Supporting Diversity and Sustainability, Pushing Electromobility
In an exclusive interview, the Budapest Business Journal talks with Italian Fabiola Attorri, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Hungária Kft., about gender and diversity, sustainability, and her plans for the German luxury marque in Hungary.
BBJ: You are an Italian woman in a leading position. Although neither are unknown, they are not particularly common among Hungary’s expat CEOs. Do you see yourself as a role model for your gender and country?
Fabiola Attorri: I hope not to represent an exception but an example! I am not used to thinking about diversity only with reference to gender; to me, it means much more: a variety of experiences in all its facets, which enriches organizations and society. Yes, when I started my career, it was not so common to see many women in leading positions, particularly in the car industry. But times have changed, and I see progress: probably not as fast as I would wish, but change still.
At Mercedes-Benz, we have taken significant steps forward in supporting competent and professional women colleagues and promoting the culture of diversity, and we will continue in that direction. The same is also true at Mercedes-Benz Hungary (MBHU).
BBJ: What are your immediate goals for the business in Hungary?
FA: Taking Mercedes-Benz in Hungary forward in its success story of continuous and sustainable growth; pushing the transformation toward digital and electric together with our retail partners; offering our customers exciting products and a modern luxury experience in all the touchpoints; and, finally, for my employees a very good place to work.
BBJ: Sustainability and e-mobility must be taking an ever-greater role in your plans. What are the targets for Hungary here?
FA: Mercedes-Benz is committed to sustainability; therefore, we are accelerating the transformation into an emission-free and software-driven future. Our motivation is to be CO₂-neutral by 2039, as declared in our “Ambition 2039” strategy. What does it mean for e-mobility? By 2022, Mercedes-Benz will have battery electric vehicles in all segments we serve. From 2025 onwards, all newly launched vehicle architectures will be electric-only, and customers will be able to choose an all-electric alternative for every model we produce.
Of course, Mercedes-Benz Hungária Kft. follows the corporate objectives in this field as well. Electromobility is a priority for us; thus, we provide all the available new electric models in Hungary. This means that, with the new EQE as of this May, we have nine all-electric passenger cars and vans. We have supported and trained our colleagues and dealers to sell and service electric vehicles, and we have already seen significant results. In relation to local e-mobility ambitions, the number of charging station possibilities is a crucial point. Together with our dealers and in cooperation with other partners, we are working on broadening the availability of charging points.
BBJ: How much experience of the Hungarian market did you have prior to taking up your position in November 2021?
FA: I was in Mercedes-Benz HQ for the last seven years and was responsible for the European retail network: 19 markets, including Hungary. Therefore, I was already in contact with some of our colleagues at MBHU, and I can say that it was not completely new to me when joining here.
BBJ: Now that you have been here for a few months, how does it match your expectations?
FA: The experience so far exceeds my initial expectations! I like the country, and I like living in Budapest, which I find a vivid and charming city. The people are nice and, in general, show sympathy for me when they see that I am Italian. From a business perspective, the Mercedes-Benz brand is well positioned, and I have a very professional team with which to work together. All in all, I am happy to be here. Can you guess what my biggest challenge is? Of course, the Hungarian language! But I expected that before coming here.
BBJ: Is there anything unique or particularly challenging about the Hungarian business?
FA: We are unique as Mercedes-Benz in terms of plug-in hybrid (PIH) because we provide the widest range of these kinds of models. As a result of this, in 2021, we achieved the biggest share of PIH in Hungary. In addition, we are the only company that provides diesel plug-in hybrid cars in the premium segment.
Facilitating the uptake of e-mobility in Hungary is crucial. From time to time, there are government schemes that aim to accelerate the spread of green vehicles. These are excellent initiatives that we fully appreciate, although Mercedes-Benz vehicles cannot always benefit from these programs. Another challenge can be the Hungarian forint exchange rates when it comes to pricing.
BBJ: Aside from your native Italy, you have also worked in North America, Australia and Germany. How does Hungary compare?
FA: All the places you have mentioned attract me for very different reasons and probably because each one is so different from the next and somehow unique. Working in these places has been a great experience, and I expect it will be the same here in Hungary.
The similarity I can see among the three when referring to the business is in some processes that in Mercedes-Benz we have harmonized worldwide; nevertheless, there are still market specifics that differentiate those countries as well as cultural aspects, history and lifestyle.
North America and Australia particularly appear to me to be quite different from Hungary, but it does not mean that one is better than the other. I am a mobile person and have always been very curious to know about other countries. Having lived abroad for a while, I can say that embracing the essence of new cultures enriches us as individuals and professionals. I would, therefore, encourage others to be open and respectful of the local culture when living in a host country; locals realize it and are more open to welcoming you in return.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 20, 2022.
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