Ferrari MD a steady presence in the fast lane

Mr Dieter Knechtel tries to lead by example and aims to instil values like good manners, honesty, respect and transparency in his employees.
Mr Dieter Knechtel tries to lead by example and aims to instil values like good manners, honesty, respect and transparency in his employees.PHOTO: FERRARI FAR EAST

It is one of the flashiest cars around but running the Ferrari operations in the region requires a cool head and a steady-as-she-goes ability to adapt to all manner of cultures.

It is an approach that works for Mr Dieter Knechtel, managing director of the Italian firm's Far East division, which includes Japan, South Korea, South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Knechtel, who took up the post in April, is well armed for such a cultural mosaic given that he speaks German, English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese.

Cars are clearly in his blood.

"I've spent all my career in the automotive industry," he says.

Austrian-born Mr Knechtel, 43, graduated from Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration with a Master of Marketing and a Bachelor of Science and joined French car group Citroen in 1995 as a business consultant.

In 1998, he moved to Renault to manage its dealer network before rising to senior brand manager two years later.

That led to his first big move: a transfer to Tokyo in 2003 as marketing manager before heading to Paris in 2006 to take a strategic role in central product marketing.

"Tokyo was my first touchdown in Asia," he says.

"It was a very exciting time as I got to learn a lot about Asia. My passion for this region actually brought me back."

Indeed, he spent only eight months in Paris before moving to Shanghai to work for Porsche, handling areas such as business development, project management and business operations for the German firm.

He then took the position of brand division president, managing Porsche retail operations in China.

In April, Mr Knechtel made the move to Ferrari and its famous prancing horse logo.

He told The Straits Times that deciding to engage the Asia-Pacific region, by taking up the post in Tokyo in 2003, was one of the most memorable points in his life.

"Back then, it was not normal for a European to come to Asia and develop the market from here, far away from home, especially in a very pioneer environment."

Mr Knechtel is well aware that Ferrari is "an extremely shiny brand" and tries to inculcate principles and values like good manners, honesty, respect and transparency in his employees.

"In that regard, I try to be a role model and lead by good example."

He adds that in his line of work, decisions have to take into account other people, processes and things such as social responsibility.

He says that authenticity and sincerity are vital, too, and it is necessary to "be strong and defend your points, and don't let anybody interfere in your ambitions".

These principles came to the fore for Mr Knechtel when he was leading a team of almost 700 people during his stint in China.

Mr Knechtel notes that being in charge of a region means he needs to be able to interact with different people and cultures and adapt to various environments.

"For example, Japan is very different from China, which, in turn, is very different from other markets such as here in Singapore.

"In Japan, there is a very sophisticated environment where there's a lot of knowledge of automobiles. People know a lot about motorsports and sports cars and so on. We can take things from those markets and bring to this market."

Based on the current range, a Ferrari starts from $905,000 without a certificate of entitlement.

Mr Knechtel said that the Singapore market had peaked in 2013, and it is now a very different market environment, with the introduction of things such as luxury tax.

"However, I would say Singapore is stable at a high level.

"In the luxury automobile segment in Singapore, every second car sold is a Ferrari.

"We have 50 per cent of the market share."

Mr Knechtel, who is married with two daughters and a son, aged between three and eight, says he is "a sporty person".

"In winter, I'm a passionate skier, which is also not easy to do here in Asia." He wants to share this passion with his children and takes his family back to Austria once a year to hit the slopes, but he is keen to let his children develop a love of skiing on their own.

"If you push it too hard, it might be counter-productive. It needs to come naturally."

Food is another interest.

"I'm very interested in different cuisines, and I believe that in Singapore, there is any (food) and everything you can find," he says.

Singapore, in fact, is proving very much to his taste: "Everybody speaks English. It's clear, transparent and clean. Healthcare is on a high level, schools are on a high level, everything is very straightforward."

Mr Knechtel, who is still looking for a car here, said the country's small size also appeals, especially with traffic far less of a hassle than in his last posting in Shanghai.

"In Shanghai, traffic had become so dramatic and heavy that any time at anywhere, you have to face the challenge of an hour or two getting from east to west.

"But here it takes just 15 to 20 minutes. It's easy. I love it!"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Ferrari MD a steady presence in the fast lane'. Print Edition | Subscribe