March 31–‘I would like to deliver the best performance to Volvo Group during my term.”
It was the first ambitious statement from Kamlarp Sirikittiwatn, speaking to Thai media after his promotion to president of Volvo Group Thailand in mid-2016 at age 40.
Mr Kamlarp is the first Thai national to climb to the top spot of the Swedish company’s local unit. He is also one of the youngest top executives in the automotive industry.
Now 42, he has been a part of Volvo Group Thailand for 18 of the local company’s 29 years.
The Gothenburg-based parent firm runs a plant under Thai-Swedish Assembly Co in Samut Prakan, founded in 1976.
The plant formerly made Volvo cars for the Thai market before the Gothenburg-based parent firm sold its car business to Ford Motor Co in 1999. Today the facility makes trucks and a limited volume of buses. Volvo Cars has been owned since 2010 by the Geely Holding Group, a Chinese carmaker.
Mr Kamlarp says he was interested in automotive from childhood because his family ran a small garage for passenger cars and sold spare parts, tyres and wheels.
“In my daily life, I had to pass through the garage before going to school, and it led me to absorb automotive know-how,” he says.
When he was 12, Mr Kamlarp became an assistant in his family’s garage and learned how to fix cars and deal with customers. At 18 he enrolled in engineering studies and passed the national entrance exam at Chulalongkorn University.
“I found that I loved the structure of vehicles and I always enjoyed when I connected with customers, not only through sales but also service,” he says.
After graduating from Chulalongkorn in 1999, he worked for his family for a while before joining a Japanese machinery company. A short time later, Mr Kamlarp learned from an elder cousin that Volvo in Thailand had job openings.
He applied to the company and waited about eight months before being accepted. Mr Kamlarp joined Volvo in 2000.
“I started my position as an application engineer, a supervisor for commercial vehicles, and it matched what I was looking for because I could both sell vehicles and contact many customers,” he says. “It was my opportunity to use my expertise in engineering mathematics to serve as data on commercial vehicles for the sales team.”
But after only two years at the Swedish company, Mr Kamlarp left in 2002 to study in Sydney, Australia. The reason, he says, was to learn more about management.
“I had learned a lot of technical know-how in the auto-related sector, but I thought I needed to expand my range into management engineering,” he says.
Mr Kamlarp graduated in 2004 and was back in his hometown. His old boss at Volvo asked him to join again as truck consultant manager for the international fleet.
He says it was an exciting position because it let him work outside, meeting customers, not just staying in the office.
“I had to figure out how to manage many job duties and how to manage people in a team,” he says. “All my management knowledge could be applied to this position at the Thai unit.”
Mr Kamlarp says the overall truck market in Thailand was climbing in the 2000s, driven by infrastructure projects, mining, construction and transport of hazardous items. There were roughly 10,000 heavy-duty trucks sold annually.
Selling trucks is different from selling personal cars, given the large expense: 3-5 million baht per truck, excluding related attachments like trailers and containers.
“If we look at an initial investment of one truck, it seems like a big budget that customers have to pay,” Mr Kamlarp says. “As the sales team, we have to make clear to our customers what their investment will be worth in the next three, five or 10 years, or how much the monthly logistics cost will be.”
He says that once the truck buyers understand the truck as an investment, they are encouraged to buy more trucks in the future.
Finding success in his post, Mr Kamlarp was promoted to general manager in charge of commercial vehicles in 2008.
“In this position, I had to handle not only Thailand, but also Vietnam and Myanmar, where Volvo was making its market presence felt,” he says. “Vietnam and Myanmar were at a level that Thailand used to be earlier, and there was room for Volvo to penetrate those two countries because their economies were growing at 6-8%.”
At present, Vietnam and Myanmar see new truck sales of 10,000 and 1,000 units annually.
After handling Volvo’s sales in the Indochina region, Mr Kamlarp moved in 2011 to a higher position at Volvo Group China in Beijing as vice-president for vehicle sales and marketing.
“I went when overall economic sentiment in China was changing and it affected the truck market,” he says. “China was a market that implemented new policies changing every single day.”
Mr Kamlarp says the Chinese government has injected massive funds into numerous infrastructure projects since the start of the 2010s, to the point where the overall market has matured and there is little room to grow.
China shifted to stimulating domestic consumption and improving people’s purchasing power over the past five years.
“Truck sales in the construction sector have declined, while truck demand in the logistics and warehouse sector is climbing in China,” Mr Kamlarp says, adding that e-commerce is the dominant factor in beefing up domestic consumption.
“This upcycle trend is penetrating into the Thai market,” he says.
Mr Kamlarp has been in charge of Volvo Group Thailand for two years. In the role, he handles business in Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, as well as the Philippines.
The Swedish company makes two truck brands in these emerging countries: Volvo and UD.
UD includes both heavy-duty and medium-duty trucks, while Volvo focuses on the heavy-duty segment.
UD, formerly known as Nissan Diesel, was founded in Japan in 1935 before becoming part of Volvo in 2007.
In Thailand, the overall heavy-duty truck market contracted by 5% in 2017 to 16,293 heavy-duty trucks, while the medium-duty sector shrank by 9% to 7,307 trucks.
Last year, Volvo Group Thailand sold 356 trucks, 9% less than in 2016. UD sold 895 units, up 12% from last year.
The UD brand ranked third in terms of market share for heavy-duty trucks at 5.5% after two Japanese brands, Isuzu and Hino, while Volvo was fifth with a 2.2% market share after Swedish peer Scania in fourth.
Mr Kamlarp says he was satisfied with the 2017 sales performance despite the contraction in Volvo sales.
“Combining both brands, we had a 7.7% market share in heavy-duty trucks, compared with only 3-4% in the past decade,” he says.
The next step to increase the group’s sales and market share is to focus on improvements in the group’s services and networks.
Mr Kamlarp says Volvo has completed a 5-billion-baht investment plan in Thailand, including 1 billion baht for setting up the regional headquarters in Samut Prakan.
Volvo spent 2 billion baht in 2009 to expand annual production capacity to 4,500 Volvo and 20,000 UD trucks at Thai-Swedish Assembly. The remaining budget went to expanding the number of wholly owned showrooms and service centres from five in 2011 to 16 at present.
“Our infrastructure is now ready, but Volvo needs to improve manpower to fulfil the promise of these facilities,” Mr Kamlarp says. “I always believe that people will play the main role in mobilising an organisation for more sustainable growth, so the improvement by learning and doing is my direction to motivate and encourage Volvo’s manpower.”
He says 70% of improvement in working skill comes from doing in actual circumstances. Only 10% is from learning in class or the workshop, while 20% is from mentoring and coaching.
As the top leader, Mr Kamlarp says he has to let employees to do the work, trust their decisions and accept some mistakes.
He will look from top to bottom and seek any competence that the group is lacking, then add it.
“I aim for the over 450 employees in the local unit to use their capability to deliver the best services to customers, and I am trying to communicate this issue to the employees,” he says, adding that the ultimate goal is encouraging customers to invest and buy more commercial vehicles from Volvo Group.
A customer-centric view remains Mr Kamlarp’s policy, while all of Volvo’s manpower has the motto of “one-team spirit” to show a friendly, professional face to customers.
“When the customers are satisfied with using high-performance trucks and gain a profit on their own business, it indicates sustainable growth for us in the long run,” Mr Kamlarp says.
He wants to see greater numbers of Volvo and UD trucks on the road during his term as president. In Thailand, Volvo has roughly 6,000 trucks and UD more than 8,000.
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