Passenger Vehicles.
The 111-year M+Z legacy is safe and the auto industry being considered as a clubby man’s world is now history. It all started when she pondered building a diverse management team, many of whom are still with her.
She was tasked with responsibility of customer relations and business expansion opportunities when she joined the company in 2002, and it was clear the values of Metje, Behnsen and Ziegler were in her DNA from the onset.
Under her tutelage, Grüttemeyer drew focus on creating a culture of commitment and purpose amongst M+Z employees, promoting from within and investing generously in development and training activities. That’s all still work in progress. But so far, has resulted in employees lasting longer in the company, with efficient team dynamics and a collective mind-set to achieve the collective goals.
Says Verena; “I believe in honesty. If the customer can trust you, they will buy from you. One of our strongest convictions here is building trust with people. If they can trust that you will look after their interests then they will come back. Our achievements are based on trust, courage, responsibility, respect, integrity and transparency.”
The progress of women in the auto industry in the last decade is still argumentative.
However for Verena, the technical recession and massive cost-cutting might actually present oportunities for new ideas, new hands, new faces, an opportunity for women to rebound. As the industry has been coming out of the crisis, there have been many more opportunities available, and many of them have been filled by women. So many companies will add more women to add a different perspective of doing business.
There are more roles and responsibilies, at higher levels, for women, and I think it will continue to improve even more in the coming years. A challenging economic 2017 troubled many in the auto industry and many companies either closed or retrenched.
She adds, “Through strategic planning and team work, we managed to avoid retrenchments. In the midst of a huge reduction in vehicle sales and turnover in the last 18 months, my message was to stay calm, not panic and be innovative. And I think we are on the verge to overtaking the pre-2012 trends. The upward path looks imminent.”
Digitalising has been a key transformative part of businesses the world over and it will play a role in M+Z remaining a household name for the next 111 years, she says of the future.
“Electronic cars are the future and as M+Z we have to look into that. We have to embrace the future. We have to be on the leading edge of this industry and look into various opportunities,” she says.
The M+Z Motors on the corner of Lazarett & Patterson Street in southern Industry in Windhoek was the culmination of Grüttemeyer’s dream to have a high-grade facility that matches what the brand deserves. And that was at a time when few saw into the future. To be able to offer the best service to its customers, M+Z
has embarked on a fundamental restructuring. New dealerships have been added and new structures with new responsibilities set.
All Pre-Delivery Inspections (PDI’s) have been centralised into one facility and a smart repair centre has been established. Every customer is important at M+Z and they have been committed to offer state of the art facilities irrespective of their vehicles make, value or model. Just as Elena Ford, the great-great-grand-daughter of Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Company, because the first female Ford to hold a Vice Presidential post within the company in 2013, this great-great-granddaughter of the oldest motoring company in Namibia is not pampered by the familiar surname.
For her, leading a family business that has existed for over a century has all to do with preparing the legacy for the next generation M&Zites and the next generation of M+Z clients, while contributing to economic growth by focusing on consumer experience, overseeing best practices to expand footprint and impact. “These values determine our actions in our daily dealing with customers and business partners as well as in our teamwork and our collaboration with each other. Every single member of the “Metje + Ziegler” family takes this responsibility serious and therefor carries our culture forward.”
Taking pride in the fact that in 1936 M+Z was awarded one of the first Mercedes-Benz Franchises in Africa, she drives a Mercedes-Benz GLE. The royal lion portrait and cactus in her office potray her love for nature.
Indeed, years of the corporate world have not snuffed out her passion for the outdoors. In fact, Grüttemeyer begins each morning with a horseback ride, which helps clear her mind and prepares her mentally for the day before she joins her husband and son for breakfast.
“I have a short meeting with my management team when I get into the office and then after that I like to be out there in the field with the team, working. I don’t like to be in the office too much unless I have to do some administrative work. I am a very private person, I love the company of my family so we have a meal together at lunch.”
Her daughter, a medical student, has no dreams of joining the family business, just as Verena thought 15 years ago. “Don’t quit”. Is the mantra that drives Verena. You get a feeling even her colleagues at work, feel it for themselves, and, perhaps, just as much, for the female colleagues she mentors and inspires subconsciously.
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