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In the long term, relationships matter most

February 1, 2018
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A career in transport that happened by chance has not kept Ernie Trautmann, vice president of Hino South Africa, from achieving greatness. With a focus on people, customer smiles and approachability, Trautmann hopes to make Hino the number one truck brand in South Africa.

Trautmann has spent almost 30 years in the transport industry, but his career choice happened purely by chance. He attended the wedding of a fellow rugby player in Kimberley where he met Calvyn Hamman, the brother of the bride, who worked for Toyota South Africa. Hamman is now the senior vice president of sales and marketing at Toyota South Africa.

Trautmann recalls: “It was just by coincidence that Toyota was looking for somebody to manage marketing training for the dealer network.”

In 1988, Trautmann joined Toyota South Africa as part of the training division. He was involved in many firsts for the transport industry such as the implementation of toll-free lines. He was also part of the team that introduced Toyota Touch.

“A new initiative was installed by Brand Pretorius, who was the managing director of Toyota South Africa at that stage. He wanted to establish a very customer-orientated culture, which was called Toyota Touch. It is still active in the company,” Trautmann reflects.

In 2014, he joined the Hino South Africa team, where this same customer-centric approach has been key to his success. “Our culture is driven by Hino Motors Limited Japan’s direction of Total Support and the Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) philosophy and vision of keeping customers happy. We actually define it as creating customer smiles,” notes Trautmann.

He has a similar approach to his management style, and believes it is important to always be available for staff, dealers and customers. He says: “I like to think I’m approachable and that dealers and customers can phone me at any time. I have a philosophy that if someone phones and I can’t speak to them immediately, I will phone them back that same day, even if it is after business hours.

“My management approach is to be involved, to guide and to provide leadership, but also to allow people be innovative. I believe in motivating the team, creating opportunities and mentoring people,” he adds. With a business model and personal philosophy aimed at satisfying customers, it is no surprise that Trautmann enjoys seeing his clients succeed.

“The most satisfying part of my job is that, when I visit customers, I am always amazed at how many successful businesses operate in South Africa, sometimes under very difficult circumstances. These businesses are always so passionate, positive and creative. That is always most satisfying, especially if they are operating Hino vehicles in their fleet,” he states.

Trautmann lists Hino South Africa’s number one ranking in the Competitive Customer Satisfaction and Nada Dealer Satisfaction ratings as highlights in his career. These impressive rankings mean Hino South Africa is well placed to achieving the Hino Vision of becoming the number one brand in South Africa after 2020.

Trautmann advises youngsters considering a career in the transport industry: “You’ve got to be a people’s person. It’s not about the trucks; it’s about relationships that you have with people. You’ve got to be able to understand somebody else’s concerns and come up with a logistical solution.”

“You’ve also got to be genuine, open and honest, because you have to form long-term relationships. This industry is long term. Even if you can’t help someone, be honest. That will give you the credibility for the future,” he concludes.

My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise, spank it at the track or go bundu-bashing (the mud-and-rocks-side-of-a-mountain type, not the exploring-Joburg’s-pavements type). Otherwise, chances are you’ll find me lying underneath one of my beloved toys or with my head buried in its engine bay, tinkering away.

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