Stephan Jacoby's Boots: Mark Barnes Interview, VW's Stride for Success?

April 27, 2010

VW's Boot Camp:  A CEO and COO Stride for Success

One coup after VW's 2010 NAIAS coupe debut: face time with VW's chief operating officer Mark Barnes.  I wanted to know what makes VWoA's new leadership tick.  News sources say the top member of VW American management team (Stephan Jacoby) has ditched VW and joined Volvo.  Read these excerpts.  Find out why Jacoby's exit might cause trouble at VW's US outpost.

I began the interview by rearranging seating!  Who knew VW's brass would oblige?

Second, I sampled VW's hospitality, which earned high marks for style and substance.  I cannot resist Lindt chocolate and cappuccino served in a bright-white porcelain cup.

Then, your caffeinated correspondent acted.  My first question was a zinger:  what's behind CEO Stefan Jacoby's (Yah coby) John Wayne swagger-I mean why does VWoA's top-dog wear cowboy boots?  Someone had to ask!

Barnes face lit up; he told a story.  Those boots, he says, are an important symbol.  They represent VW making itself relevant in America.  And Jacoby isn't the only VW executive who dons boots.  Barnes wears Noconas.  They fit so well that "you won't wanna take ‘em off."

VWoA CEO Jacoby (right) VW's sales chief Christian Klinger (left)

VWoA CEO Jacoby (right) VW's sales chief Christian Klinger (left)

Enlarge Photo

Watching Jacoby in action reminds me of another boot story.  During 1957, Phillips Petroleum hired a corporate identity specialist to overhaul its Okie image.  When its president Boots Adams saw the new logo, he said,  "as long as he's running the company, we'll keep our Route 66 shield."  He saved the brand's famous highway-sign trademark.  With updated stores, Phillips became the brand that "won the West."

Fifty years later, VW wants to break out, yet retain its roots.  One sign of VW's new direction is Stefan Jacoby's boots.  This buttoned-down German auto executive, says Barnes, is proof that VW isn't going mainstream.  No, "it's bringing the mainstream to VW."

They're doing that by crisscrossing America, listening to dealers, switching ad agencies and mending broken fences.   They're also kicking dirt--a new Tennessee plant.  VW developed this facility with ‘in-haus' help.  Barnes argues there's VW DNA in that plant.


What about those boots?  Walking in cowboy boots exudes confidence.  And if that fires up dealers to move VWs, then it's part of the plan.  It turns out that when Jacoby met Dallas-area dealers the buttoned-down German went native.  He bought custom-made footgear.  Besides the boots, Jacoby dons cowboy hats, will down a corndog and sometimes wears a velvet jacket.

This raises a question:  what else is afoot at VW?  Barnes says a lot.  For example, Barnes argues VW must rebuild its image; today's consumers don't know today's 13-model VW lineup.  So, VW's ad agency, Deutsch LA, will take the gloves off!  VW's new commercials will recall its past and update it with PunchDub physical humor.

Mainstream, main street America is still largely unaware that VW is a major automaker claims Barnes   This is one reason VW switched ad agencies.  It sought a better fit for its ambitious U.S. plans.  Say bye to Max and Willkommen Sie to a slug-bug revival.

American tastes matter.  VW, therefore, will build another New Beetle, asserts Barnes.  It is an imperative.  To address VW enthusiasts, expect future VWs to look like VWs, rather than plump Toyota Corollas.  Don't anticipate VW trucks, warns Barnes.  Market research shows they're losing ground as high-fashion daily commuters.

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