Early on a Wednesday morning last November my mobile phone rang. On the other end was our Motorsports boss, Toto Wolff. My first thought was that if Toto is calling at this time of day, then there’s been friction between our two Formula One racecar drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Again.
But Toto had only five words to say: “Nico is ending his career.” To that surprising bit of news I was initially speechless. And not just because I still had my toothbrush in my mouth. More likely was that my career didn’t really get going until I hit the age of 30. And here Nico was ending his … and as the reigning world champion to boot. After this telephone conversation the idea would never had occurred to me that I would talk to Nico - of all people – on the topic of dedication at the recent Handelsblatt-sponsored “Pathfinder” event in Berlin.
When a person of his relatively young age gives up their job he or she sounds more like a forward thinker with regard to “retirement!”... Of course, to Nico’s decision I had no other choice than to say: “I respect it.” But now, a few months later, I also understand it.
Nico did not want to be a retiree at the age of 30. On the contrary, after 25 years of motorsports Nico wanted to fulfill his responsibility to others and move on to the next phase of his life. And that fits very well with the topic of dedication.
The courage to make uncomfortable decisions
I have huge respect for people who dedicate their entire life to a single task. At Mercedes there have always been those who’ve found their life’s work in motorsports. That’s one of the reasons why our Mercedes AMG Petronas team has won the Formula One World Championship three years in a row.
But I have equal respect for people who, in a comfortable phase of success, make the uncomfortable decision to dedicate their energy to new goals. And that is what Nico has done. He’s chosen to dedicate his time and energy to his family and will eventually explore other professional pursuits.
My point is that we need a broader understanding of the important role “dedication” has to play. More than ever, all over Mercedes-Benz and Daimler we see that dedication is not solely about repeating our current successes, but also about a determination to take on new endeavors.
Just as in motorsports we took the “world championship title” in Mercedes passenger car sales last year. No other premium brand won over more customers than the brand with the star. We set the goal to regain the sales crown in 2012 and to do so by 2020. At the start we often quoted John F. Kennedy’s famous line: “We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Back in 2012 more than a few people – including many at Daimler – thought we were further away from being number one in the premium segment than the 385,000 kilometers from here to the moon. Yet we achieved our goal. Four years ahead of schedule!
To the end of the galaxy and back
Having done so we now find ourselves asking a question a lot of people at NASA likely asked after the successful moon landing, “What’s next?” You can be sure no one in Houston said: “Hey, that worked out well with the moon – let’s leave it at that.” After all, there are billions of planets yet to be explored in the Milky Way. At the beginning of this year alone seven new ones were discovered on which there is water and therefore potential for life.
Just as in the heavens, here on earth there lies a whole universe full of new opportunities in our industry from connectivity to autonomous driving to shared mobility and e-mobility. And it’s up to us to pursue them. To that end, we are currently renewing the entire operating system of our company. New competitors call for a new spirit of cooperation. New technologies require new areas of expertise. And a new generation of talented people expects a new culture.
Therefore we should think bigger than just aiming to sell a few more cars than our competition from Bavaria – or to be a few seconds faster in Formula One than our competition from Italy. After all, if Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler had thought like this130 years ago they might have focused on breeding a better horse instead of inventing the car!
Future talents: digital street cred
Our founders decided to pursue the less comfortable path and to try something new. And that’s what Nico is doing. And thus, in my eyes, he is definitely among the forward thinkers where dedication is concerned. Incidentally, Nico has already inspired other people to push beyond their own limits. This is proven by the applications our Formula One team received following his early retirement.
One teenage candidate, for example wrote: “It is true that I have never sat in a racing car, let alone in a real car. But I have driven over 1000 laps in a car racing game on the Playstation. It should be easy to switch.”
I don’t want to rain on this young applicant’s parade, as switching paths is never easy. But I truly appreciate that he or she wants to follow a new and growing passion. After all, it’s the dedication to doing so that ultimately powers the reinvention of our products, our companies, our industries and, most importantly, ourselves.