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De Nysschen Cadillac ldquoback with a vengeancerdquo
<p><strong>De Nysschen: Cadillac &ldquo;back with a vengeance.&rdquo;</strong></p>

Success or Failure, Cadillac in Firm Charge of Destiny

&ldquo;Logically, Cadillac is not disconnected from GM,&rdquo; the longtime luxury executive says. &ldquo;The way we want to organize the business in the future is that Cadillac will own the entire process, all the things that touch Cadillac.&rdquo;

General Motors leadership earlier this year cemented intentions to shake off years of fits and starts at Cadillac and commit to a categorical repositioning of the 113-year-old luxury brand, backing the move with a $12 billion capital investment, a disengagement from the automaker’s traditional management structure and a stand-alone New York headquarters for the unit slated to open in September.

WardsAuto recently caught up with Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen, a veteran luxury-brand executive hired away from Nissan’s Infiniti arm one year ago and tasked with executing the latest comeback plan.

De Nysschen carries responsibility for all aspects of Cadillac globally, from sales and marketing and brand development to management of the dealer network, and has input on product planning and design and engineering. The 55-year-old South African, who also counts a longtime stint at Audi on his resume, talks about the course he has charted for Cadillac.

WardsAuto: Cadillac used the Detroit and New York shows to announce the capital investment and unveil a new range-topping car with the sort of pomp and circumstance unseen from the brand. What’s the message to your German and Japanese rivals?

De Nysschen: Cadillac is back, and back with a vengeance. We are a team of people who are very honored and privileged to be entrusted with writing the next chapter of Cadillac. We’ve been granted phenomenal resources and freedom with a complete focus on the luxury business. No more multiple heads and multiple responsibilities. Cadillac people will be Cadillac people.

The organization is merely the facilitator for the strategy, and the strategy is built on the foundation of profound product substance that broadens the range of products. We have a very truncated lineup today. So that will be one area where we get organic growth.

The second is geography, new markets. But as we take the brand global, we have different challenges in different regions. In the U.S., we simply have to work very hard with our dealer network to ensure that the customers experience Cadillac in a very “brand pure” environment. We can have all the product fascination, we can have all the wonderful marketing communication tone and manner to shape the personality of the brand, but as we grow and attract newcomers they will meet us in the dealership and that experience is either going to add to the core product or it is going to detract from it. We cannot afford it to detract. It’s got to be a big focus for us.

WardsAuto: Cadillac is a 113-year-old brand, but in many ways resembles a startup company. Would you agree?

De Nysschen: Precisely. Cadillac is a subsidiary of a global titan of a car company. It puts us in the best of both worlds. We are small and agile and fleet-footed, we are focused entirely on the luxury business, but where we need to and want to harness the resources of General Motors the door is open. That really puts us in a strong and competitive position.

Unhinged From GM

WardsAuto: What motivated you to join Cadillac and what was the genesis of the move to New York? Was it GM saying, here’s what we’re thinking, or was it you saying, here’s what needs to be done?

De Nysschen: A little bit of both. When I was approached about the role, it is not something you do on impulse. It had to be well considered, particularly in the light of the fact that I had only two years prior made a huge career move, the first in 20 years, so one does not take these decisions lightly. The obvious allure was the iconic character of the Cadillac brand. It is an honor to be bestowed with custodianship of the brand. But I wanted to make absolutely sure that the basic ingredients would be put in place to allow Cadillac to be all that it can be. And it wasn’t persuasion, it wasn’t negotiation, it was a journey of joint discussion and dialogue. Included in that was the notion that in order for Cadillac to be more self-sufficient and more autonomous, in addition to giving it dedicated resources and a dedicated organization, you also had to change the processes and policies. Logically, Cadillac is not disconnected from GM. The way we want to organize the business in the future is that Cadillac will own the entire process, all the things that touch Cadillac.

CT6 new range-topping car for Cadillac.

If we didn’t change the geography, the risk was the behaviors and attitudes would not change and we would end up in the same position, whittling things down to the lowest common denominator. When you are the smallest brand in a corporation the size of GM, it’s logical that the needs of the mainstream brands are always going to come first. That is why the conclusion was reached that, in addition to the separate organization we probably needed to move the decision makers out of town.

Then the question was where. But one thing is very clear, trends are shaped from the coasts. And so, if Cadillac wants to be at the forefront of shaping people’s perceptions about the brand again, riding the wave instead of following the leaders, we want to be part of that community and society that is creating and shaping consumer trends.

And we are pragmatic. We are going to spend a lot of time talking and meeting with our colleagues in Detroit, so it stands to reason it would be better to be in the same time zone and one hour’s flight time away instead of three hours. That means East Coast. And when you think about our history and the heritage of this great brand, nothing projects us as well as New York, an iconic, global city at the epicenter of luxury consumption. There is no other place that does it so deeply, that is so steeped in history, but also innovative and forward-thinking. It’s exactly the place for us to be. Not because we will make better decisions here, but because the men and women who have the destiny of Cadillac in their hands will be immersed in an environment where we see the world through the eyes of our customers. And that will guide our own mindsets so we will make the right decisions.

I would add, I read with amusement, “Cadillac is so stupid, they moved to New York. Who do they think is going to buy their cars in New York?” If anybody thinks we moved to New York because we somehow imagine the whole future of Cadillac exists on how many cars we sell here, then they really confirm their expertise about the auto business.

Fresh Perspectives, Proven Strategies

WardsAuto: With the move to New York, do you risk losing key Cadillac people?

De Nysschen: It stands to reason when you do a corporate relocation, that you will not be able to bring the entire team, because people have personal circumstances that may preclude them. But you need to maintain at least a minimum level of institutional knowledge. It has to be transferred. This is not the first time I’ve done a corporate relocation and you do that by identifying the nucleus, the absolute key roles and functions and people that capture the lion’s share of that institutional knowledge.

Then you augment that core group with new talent from the automotive industry, obviously, but also new talent from other industries. This gives you the opportunity to bring in fresh eyes, new ideas and new perspectives. Every single role in the auto business does not have to be performed by someone who grew up in the car business. And to be frank, when Audi moved to Washington, D.C., it was exactly the same. We brought in a lot of people from other industries. At the same time, since the announcement was made of Cadillac’s relocation our HR people have been astounded by the number of people who want to be part of that.

De Nysschen’s brain trust includes veterans Mark Reuss, GM product development chief (right); Andrew Smith, head of Cadillac design; and Dave Leone, Cadillac executive chief engineer (left).
WardsAuto: Are you working from a blueprint in extracting Cadillac from GM, as you did at Audi and Infiniti?

De Nysschen: I’ve been charged with the responsibility of leading Cadillac because I bring expertise and experience to the table. And that expertise and experience was crafted in a career. Twenty years in the Volkswagen Group and being part, frankly, of the whole process of setting Audi on the course and trajectory that it is on was also multifaceted. It was about setting up the organization with a focus. It was about careful crafting of the brand message. It was about the product strategy and execution. So I do not think there is a blueprint to say, well, we’re just taking a leaf out of Audi’s book, but there are the main ingredients to the cake and those are central to this issue: they are not part-time luxury brands. Nobody who works at Audi or Mercedes works at those brands on a part-time basis. And if you do try to tackle those jobs with part-time employees you’ll get your butt kicked. So this whole issue of dedication and focus and an empowered organization that is lean, mean and agile and that really, really understands luxury doesn’t guarantee success but it is an essential departure point.

WardsAuto: Is the New York auto show going to be Cadillac’s auto show from now on, as Frankfurt might be for the German makes and Tokyo for the Japanese?

De Nyssschen: It is a hometown show. I don’t guarantee that we will have a global premiere at every New York auto show, but for us it will certainly be a very important event on the calendar.

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