Anne E. Belec
From Volvo Cars North America boss to Navistar Inc. Chief Marketing Officer
Belec left the company in 2011 to pursue other interests.
Anne E. Belec is Chief Marketing Officer for Navistar Inc. As such, she’s responsible for developing strategic marketing functions for Navistar’s global truck, engine and parts operations. That seems like a major switch from her previous job experiences, which include more than 24 years at Ford Motor Co. That’s where she held various positions, such as President and CEO of Volvo Cars North America and as Director of Global Marketing in the Chief Marketing Office. Belec joined Navistar in December, 2009, after serving as Chief Executive Officer at the Mosaic Group, a consulting outfit with vehicle clients.
Belec graduated from the University d’Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a bachelor’s degree in Commerce-Marketing. She earned a master’s degree in Business Administration from Duke University. Dan Jedlicka interviewed Belec at Navistar's downtown Chicago offices.
Q. Did it seem strange moving from jobs such as the head of Volvo to the marketing position at Navistar, which produces a wide variety of trucks, but no cars?
A. Marketing is marketing. The same fundamentals are used, no matter if you’re involved with cars, trucks, clothes or movies. You must learn all about the product and find a brand strategy, understanding the usage of a product and its customers. The brand promise is what we deliver to customers and should drive everything an organization does. When defining a brand, you ask, “What does it bring from its history?” You go forward from there.
Q. Many people have an emotional connection with cars, but is the same true with, say, the large over-the-road trucks that Navistar produces?
A. The emotional connection to cars is familiar. I was surprised to find there’s also quite an emotional connection between owners of large trucks and their vehicles. Its environment becomes their home for days on the road. Drivers even sleep in their highway trucks. It’s part of my job to find more emotional connections.
Q. Putting aside such vehicles as school buses, which Navistar builds along with medium and severe service trucks, I notice that many large trucks look quite bold, compared to those from past decades. How important is exterior styling to truck buyers?
A. It’s quite important. For example, Navistar’s big Lonestar truck is the most dramatic-looking such truck on roads.We also make custom items for trucks, such as steering wheels, to help make them more distinctive. Some truckers like to customize their vehicles. We’re in many aspects of the truck business, which is very complicated.
Q. Have you ever driven one of the big rigs?
A. Not so far, but I want to spend several days with both male and female truckers on the road to experience what they’re experiencing. You can’t just look at customers on paper, so to speak. You must determine what feelings are created when they’re on the road, what challenges they face. One thing we’re doing is making interior space more efficient so long trips are more comfortable for them.
Q. Did Volvo have specific emotional connections with its cars?
A. The major ones involved safety, quality of life and environmental aspects.
Q. Volvos once were very boxy looking, but have become much sleeker in recent decades. Did this interfere with their initial “emotional connections?”
A. No, because, as with BMW, Volvo kept its design DNA and thus retained its identify. While styling evolved, elements of the old design were retained. For instance, Volvos have muscular-looking body components, which indicate that they’re protecting occupants. Navistar wants its trucks to look distinctive, to be readily identifiable.
Q. You mentioned Volvo’s concern for the environment. Is Navistar prepared to face the stricter new government truck emission standards?
A. Yes, because we’ve been anticipating them for years. We’ve developed an EGR emissions-control strategy that doesn’t involve fairly frequent attention by truck operators. We asked ourselves, “What can we do to make it easier for customers?”
Q. New technology is being added to cars at a furious rate. What about trucks?
A. One of Navistar’s big challenges is developing new technology. Another challenge is getting young people interested in the truck market instead of the auto market. After all, old truck technology is gone, and our industry is using far more software. Trucks call for a different set of skills. We feel that they’re a lot of fun.
Q. You spent time with Volvo in Europe, where many cars have diesel engines because the price of gasoline is extremely high there and diesels are more fuel-efficient. But what about diesel cars in America?
A. Most Americans aren’t enthusiastic about diesel cars because fuel here is still relatively cheap and some remember the unpleasant old-style diesels. But many Navistar vehicles, such as school buses and fire trucks, use diesels. It’s not that they’re just more fuel-efficient, it’s also because there’s less chance of vehicles such as school buses or emergency vehicles such as fire trucks catching on fire if diesel fuel is used instead of gasoline.
Q. The.used car market is huge, much larger than the new-car market. Is there a big market for used trucks? I’d guess that many trucks would be “all used up” when original owners sold them because they are, after all, workhorse vehicles.
A. There’s actually a strong market for second, third or even fourth owners of trucks. That’s where our profitable parts and service business comes in. It helps extend the life of older trucks and keeps them running efficiently. And that allows us to build a relationship with buyers of our used models. With our depressed economy, there’s less need for cross-country haulers. So we concentrate more on parts and service.
Q. The auto industry has become enormously competitive in America and is cyclical in nature. What about the truck industry?
A. It’s also very competitive and cyclical—and has become more fragmented. Some foreign automakers are relatively new to American. But many Navistar rivals have been around a long time. We depend a lot on keeping the loyalty of our customers.
Q. Automakers are eyeing emerging foreign markets. What about Navistar?
A. We’re particularly looking at markets in India and Brazil. Of course, China is a huge market. That’s why I’ve been doing lots of world travel, researching different cultures in relation to truck use. Navistar must keep a global perspective in regards to design and product development.
Q. You’ve moved to Navistar headquarters in Chicago, with its cold winters. How do you feel about them?
A. I lived in California for awhile and really liked its weather. But I also worked in the Detroit area, which often gets Chicago weather—a day later. Also, I grew up in Canada, where the temperature could drop to 40 degrees below zero.