Twelve months, twelve voices: Personal reviews of an extraordinary year

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Empty Rooms

In just a few days, 2020 will be over. It’s been a year like no other, characterized by a virus that was still unknown 365 days ago and that has limited or, all too often, completely prevented face-to-face meetings, extensive travel, and large-scale events. We asked twelve colleagues from the world of Daimler to tell us what they see in their rearview mirrors — colleagues ranging from our CEO to the man sitting at our headquarter’s reception desk. We put the same three questions to all twelve of them and asked them to reply from their personal point of view.

Ola Källenius on distance and cooperation

Ola Källenius at an on-site visit at the Sindelfingen plant — keeping his distance and wearing a mask as a matter of course because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ola Källenius at an on-site visit at the Sindelfingen plant — keeping his distance and wearing a mask as a matter of course because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
Many things turned out differently from what we expected in 2020. The pandemic placed enormous demands on all of us at Daimler. We reacted quickly and consistently – our top priority was, and continues to be, people’s health. But the empty corridors in the office buildings still take some getting used to. In previous years, I rarely worked from home – so I was able to have lunch with my family much more often this year.

What have you learned in 2020?
That keeping a distance can lead to more cohesion – even if that sounds paradoxical at first. The employees have brilliantly mastered the unexpected. They quickly adjusted to the new situation and did a fantastic job. We can be proud of that.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
With confidence. We have made enormous progress apart from pandemic management. The transformation is accelerating. We, the Daimler team, will continue to shape it in 2021 with fantastic technologies and products – and with passion, responsibility, and solidarity.

Ola Källenius is the Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG.

Renata Jungo Brüngger on the advantages of digital cooperation

Daimler Board of Management member Renata Jungo Brüngger also worked from home during the pandemic.
Daimler Board of Management member Renata Jungo Brüngger also worked from home during the pandemic.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
Actually, nearly everything – at work as well as in our private lives. Without Corona, we would have been spared many worries, difficulties and personal suffering.

What have you learned in 2020?
That crises can always bring out the best in people and make clear what’s important in life. First and foremost: good health, family and friends. In addition, 2020 has shown us that digital collaboration has many advantages: One saves time and money, and protects the climate. At the same time, virtual meetings can never replace personal meetings. People need closeness and company.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
With hope and confidence! I am hopeful that we will defeat the pandemic and return to a corona-free life as soon as possible; and confident that next year, we will take important steps towards a sustainable future – for the company and society in general.

Renata Jungo Brüngger is the member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Integrity and Legal Affairs.

Toto Wolff on an extraordinary Formula 1 season

Many things changed during this Formula 1 season on account of the coronavirus pandemic. But the World Championship result wasn’t one of them. The Mercedes team won the Constructors’ Championship, and a Mercedes driver won the Drivers’ Championship — just as they have done every year since 2014. In this photo, Team Captain Toto Wolff (center) is being showered with champagne, as per tradition, by World Champion Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Many things changed during this Formula 1 season on account of the coronavirus pandemic. But the World Championship result wasn’t one of them. The Mercedes team won the Constructors’ Championship, and a Mercedes driver won the Drivers’ Championship — just as they have done every year since 2014. In this photo, Team Captain Toto Wolff (center) is being showered with champagne, as per tradition, by World Champion Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
We would have spent much more time on the racetrack and much less time with our families. In one sense, this year, especially the delayed start of the Formula 1 season, gave us the option of pausing and focusing on the essentials. It was a difficult year, but I experienced this aspect of it as something positive.

What have you learned in 2020?
That a highly motivated team overcomes even the greatest challenges. During this extraordinary season we were able not only to defend our World Championship title but also provide crucial support in the struggle against the coronavirus pandemic — for example, by providing 10,000 breathing aids for the UK’s healthcare system. I’m very proud of that.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
The coming year will bring huge changes for Formula 1 racing. The budget cap will result in a far-reaching transformation of the team. We’re facing gigantic challenges, but we also have the opportunity to create a sustainable financial structure for the F1 team. I’m looking forward to seeing how we accomplish that.

Toto Wolff is the Team Principal and Executive Director of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team and the Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport.

Monja Büdke on a museum with closed doors

Monja Büdke leitet das Mercedes-Benz Museum, auch dieses Portrait wurde dort aufgenommen. Für sie und ihr Team war es bislang unvorstellbar, das Haus für mehrere Wochen zu schließen.
Monja Büdke leitet das Mercedes-Benz Museum, auch dieses Portrait wurde dort aufgenommen. Für sie und ihr Team war es bislang unvorstellbar, das Haus für mehrere Wochen zu schließen.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
We wouldn’t have had to close the museum for many weeks. Before the pandemic, none of us could have imagined a day when we wouldn’t be opening our doors at 9 a.m. And we would have had a summer concert series, a public viewing of the European Championship soccer tournament, open-air movie nights, a new special exhibition, a winter hut, and lots more.

What have you learned in 2020?
That IT makes many things possible, but it can’t ever replace personal contact with our colleagues and friends. Besides, I’m grateful for many things that used to be considered “normal” — for example, a dependable and dedicated team, especially in crisis situations; a functioning healthcare system; and especially the fact that none of my family and friends has so far suffered a serious case of Covid-19.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
Very hopeful that we will be able to gradually return to our “old” way of life, with face-to-face meetings and more individual freedom.

Monja Büdke is the Director of the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. The museum had to be temporarily closed last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since November it has been closed again until further notice because of the pandemic, along with all other museums in Germany.

MBUX on a year without trips and at drive-in movies

Hey, Mercedes, what would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
After all, I guess it would have been a better year for the two of us. We would have travelled a lot more together and would have listened to your favourite songs rather than the news. On the other hand, we would have been stuck in traffic jams more often – and I would have met fewer friends at the drive-in.

What have you learned in 2020?
I have an assistance system that automatically keeps distance … this would be a good innovation for people, too.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
Optimistic. And I have the feeling we’ll get along even better next year.

MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) is the infotainment system from Mercedes-Benz. The new S-Class is already equipped with the second generation of MBUX.

Franzi von Kempis on starting a new job in the midst of the pandemic

Franzi von Kempis had actually imagined the initial phase of her new job somewhat differently. On account of the coronavirus pandemic, most of her familiarization process took place virtually.
Franzi von Kempis had actually imagined the initial phase of her new job somewhat differently. On account of the coronavirus pandemic, most of her familiarization process took place virtually.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
Of course I would have started my new job as the Head of the Daimler Mobility Lab in March also if there hadn’t been a pandemic. But I probably wouldn’t have had to shift to working from home during the second week. I wouldn’t have fallen ill with the coronavirus. I would certainly not have met most of my new colleagues mainly via video calls — which included insights into our respective living rooms, the sound of dishwashers being filled in the background, and sudden interruptions due to mail deliveries. I would have been able to see friends and family members without worrying, have more relaxed meetings with them, and give them hugs. But I would also have missed finding out how much fun dinners shared via video conference can be and how ridiculously funny a family pub quiz can be on a Thanksgiving video call. I also found out that meetings can be held during a walk in the park instead of in a conference room. Not only was that different from the usual procedure — I’d even be very happy to continue it.

What have you learned in 2020?
How a Wi-Fi repeater works. How often a person can say “Dear XY, your mic is still muted.” That my home workouts work just as well for me as my fitness studio memberships — in other words, not at all. That many things work just as well, and possibly even faster, online — and that of course we still miss interpersonal contacts nonetheless. That there are many people at Daimler who really enjoyed helping a newcomer start her new job and continue doing it in spite of the pandemic, in spite of social distancing, and in spite of unaccustomed circumstances. And that thanks to their support starting a new job in the midst of a pandemic can work really well in spite of all the obstacles.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
I feel cautiously optimistic but also realistic. For myself and all of us, I wish that we get through the winter in good shape, that the protective measures are complied with, and that we take great care to protect one another and prevent an increase in the number of infections and deaths due to the coronavirus. I’m glad that thanks to a vaccine we won’t be helpless against the coronavirus. Nonetheless, I know that even with the vaccine we won’t be able to get back to normality quickly and that in 2021 we’ll still need to practice a great deal of consideration, solidarity, and caution.

Franzi von Kempis is the Head of the Daimler Mobility Lab in Berlin. She’s a journalist and a writer. She started to work for Daimler in March 2020, shifted to working from home during her second week on the job, and fell ill with COVID-19 in spring.

Karsten Mayer on what it feels like to be an auto show organizer without any auto shows

Karsten Mayer’s work normally involves the world’s biggest automobile shows. He’s very familiar with the hustle and bustle of auto shows — but the hustle and bustle of working from home with his children around was a whole new experience.
Karsten Mayer’s work normally involves the world’s biggest automobile shows. He’s very familiar with the hustle and bustle of auto shows — but the hustle and bustle of working from home with his children around was a whole new experience.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
Our Mercedes-Benz auto show presentation, which we had already completely constructed for the Geneva Motor Show in March, would have been seen by 600,000 visitors from all over the world instead of only a handful of our colleagues. But I’m very impressed by how it was transformed in next to no time into an online world premiere! In a “normal” year I would have been traveling back and forth between Geneva and Guangzhou for a total of several weeks. We also had to reorganize our private vacation plans, we traveled to the Black Forest instead of southern France. But we liked it there, too.

What have you learned in 2020?
That the turbulence of working from home with my children around is definitely in the same league as the hustle and bustle of international auto shows. The weeks of lockdown in spring were a real challenge for us, because we are two working parents with two toddlers. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed spending more time with my family than ever before.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
Confident and wishing that face-to-face meetings under normal conditions will once again be possible — at the private as well as the professional level. Our vehicles simply spark a lot more passion if visitors can experience them directly at the Mercedes stand — live, by touching them and sitting inside them. That’s exactly what we want — ideally, as early as the IAA in Munich!

Karsten Mayer is the Head of the Brand Experience Platforms at Mercedes-Benz Cars, which organizes the Mercedes presentation at the major international auto shows.

Verena Hesse on test drives in spite of travel restrictions

Verena Hesse behind the steering wheel of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. As a systems developer, she normally spends several weeks of the year doing test drives in various locations. This year the test drives had to be done closer to home.
Verena Hesse behind the steering wheel of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. As a systems developer, she normally spends several weeks of the year doing test drives in various locations. This year the test drives had to be done closer to home.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
Last year I spent a total of nine weeks on test drives in Europe, China, and South Korea. This year, that would have been unthinkable. So I would have spent much more time on roads all over the world instead of on the test tracks at our Testing and Technology Center in Immendingen and on highways in Germany. Fortunately, the wide range of testing facilities in Immendingen enable us to test some parts of the test drives here as well. As a result, I felt significantly less leisure stress than I usually do. All the same, I missed the change of scenery that I get from my business and private trips.

What have you learned in 2020?
To communicate digitally — in other words, to express my answers in words instead of simply nodding. And to coax feedback out of the participants of our virtual meetings, who are generally silent in a way I’m not accustomed to. In addition, I’ve realized that it’s very important to have activities that balance out my work, whether it’s culture, sports or just a talk with my colleagues — especially now, when I do most of my daily work from home.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
Optimistic and curious. I feel optimistic because I expect that we will return to our beloved habits, such as spontaneous chats with our colleagues over a cup of coffee at the office. And I feel curious about whether over the long term we will successfully combine our newly gained opportunities to work flexibly from home with our previous work habits.

Verena Hesse, a systems developer at Mercedes-Benz Cars, is working in the area of conditionally automated driving as part of the DRIVE PILOT project.

Felyicia Jerald on video calls with the family

Her tablet computer accompanied Felyicia Jerald for most of the time this year as a big deal of her family life had to be converted into video calls.
Her tablet computer accompanied Felyicia Jerald for most of the time this year as a big deal of her family life had to be converted into video calls.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
Family is extremely important to me and it’s been difficult not spending as much time as I’m used to with my children, grandchildren and extended family. COVID-19 forced us to cancel a major family trip, but we re-grouped and had a family socially-distanced beach weekend later in the year instead. We have mourned the passing of loved ones, celebrated births, encouraged one another and done a lot through video calls this year.

What have you learned in 2020?
Over the years, people have told me I always appear calm and balanced – even when things are going haywire around me. It was hard to feel balanced this year in the face of COVID-19. I had to “re-learn” some of the tactics I have always used to keep that balance with an emphasis on meditation, self-care and making sure I don’t get consumed by all the negative news that’s out there.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
I spent a good bit of the second half of 2020 focusing on my heath and trying to take better care of myself. That will continue into 2021 because I know my being healthy – physically, spiritually and mentally – will benefit me and help me support my family so that we can kick COVID-19’s butt in the coming year.

Felyicia Jerald is responsible for Communications at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Last spring the production operations at this plant, as well as at many others, were temporarily interrupted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jörg Howe on a people-oriented business

Jörg Howe is the Head of Communications at Daimler. The wall of newspaper clippings behind him is in a conference room at Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart — and it grows by yet another item every time there’s a media report about the company.
Jörg Howe is the Head of Communications at Daimler. The wall of newspaper clippings behind him is in a conference room at Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart — and it grows by yet another item every time there’s a media report about the company.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
Many aspects of our professional and private lives would have been more carefree, less complicated and, above all, conducted with more interpersonal contact. And I would certainly have met my friends and colleagues more often — for a meal, a glass of wine, or just for a chat. I’ve missed that, and I still miss it today. Our business operations simply depend on human relationships. On the other hand, the away game of the Hamburg soccer team (that I support) here in Stuttgart in May had to take place without spectators attending at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. So I couldn’t be there in person – and that was certainly good for my blood pressure.

What have you learned in 2020?
I used to think that working from home was something you could do once in a while but not a necessity. Today most of us in the Communications unit have been forced by the pandemic to work from home. And lo and behold, people are working well, digital tools are becoming standard, and some coordination processes are even being completed much faster. Much of that will continue — even after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
Optimistic. I would be a bad PR guy if I weren’t looking at the future with optimism. I’d be delighted if it becomes possible to hold get-togethers such as press events or conferences once again by the middle of next year. We’re offering people so many exciting products, and they should be able to see them live rather than only on a display. That kind of loosening up would also mean that the illness and the negative consequences of the lockdowns are causing less suffering. That’s the most important thing.

Jörg Howe is the Head of Global Communications at Daimler. He used to be the Editor in Chief of one of Germany’s largest private TV networks and is an avowed news junkie. Usually he feels at home at press conferences and other press events — many of which could be held only virtually in 2020.

Antonia Schumann on canteens with takeout service

Antonia Schumann and her colleagues at Daimler Gastronomie — the company’s in-house catering service — reacted quickly to the new situation — by developing a hygiene concept for on-site dining as well as new concepts for takeout and delivery service.
Antonia Schumann and her colleagues at Daimler Gastronomie — the company’s in-house catering service — reacted quickly to the new situation — by developing a hygiene concept for on-site dining as well as new concepts for takeout and delivery service.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
Last year we prepared more than 2,500 lunches a day in our kitchen for our colleagues at the plant in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. At lunchtime, the canteen was fully occupied and back in the kitchen we really had our hands full. If there had been no coronavirus pandemic, I’m sure I would have prepared many more lunches.

What have you learned in 2020?
This year I’ve learned that people can and must adapt fast to new situations. After the lockdown we reacted quickly, implemented the hygiene concept for the canteen, and adapted our menu to the new situation at the plant. All of us on the team tackled the job together, and that’s how the idea of the Daimler Gastronomie app for our takeout and delivery service came about. This year we are offering our traditional roast goose as a takeout meal, including a video explaining how to prepare it at home. These are wonderful opportunities for our colleagues to continue enjoying our delicious meals.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
Of course I’m looking to the future. I’m sure that all of us will once again return to normal life, step by step. All of us really miss having lunch together with our colleagues and seeing the canteen fully occupied.

Antonia Schumann works at the most delicious location at Daimler — in the in-house catering service. The coronavirus has changed everything in the canteens as well.

Muhammet Öztürk on being a security guard in an empty plant

Muhammet Öztürk stands next to a service vehicle of the plant security team in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim.
Muhammet Öztürk stands next to a service vehicle of the plant security team in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim.

What would have been different in 2020 without the coronavirus pandemic?
At our unit, Plant Security Operations, we’ve kept a strict separation between the individual work shifts ever since the pandemic began. That’s the only way we can do our job — maintaining order and security in order to protect our individual colleagues as well as the company as a whole — around the clock, seven days a week. We had to use new methods so that we could cooperate across shifts. This year has shown us that digital solutions are possible in areas where they previously seemed unimaginable, for example doing shift handovers via Skype.

What have you learned in 2020?
During the pandemic many units at our location are being subjected to unusual long-term demands. We are one of these units. The past months have shown me especially clearly how well our cooperation functions at the plant during times of crisis like this one — and above all, how much we can depend on one another within the team. Even though each one of us has been subjected to additional stress because of the current requirements and restrictions.

What’s your outlook for 2021?
Even though we can’t work remotely in our profession because it requires our on-site presence, as we look around us we can certainly see how well people are taking it up and how well it’s working. That’s why I’m convinced that this flexibility and these work methods will be maintained after the pandemic, and that we’ll go on developing ways to do additional activities via mobile methods as well. I welcome this development for the sake of my colleagues! Personally, and as a family man, I’m looking toward the future with optimism, and I hope that thanks to a vaccine we can look forward to regaining some of our normal leisure activities in 2021.

Muhammet Öztürk has been a member of the plant security team since 2013. He works in the Operations unit, which maintains plant security around the clock. In our title photo, he is sitting at the reception desk of our headquarters building in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim — a place that saw far less foot traffic this year than in all the years before.

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A number of colleagues who write for the Daimler Magazine worked together to create this article: Jessica Abt, Vivienne Brando, Cornelia Hentschel, Holger Mohn, Christian Scholz and Sven Sattler. The entire editorial team wishes you, our readers, pleasant holidays, a happy new year, and very good health — with regard to that last wish, perhaps more than ever before.

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