Q&A: ‘I respect the people’

New Geely PHL chief Naoyuki Tekada is prioritizing existing customers, along with employees and dealer partners

Interview by Kap Maceda Aguila

LET’S GET this out of the way: Pretty much no one was surprised with the “reassignment” of former Sojitz G Auto Philippines (SGAP) or Geely Philippines President and CEO Yugo Kiyofuji.

To anyone following the tale of the Chinese automaker here in the country, it had seen better days – namely those overseen by the first SGAP chief Yosuke Nishi (before moving on to head Sojitz Fuso Philippines Corporation) who spearheaded the brand’s successful establishment here in 2019.

There were two general issues that people can say eventually led to the ouster of Mr. Kiyofuji, who had a tumultuously brief tenure from April 2022 to the end of 2023: A lack of – and we use the term loosely – likeability, and the savaging of the brand on social media as a result of after-sales woes.

First, it appeared that the executive wasn’t exactly the Mr. Popular in the organization – leading to an exodus of key people. Second, we also heard from the grapevine that dealers were left underwhelmed by him.

Even the optics on the turnover of command suggested a less-than-amicable split from SGAP. When the press release on the announcement of Mr. Takeda’s appointment was sent out, there was no traditional photo of the outgoing with the incoming. Instead, Geely Automobile International Corporation Regional Sales Director Will Wan appeared on a couple of images shaking hands with the new president. It seemed that Mr. Kiyofuji made – or was forced into – a hasty exit.

Still, Mr. Takeda’s quote on the official press statement was gracious. “I am grateful for Mr. Kiyofuji’s contributions as he leaves SGAP to focus on other aspects of the auto business in (the) Sojitz headquarters in Tokyo where his distinct management capabilities are required. He has completed his mission in SGAP in a very short time, making vast improvements in the organization, particularly in various systems processes and parts availability,” he said.

And after all, it’s no use to flog a dead horse. What can be worked on is the here and now. The executive seems to be cognizant that the first step toward reviving the Geely brand is to bravely face the music – to answer the questions previously met with silence and the vacuum of attrition.

Mr. Takeda is no stranger to the Philippine automotive industry as he had a “pivotal role” with Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation (MMPC) Auto Financial Services and JACCS Finance Philippines for over six years until July 2022.

Last week, he presided over a preview of the Geometry C electric vehicle, expected to be launched this year. More importantly, he declared in a speech to media invitees: “At Geely, our commitment to excellence is more than a promise; it’s a pledge,” adding that “customer satisfaction is a yardstick of success.”

Alluding to the previous, much-publicized shortcomings in after-sales service, Mr. Takeda vowed to work on parts availability “supported by a fail-safe mechanism.” He promised that customer service representatives will be on hand to ensure the fulfillment of service concerns.

Directly addressing the media, he averred, “We are not just asking you to observe, we are inviting you to engage.”

Here are excerpts from our exclusive interview with Naoyuki Takeda.

VELOCITY: What were the marching orders upon your appointment?

NAOYUKI TEKADA: Sales are down, and the first priority is of course to bring back sales to (previous) levels. Also, my priority is to improve after-sales and customer satisfaction. For me, the most important thing is to take care of existing customers and regain their full trust – to make them happy and satisfied.

People have been very concerned about the brand. Were you aware of the issues, particularly those raised on social media? One of the concerns was after-sales service. Another is the exodus of executives from Geely Philippines.

I’m aware that many people left the company last year, but it’s already calmed down. My style is to completely follow the Philippine way. I manage the company in the Philippine way; I respect the people. I respect our employees, I respect the dealers, I respect the media, I respect the banks. My style is the Philippine way, and I believe that in doing it the Philippine way, I will motivate the internal and external people. By doing so, I hope we can regain the employees’ motivation and loyalty to the company.

With regard to after-sales service, there have been concerns about the lack of parts, and service that’s not up to par. How are you going to change this?

This is my first priority. For parts availability, we have already improved a lot. The current service fill rate is over 90%. However, I know it’s still far from perfect, because there is no perfect in this field. My commitment is to keep improving service.

For 2023, Geely Philippines is ninth in sales, per CAMPI (Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines). Do you have a sales target for 2024? Are you going to open more dealerships?

Of course, we have plans to launch new models, although we haven’t decided on anything concrete. We will increase the number of dealers, but the number of dealers is not so important at the moment because we’ve already reached close to our target number. The more important thing is the quality and performance of the existing dealerships. We have to keep improving our collaborations with our existing dealers to increase sales and service quality. We will support our dealers.

Are you happy being in ninth place?

Of course, we are targeting a higher position.