Mercedes-Benz USA’s relocation to Sandy Springs is sparking a “transformation” of the luxury automaker, President and CEO Steve Cannon told a crowd of hundreds at the Oct. 20 Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Cannon also discussed Mercedes’ forthcoming new office tower and charitable programs at the luncheon held at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North hotel. And he voiced his optimistic hope of having a 20-minute commute from his new Buckhead home.
“What started as a move from Montvale, New Jersey, to Atlanta has been a transformation for the company,” Cannon said, describing Mercedes’ move to the Perimeter as a creative shake-up. “It’s almost got a start-up feeling to it at our temporary headquarters.”
That temporary site is in Dunwoody, where the company will remain through 2017, until the first phase of its new headquarters off Abernathy Road in Sandy Springs. Cannon dished on the “open-floor, transparent” interior design of the forthcoming towers.
“I said to the architects, ‘Build a building around a town hall concept,’” where employees can quickly and easily gather for full, collaborative meetings, he said. “The cubicle culture…that’s going away.”
Cannon said that local hiring has gone better than he expected. He said he appreciates the welcome and offers of help he has received here. In a sign of the political part of that support, Cannon was seated at a table with the mayors of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
“There’s a great migration going on in this country,” Cannon said, with many people moving from the North to the “smile states” of the Southeast, Deep South and Southwest. In that sense, Mercedes’ move brings it closer to its future US customer base, he said.
Cannon answered questions from Jim Fitzpatrick, CEO of CBT Automotive Network, a Sandy Springs-based automotive industry news outlet. Cannon talked about the car industry and his own background, including service as a U.S. Army Ranger, in answers peppered with such jargon as “conquest rates.”
CBT provided a comedic video about the top 10 reasons for buying a Mercedes here, including use of “exclusive Mercedes HOV lane” and a self-driving car that would pilot itself to Sandy Springs’ forthcoming City Walk apartments.
Of course, local traffic and commuting nightmares are no joke, and Mercedes is well aware of that part of its move. The company is already facing challenges in Dunwoody.
“We’re looking at some flex-time options” to stagger employee commute times, Cannon said in an interview after the luncheon. The new generation of employees expect such flexibility in lifestyle, too, he said.
“Look, if you don’t offer millennials those kinds of options, you’re not going to hold onto them,” Cannon said. “You’ve got to change the way you do business.”
Cannon formerly lived in Connecticut—his family is still there until December—and he said during the luncheon that his commute to New Jersey ranged from 45 to 90 minutes.
“We found a place in Buckhead, so I think we should be 20 minutes [away],” he said of his local commute.
Mercedes recently put its stamp on downtown Atlanta by purchasing naming rights to the new Falcons football stadium. Cannon called that “a pure opportunistic thing” to brand an “incredible, iconic building.” But another, lesser-known corporate move was a donation to Hands On Atlanta, an umbrella organization of local charities.
Tamara Carrera, executive director of the Sandy Springs nonprofit Community Assistance Center, thanked Cannon for Mercedes’ recent donation of a van. She also asked him to highlight his own work on a foundation that funds college educations for military service members who die while serving.
“We’re finding ways to give back,” Cannon said.