By Jola Chudy
A passionate leader, automotive visionary Irfan Tansel is the CEO of Al Masaood Automobiles, an industry titan on a mission to share his knowledge.
Irfan Tansel, CEO of Al Masaood Automobiles, is one of the region’s most recognised leaders, not least because his illustrious career spanning more than four decades has such humble beginnings.
Starting his working life as a car apprentice and working his way steadily up to management and leadership positions, his breadth of knowledge about the automotive industry makes him preeminent in his field and is equalled only by his lifelong passion for everything car-related.
Entrepreneurial, visionary and relentlessly ambitious, he is results-driven and people-focused. An award-winning leader, he speaks on leadership, disruption, autonomous vehicles and the green economy to audiences around the world, and his interviews and opinion pieces have been published in leading newspapers and magazines.
“After reaching the peak of my career, I want to be remembered as someone who gave back to the world,” says Tansel, a UAE resident.
You are a bona fide example of someone who has ‘worked their way up the ladder’ – there cannot be many automotive CEOs with your level of innate knowledge from the ground up. Do you think it is essential for a good leader to know his business inside out at such a practical level?
Being a highly effective business leader takes years of practice, knowledge and experience. This is because effective leadership translates to having the ability to balance a number of skills - all of which require their own time in learning.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that these are not just skills but also virtues that you place value and importance in. The triumphs and victories I’ve achieved are owed largely to the hard work I put in, my dedication and perseverance, and the many wonderful men and women who I have worked with and learned from throughout my career. I worked my way up the ladder, starting as an apprentice in automobile workshop and living in labour camps, to being promoted as service manager, then general manager and now, chief executive officer.
How do you approach building culture in an organisation?
Company culture is an integral and essential part of the business. Every company is unique, possesses its own DNA and this DNA is cascaded down from the top. They are imbedded into the vision, mission and values of the company. It affects everything within a company – all your decisions are driven by the culture you want to sustain or create.
From your ability to recruit top talent, to improving and enhancing employee satisfaction. Company culture is the backbone of a happy workforce. If a positive culture is absent, employees will struggle to discover the real value of their work. In turn this creates a series of negative consequences that will impact your operations, and ultimately, the company’s bottom line.
The automotive market was in a challenging place prior to the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now it seems that the challenges are even greater, but such is life – how are you leading through some of the most challenging economic times in living memory?
The world has changed dramatically in the last few months because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetimes, Covid-19 has resulted in wide-spread concern and hardships for businesses and communities all over the world. It has impacted many industries, and the automotive industry is no exception.
In the UAE, the government has been fantastic at taking care of all of their residents. They implemented many preventive and precautionary measures early to curb the spread of Coronavirus.
We express our wholehearted support in their efforts to address and lead us through these challenging times. Our number one priority at Al Masaood Automobiles was that our employees and customers were safe and looked after. We launched an Interactive Live Sales Experience over video chat and mobile Test Drives with display cars dropped off to the customer’s preferred location. We sold a luxury Infiniti from the first day of launching.
Remember that this phase is temporary. We will all emerge stronger and more resilient from this extraordinary situation that we are experiencing.
What impact will this crisis have on your industry in the longer term and what can you advise leaders in business generally, to plan for post-Covid-19?
The emergence of this global pandemic has managed to impact various industry verticals, including the automotive segment. The effect has resulted in production shutdowns, sales declines, drops in demand, and so on.
To help better deal with this crisis, my advice is to maintain a positive mindset, look at the brighter side of things. We should also remain committed in our work and try to see this challenge as an opportunity for growth, instead of an obstacle. These are times to encourage creativity and innovation.
What strategy and forward planning should leaders be thinking about now?
True leaders have foresight, they are forward thinkers. Digital transformation was a prerequisite long before Covid-19, but with the changes that the pandemic has brought about, it has become essential for organisations to digitise and innovate their offerings. Covid-19 will eventually go away, but innovation will not. The buying behaviors of customers will permanently change. Digital platforms will take more limelight. Our goal is to maintain business continuity while ensuring the safety of our employees, customers and securing financial sustainability.
We also engaged and enhanced our digital channels to support remote work and online trading. We are now firming our plans for the period after the pandemic crisis. Reviewing our “new retail format” outlined in our mid-term strategy “Project Falcon” with the fresh experiences of the past two months. I call this planning period as the “New Normal” where not only our offerings, customer touch points will change but also our organisation needs modification to adopt to the era coming. Continues digital transformation, social distancing measures will define those changes to offer further health, safety and convenience to our employees and customers.
What is your workforce doing while in isolation, what changes has the company made to enable business to continue?
It is essential that we address the change that Covid-19 has created in order to maintain business continuity. Over the last two years, I have called for the move to digitise businesses, but I felt that some organisations were resistant to this change. Today, in the face of this crisis, we are fast tracking the transformation with remote working. We created an omni-channel buying experience with evolved customer journeys that are integrated with our brick and mortar showrooms.
Led by our vision to ‘Deliver Innovation’, the Al Masaood Automobiles family are working with renewed enthusiasm to develop further innovative technologies that enhance yet simplify our processes and operations. Needless to say, these efforts add much value to our digitisation goals, and more importantly, for our customers.
We have achieved several milestones in regards to digital transformation. For instance, the launch of the first ever e-commerce platform in the region enables customers to choose the specifications of their choice of Nissan and have it delivered straight to their doorstep.
We now offer our customers an Interactive Live Sales Experience through a video call with our expert sales consultants. Customers can ‘roam’ around the showroom virtually before choosing their favorite vehicle, and it will be delivered to their homes after purchase.
Our Service Department has also activated home pickup and delivery service for after sales services.
What have been some of the other big challenges you have overcome, how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges that we have faced is the decline of the automotive market since 2016. Back then, we were able to address this situation by pushing ourselves to achieve three dedicated goals as essential pillars of “Project Falcon” strategy that we set – to drive operational excellence and help optimise costs; focus on the creation of new business lines and revenue streams; and develop new retail formats.
In line with this, we were able to overcome the situation, and it’s now proudly highlighted by the milestones we gained when we worked towards achieving each of our goals. Milestones include the launch of a certified pre-owned operation covering all three brands; the launch of Finance and Insurance business enabling us to tailor made offerings to customers, the launch of a new business line through the creation of Al Masaood Auto Leasing and the multi brand servicing with Auto Central. Combined with imbedded performance culture we have achieved this downturn into opportunity with double digit volume and markets share growth Year on Year (YoY) since then.
A career leader, what qualities do you see as crucial to good leadership? Are there any qualities that are specific to the automotive industry?
The most important qualities of a good leader include being visionary, positivity, integrity, accountability, empathy, humility, resilience and influencer. As you can see there are many qualities required to be a good leader irrespective of the sector. What makes a successful leader is creating a good, enthusiastic team, with diversified skill set and creative.
Very important factor is to trust them, empower them and support them. I also believe that ‘companies don’t fail because they have bad plans, they fail because they don’t achieve to get their employees to put their hearts and minds into the plan’. We should all work closely together to boost the spirit of ONE team. Get your team to be involved in strategy and ideation phases and you will find employee engagement increases significantly, hence they own the plan and do whatever to succeed as it is theirs. Piece of advice; surround your self with colleagues from whom you also will learn, do not tolerate mediocracy.
How do you deal with failure?
My 40 years of experience has taught me that whenever something fails, you should still continue to think positively and see what can be learned from that experience. I would like to leave behind a book on the lessons I’ve learnt, documenting the transitions of the automotive industry, and how an apprentice technician became a part of that.
With electrification and autonomous vehicles perhaps dubbed as two of the most seismic changes the industry has ever had to anticipate, how crucial is staying ahead of technological changes?
Since inception, the automobile has been a flashpoint for technological, economic, and social innovation. The past year was a pivotal one, faced with many important achievements and challenges across the disruptive dimensions of mobility-autonomous driving, connectivity, electrification, and shared mobility (ACES). We see continued acceleration of investments in the relevant technologies, with e-hailing, semiconductors, and sensors for advanced driving-assistance systems and autonomous driving still being the front-runners.
What digital solutions have been innovated as a direct result of Covid-19?
As earlier stated, Al Masaood Automobiles started to implement its digital journey a few years back when it created its ‘Project Falcon’ vision. People are spending more time online and on their mobile phones than ever before. These days, buying is about convenience. People want a seamless and quick buying experience.
Our M Auto mobile app, which we have recently launched, allows for service booking from home, tracking repairs and even pick up and drop off.
As society is now urged to stay in their homes in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, we engaged and enhanced all of our digital platforms for the safety of our employees and our customers. So, we launched our Interactive Live Sales Experience. This dynamic platform allows people to see and interact with their car purchase, all from the comfort of their homes.
Customer service is a pillar of the company’s reputation – how are you harnessing technology to respond to the unprecedented requirements of customers in this completely unforeseen landscape?
Being a customer-centric company, Al Masaood Automobiles has constantly remained true to its commitment of creating innovative solutions that cater to our client’s needs. We understand that buying a car is the second biggest purchase decision that an individual makes in their lifetime. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that people would want to see, touch and interact with the cars they wish to purchase.
To better address this challenge, we have created a virtual sales platform that allows customers to buy a car even while they are following the orders to stay at home. We have also developed the Infiniti vehicle configurator, which allows customers to experience a full 360-degree view plus other exciting features.
The new online configurator allows you to build a new vehicle of your choosing, including options and packages, from the ground up. Users can simply choose the model and experiment with interior and exterior design, features, colors and technology. Admire your vehicle from all angles with 360 degree views. Revisit and change your choices as many times as you like. When you are ready, you can print out or share your configuration with your friend or with our sales team.
Disruption in the industry is something you speak on a lot around the world – what are your personal views on Industry 4.0 and how it is going to reshape our world?
Our mindset is to disrupt or be disrupted. Industry 4.0 is finally here and it’s accompanied by emerging technologies that have been designed and developed to further reshape the automotive industry in the long-term. Over the last few years, terms like emerging technology, digital disruption and digitalisation have become buzzwords in the industry. The automotive sector has invested billions of dollars in enterprise systems, automation solutions, and advanced product technologies.
During the last two years, I have spoken at a number of events to promote the advantages of digitising businesses, despite the feeling of resistance from some organisations concerning this impending change. Remote working, omni-channels and creating evolved customer journeys that are integrated with brick and mortar showrooms were just some areas that businesses found to be challenging. However, the sudden emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted these companies to transform and revert to these processes, some almost overnight, with amazing results.
A passion for cars is obviously a huge part of who you are – what was it that first sparked this lifelong interest? Are you fascinated by the history of cars more, or their future?
I consider myself a true automotive aficionado, cars are my passion and addiction. This is also the same reason why I have managed to become successful in my career path as my success stems from my passion. After starting my career as an apprentice to become a car mechanic at the age of 15, and after over 40 years’ experience in the automotive industry, I can proudly say that I have become a family business and autonomous vehicle expert.
With the history of the automobile world being so deep, cars will still continue to evolve and amaze us with newer technologies and innovations. We will see much more in terms of development and evolution. The future is very exciting - I am just as excited as everyone to usher in a new era in automobiles.
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