Variety may be the spice of life, but it can also be the grounds for real dedication to a career that offers both diversity and prospects. Diane Tarr has enjoyed both as she followed her intuition to take on roles outside the norm.
Now, as Managing Director of Mercedes-Benz Vans in Australia/Pacific, she has found her niche. Diane has worked with Mercedes-Benz for more than 22 years, first in South Africa before moving to Australia.
After working in the advertising industry with her marketing degree in South Africa, she moved into the construction industry in corporate sales and marketing roles. Some time later, a recruiter asked her to join Mercedes-Benz and she accepted the offer.
“Maybe they thought if I can cut it in the construction industry I can cut it in the automotive industry too,” Diane says with a laugh. “An opportunity came up in 2004 while I was at Mercedes-Benz South Africa for a position in Australia, so I took that opportunity and I’ve been here ever since. The roles I’ve had at Mercedes-Benz have been quite varied, which is great – hence, my 22 years with the company.”
Those different roles have given Diane a holistic view of the company, which has broadened her appreciation of its internal workings and external connections with partners, especially in her role as Managing Director of Mercedes-Benz Vans.
The Vans division is very much a B2B business – about 90% of its customers are commercially oriented, which gives that sector of the company a slightly different perspective of customer priorities from its passenger car division.
Every frontline emergency ambulance is a sprinter, and that’s powerful, because we actually help to save lives every day.
“Working with large transport or logistics companies, it’s all about ‘time is money’,” she says. “How can we, with our vehicles and solutions, reduce that time? By making it quicker – in and out, deliver the parcel, in and out, deliver the parcel. So it really is working closely with them to find solutions for their business. That’s the crucial part of what we do.”
Diane points to a particular example illustrating the company’s solutions focus. “Every frontline emergency ambulance is a Sprinter, and that’s powerful, because we actually help to save lives every day. That instils a greater purpose to what we do beyond ‘here is a white van, and off you go’.”
It also informs Mercedes-Benz’s leadership in technology development. Trends like digitisation, urbanisation and the Internet of Things are real game-changers, or disrupters, for the commercial vehicle industry, alongside the transition away from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.
That poses specific questions for motor companies in a large country like Australia. “Globally, we’re working on electrifying all of our fleet – we’ve already launched the eVito and eSprinter models in Europe – and we’re working closely with our headquarters colleagues to define what the requirements are for the EV range in Australia,” Diane says.
“Our biggest challenge is range and another is fast charging – challenges we will certainly overcome. For example, in the courier express and parcel delivery space, fleet operators are looking at fast charge stations onsite, so our customers are also finding solutions to support electric vans in Australia.”
Diane’s exposure to a variety of roles in her career has moulded her perspective on team building within Mercedes-Benz Vans. She believes strongly in exposing her teams to alternate roles, their integration into the broader business, and instilling a belief that the business is their business too. “I’m pretty driven,” she concedes.
“My greatest strength is I’m a close observer of situations and people, I remain calm under pressure and think strategically. I have a genuine care factor for my team and for my business, and for what I need to deliver.
“For what we call big rocks – strategic projects – we get cross-functional teams to be part of each rock so it’s outside their usual responsibility. We get this wonderful dynamic of different thinking, different decision-making, empowerment and a real collective contribution.
A neat COVID-19 solution
Diane Tarr candidly reveals, “I suppose I’m a bit of a neat freak.” A ‘neat freak’ was exactly what was required with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when, as Managing Director of Mercedes-Benz Vans in Australia, she was confronted with a tsunami of challenges. It took her eye for organisational fine detail to ensure that her team, the Mercedes-Benz Vans retailers and suppliers, and its long list of customers, were all protected and able to continue working in a radically changed business environment. “With our network, we made sure they could have business continuity and were enforcing COVID-19 safety plans in the organisation. In addition, we needed our customers to continue their essential operations, so we made sure that our dealers could continue to service, repair and support vehicles used for essential services. From an office perspective, we instantly moved to a work-from-home scenario within a matter of days; that was a test for our business and we adjusted perfectly.”
“We have a strong culture in our team, and I’m conscious that it must be felt by our partners in the Mercedes-Benz Vans retailer network. In actual numbers, van sales may be a small portion of their business, but they know they don’t get a small effort from our team. We refer to ourselves as small but mighty, and the dealers feel and know that. They know the responsiveness of our team and our focus on the customer.”
According to Diane, challenges build resilience and are an integral, although sometimes unwelcome, factor in running any business. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly thrown enough challenges to test everyone’s stamina for staying the course.
“I enjoy challenges because that’s where we effectively get out of our comfort zone, to learn and move forward. And there’s a multitude of challenges, from not being able to deliver a vehicle due to contact restrictions, to some really big global challenges such as supply chain disruptions. We are adaptable – in such times of change you have to be, otherwise your business will suffer. Culturally moving from one country to another in itself is learning to adapt,” she explains.
The pandemic gave Diane a new appreciation of her team and their effort to keep Mercedes-Benz Vans on track despite the setbacks around every corner. “I know it sounds cliched, but I get inspired by my team. They are awesome, they challenge me, they contribute, they create the Vans culture. It’s not a top-down culture,” she says.
Diane is an early starter, enjoying mornings when it’s very quiet. “I think sometimes in this current environment having those moments is important. We need them. Those are really my chill-down times. Then I can step back and see what really matters.”
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