With more than 25 years of leadership experience within Mercedes-Benz, Honoré Tchoukuegno is a seasoned executive who always looks to bring the best out of his staff. After working at Mercedes-Benz in Germany and China, Tchoukuegno in 2019 took on the role of Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Mercedes-Benz Taiwan.
Tchoukuegno connected with TOPICS editor Julia Bergström at the Ghost Island Media recording studio to discuss his career journey, the importance of creativity in finance and engineering roles, and what Mercedes-Benz is doing to improve the driver experience. An abridged version of their conversation follows – to listen to the full conversation, visit topics.amcham.com.tw/listen.
You’re the first CFO to be featured in our Executive Suite series. What does a Chief Financial Officer do, and what kind of characteristics does a CFO need to be successful?
It is my great honor and privilege to be the first CFO featured in the Executive Suite series!
Being a CFO involves more than just finances – it’s about collaborating with the CEO and management team to drive business performance, keeping costs under control, boosting efficiency and automation, managing people, and making sure the right team is in place, engaged, and motivated.
A successful CFO needs to have a good overview of the company and know every aspect of the business to successfully allocate resources and capital. How can you properly allocate resources if you do not know what’s going on in the company? You also need to be an active listener. You need to know the company’s strategy and make sure business needs are aligned with it while making the best possible use of limited resources. And, of course, it’s about being able to prioritize.
What prompted you to apply for your first job at Mercedes-Benz, and what has compelled you to stay with the company for more than 25 years?
I was looking to work for an innovative, multinational company, and Mercedes-Benz was the best fit. I joined through our management trainee program, which provided me with great opportunities. Over the past 25-plus years, I’ve taken on various exciting roles, collaborated with fantastic colleagues, and lived in different countries – all reasons for my continued commitment to the company.
Mercedes-Benz was recently ranked by Interbrand for the seventh consecutive year among the 10 best global brands in the world alongside giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google. It’s the only European luxury brand on the top ten list. I think that speaks volumes about this brand’s excitement.
You studied mechanical engineering at university but have steered your career toward finance roles at Mercedes-Benz. How did that happen? What advice would you give those who may feel “trapped” by their degree?
During the management trainee program, I worked with our procurement staff on a project, and at the end of the program, they asked me if I would be interested in joining the purchasing department. I said yes and have actually never worked as an engineer at Mercedes-Benz.
I quickly realized that although my technical background was an advantage, it wasn’t enough, and I needed to acquire more business administration and economics skills. That’s why I went back to university. I decided to pursue a diploma in Business Administration while working. It was an interesting experience, and I realized I could leverage my technical skills and combine them with my newly acquired business administration knowledge.
Studying while working was tough, especially as my wife and I also had our first child around that time. I’m very grateful for my wife’s support during that period. Her encouragement and my own determination were what helped me succeed.
To those feeling trapped by their degree or in their career, I’d say while a diploma or degree is important, it’s just the door opener. Beyond that, everything is possible.
Engineers need to combine technical skills with innovative and creative thinking – do you believe innovation and creativity are inherent skills, or can they be taught and improved? If the latter, how have you worked to improve these skills?
While some people might be gifted with creativity at birth, it can also be learned. Mercedes-Benz encourages people to bring up new ideas and explore the feasibility of those ideas together. In fact, my team members are currently organizing a creativity workshop for the finance department that will help us find new ways to streamline our processes and come up with new ideas for improvement.
Innovation is in our DNA. To foster creativity, we work to create a supportive environment for all employees. Encouraging creativity is really important in this process. A key aspect is promoting an open company culture that welcomes new ideas – you never know where a new idea will lead you. To support this, we implement processes that drive innovation and creativity, such as design thinking and creative workshops. These efforts help us continuously improve and reach new heights.
Do you have any tips for how to best utilize your network?
There is no specific secret to building and maintaining a strong network, but regular efforts and consistent catchups are essential. Staying in touch, whether in person or virtually, is crucial. During the pandemic, virtual catchups became more prevalent, and I still have virtual coffees to keep in touch with people.
When you’re working at a global company like Mercedes-Benz, reaching out to colleagues in other markets and sharing ideas and experiences is crucial. Regular communication with other colleagues and markets has enabled me to exchange and export good ideas, which is important in a high-performing organization.
How does Mercedes-Benz work to promote road safety also in Taiwan?
We work with both passive and active safety systems. Passive safety systems mitigate harm during an accident, while active safety systems aim to prevent accidents from occurring.
An example is the anti-lock braking system, or ABS, which we developed together with Bosch. Mercedes-Benz was the first to equip its cars with this technology.
Another example is the PRE-SAFE system, which anticipates a collision and promptly activates its features to reduce the effects of the impact. Mercedes-Benz introduced it 20 years ago, a milestone we recently celebrated.
Other safety features include blind spot detection, autopilot, and our new Intelligent Drive, which can sense over 160 feet ahead and read the surrounding environment over 1,640 feet ahead. Our ambition is to protect the safety of all road users.
In Taiwan we promote responsible driving and offer designated driving services through our CRM tool, Mercedes-Benz Pass, in partnership with the taxi company 55688. Their drivers receive training at our Mercedes Training Center and are familiar with our cars, which helps customers feel assured that their cars will be managed properly. This service can be easily booked via mobile and provides a safe, convenient way to get home after a night out.
What prospects do you see for the auto industry in the next few years? What new features and products does Mercedes-Benz have in the pipeline?
We have a lot in the pipeline, including measures for decarbonization, digitization, and the in-car experience. Mercedes-Benz has globally set itself the ambition of carbon neutrality along the entire value chain in the new vehicle fleet by 2039, partly including offsets.
Our own production plants have been carbon neutral since 2022, partly including offsets, but by 2039 we will include our suppliers in net neutrality. By 2030, Mercedes-Benz will sell only electric vehicles where market conditions allow. We will have six electric car types in the Taiwan market by the end of 2023.
The digitization aspect includes driver assistance systems, improved interiors, and automated driving. Mercedes-Benz recently achieved Level 3 certification of conditional automated driving in Nevada – the first OEM to do so – with California following shortly. This means the car is in control, allowing the driver to take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road under certain conditions. Mercedes-Benz also received this certification in Germany last year.
We’re also developing a new operating system, the Mercedes-Benz OS, set to launch in 2024. This will further digitize the in-car experience and elevate the customer experience with new features. That’s one of the things that will bring us closer to our ambition to lead in car software, and that will enable us to bring automated driving to the next level.
What are the biggest challenges faced by the auto industry at the moment?
The current chip shortage is an industry-wide challenge that will hopefully be solved soon. The chip shortage has impacted Mercedes-Benz, alongside many other disruptions in the past two years. We hope for a quick return to stability to reduce customers’ waiting time.
Decarbonization is a very tough challenge, and we need the commitment of everyone in the value chain, including our suppliers. Raw materials like green steel need to be available. There is a full array of challenges connected to this issue, but we are confident that we can overcome them.
What advice would you like to give young professionals looking for a successful career similar to yours?
Stay curious and hungry. Dare to ask and take the lead to steer your own career. Gather people around you with a positive mindset who encourage you along the way. Most importantly, you need to believe in yourself, in your abilities and capabilities. You will get there.
What do you like to do to relax and recharge?
When I’m not working, I enjoy spending quality time with my family and friends. I also like to unwind by reading a good book or going for a run. My intercultural background has sparked a love for traveling and discovering new countries, cultures, and places.
The pandemic has put a stop to our traveling, but my family and I are looking forward to exploring the region now that borders have reopened and the situation is improving. There are still many countries on our list, and we can’t wait to visit them soon.