We chat with Cadillac Canada’s new Managing Directer, Mahmoud Samara, about his journey with the company and the reinvention of the iconic 100-plus-year-old brand.
How did you get involved with GM and Cadillac?
I started my career with General Motors in 2004, so I started out of the U.S. [Detroit] and in the area of marketing. I have my bachelor’s from Ohio and master’s in marketing and international business. I’m like you — I like cars, I’ve always been a car guy and loved the luxury space. I grew up in Dubai, it’s home for me, so my passion towards cars and then luxury kind of met very naturally in a place like Dubai as it was evolving a few years back.
I moved to Dubai and worked for General Motors at the Middle East headquarters for six years starting from 2004. I worked in service, parts, marketing, and sales and in 2010 I was challenged in my career to take a big leap of faith, being given an opportunity to venture into manufacturing. I’m not an engineer and I’m not a technical guy at all. But I took that opportunity and I said “I want to learn that part of the business” and it was phenomenal! I joined manufacturing in Canada in 2011 and working there for three years I learned how we put the nuts and bolts in the vehicle, how it comes in as sheet metal and then pumped out as a fully assembled vehicle.
Sounds like it was a learning experience.
It was probably one of the most challenging and best three years of my life. I worked in the paint shop, the body shop, trim, I ran the entire plant and then in April 2014 I was told that we’re going to reinvent Cadillac altogether globally and was asked to that that lead. And the rest, it’s been a privilege.
Canada is now the third largest market for Cadillac globally. It’s a very strategic market and we’ve just closed a very successful 2016.
I mean, somebody gives you a 114 –year-old brand and says, “Just reinvent it. How would you reposition it?” So it’s been an amazing journey. We’ve repositioned the brand by creating a new world of Cadillac. We call it Dare Greatly, it’s for those independent spirit types, those who want to challenge the status quo and dare and reinvent industries so we welcome them into our new world.
Can you talk a bit about the reinvention?
We’ve recently invested $12 billion dollars in expanding our product portfolio. Next year we will not launch cars or any new vehicles, but beyond that we are going to have a very aggressive launch cadence that’s going to take us into all new segments. I’ve managed to build a team from scratch, so Natalie [Nankil] for example is heading our PR and communications and brand partnerships. We’ve taken the Cadillac from a brand team to a fully-fledged organization, kind of similar to when the headquarters moved from Detroit to New York [in 2014] so we’ve built now an organization with young talent with a lot of passion in areas of finance, marketing and sales.
What has been the result?
Canada is now the third largest market for Cadillac globally. It’s a very strategic market and we’ve just closed a very successful 2016. As a matter of fact it was our best year in the history of Cadillac in Canada and our fourth consecutive all time record year. Our vehicles are being built and designed better than ever so we’re getting a lot of creditability from the marketplace. The brand positioning is very clear and it’s resonating among the young, multicultural, urban next generation luxury buyers.
So the whole world of daring, the whole entrepreneurial mindset is very engrained in the DNA of Millennials and Gen Xers, It’s about individualism, unlike back in the day when it was, “How do we just become part of a group?” it’s about “How can you tailor make a product or service for me? I don’t care how everybody else wants to consume that product or service.” Cadillac has been very successful in having its own unique identity.
Has it been tough to shake the idea of ‘my grandpa’s Cadillac?’
I can tell you it’s been a tough journey, no doubt. Especially when you’re taking an iconic luxury brand and transforming it from a traditional to a more contemporary luxury brand. The best way of changing the old mindset or perception that this is grandpa’s vehicle is putting the proof in the pudding, whereby you deliver on the substance, the product.
This is the biggest step because we can scream and advertise and do a lot of communication to tell people that we’re the best, but if you don’t deliver on that substance and the product then you lose that credibility. So the first big step that allowed us to succeed is to evolve. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Escala [concept]? That is the first display of our evolution of the design language of Cadillac. So yes, we’ve taken a step, but there’s also another big step coming here in the near future.