WHEN Ariel de Jesus left the motoring industry sometime in 2010, he was sorely missed by those who have known him to be one of the best press relations people in the car business.
Where did he go? And why?
It so happened de Jesus chose not to wake up everyday knowing exactly what to do at work.
“Let’s face it, after 17 years of doing [the same things]and being in the same [automotive]industry, everything became like muscle memory. When they say muscle memory, everything you do, day in day out, when you wake up, you already know what to do,” he said.
De Jesus started his career in the automotive industry with Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation (TMPC) as one of the company’s personalities who frequently faced the motoring press. He was the de facto spokesman for Toyota.
“Technically, that [Toyota] was my first serious employment. I was already working before just to keep myself preoccupied. I started one month out of college [as]account executive of Expat magazine,” de Jesus, who graduated from San Beda College in March 1993, said.
At TMPC, he worked with the hotshots of the organization, among them Vince Socco, who is currently project general manager of Toyota Motor Asia Pacific (Japan).
“Vince Socco was my mentor. Until now, I keep in touch with him even if he is already in Japan. Actually, I consider three people as my mentors in Toyota. Of course, there’s Socco, No. 2 is Danny Isla, and No. 3 is [Santos] Sonny Guerrero,” de Jesus said.
Isla now heads Lexus Manila Inc. while Guerrero is president of Toyota Makati and Toyota Bicutan.
But after 13 years of working with TMPC, de Jesus wanted to find new challenges.
“Toyota is Toyota. I mean whoever is in there, Toyota’s going to be Toyota. So at the time, I wanted to find out if I can take on new challenges, the challenge with Subaru,” he said.
It was in 2006 when he joined Motor Image Philippines Inc., the official distributor of Subaru vehicles in the country as its marketing head.
De Jesus said Motor Image presented new challenges to him because the company was just starting operations in the country in that year.
“It was really an opportunity to be part of something that you would really create from the ground up,” he added.
While admitting that joining Motor Image presented new challenges to him, de Jesus said the Subaru brand also appealed to him.
“The appeal of the [Subaru] cult was different. The brand was quirky and it had a cultish image. And I felt like the brand was me,” he added.
It turned out working at Motor Image was also fun because de Jesus ended up living the lifestyle of Subaru owners, who are known to really live life. He even joined the club drives from Manila to Pagudpud and from Manila to Boracay, among others.
“It was the best all-work, all-play years of my life. It was really about firing up the passion of the Subaru owners, it was about creating the image of the Subaru owner. And I actually lived the lifestyle [of a Subaru owner],” de Jesus said.
It was his stint at Motor Image that de Jesus discovered mountain biking, which he still does up to this day to keep fit.
“Motor Image is as quirky as the brand itself and that makes it even more fun. It’s not the typical corporate set-up. The leadership of Glenn Tan, the managing director [of Motor Image], his management style is very different. He himself is the epitome of a Subaru owner,” he said.
OUTSIDE THE MAINSTREAM
But after 17 years of working in the automotive industry, de Jesus felt he wanted to “test” himself in a new field. That opportunity came in 2010 to join Castrol Philippines Inc. as its country marketing manager.
“No. 1, I was looking for an opportunity to test myself outside the automotive industry, the mainstream automotive industry. I wanted to see if I can excel and at the same time maybe learn more other than from the automotive industry,” he said.
It also turned out Castrol Philippines required de Jesus to crank up his brain because only 5 percent of what he learned from 17 years in the automotive industry could be applied to his stint with the oil company.
“It was the sharpest learning curve of my life. Crazy! It’s like everything, like taking an MBA or an on-the-job MBA,” he said.
“And I would say, Castrol gave me the opportunity to engage, interact and learn with some of the best marketing and business minds in the region,” de Jesus added.
And among the “best” he interacted with within the Castrol organization is Sumeet Wadhwa, now general manager of Carama or Castrol’s online car care portal in Malaysia.
At Castrol, de Jesus also learned how important motor oils are in car care and that choosing the best lubricant for a vehicle should not be limited to viscosity index or jargon like 5W-40 or 15W-40 and what have you. There are also many oil brands in the world and the Philippines, which presents challenges in convincing car owners on which motor oil is best for their vehicle.
“I’m not big on motor oils before, but when I transferred to Castrol I made a paradigm shift. So 5W [oil]is not always better than 15W. It depends on what you need,” he said.
“You need to understand what your car is, what it needs and what the system make up of your car is, and what is its mileage. Then there’s more to it than the viscosity,” he added.
Since Castrol was not a brand associated with Formula One and Motogp motorcycle racing or other major world motor sports events that give a number of motor oil brands excellent advertising reach, de Jesus said there was a need for the company to go “back to basics” in marketing the brand.
“In Castrol, we were back to basics again – it’s talking to the influencers, the people who are respected and credible to the user, the mechanics, the service advisers, the technicians. That’s’ what we did, we reeducated them, let them understand what Castrol is – it’s more than just a brand,” de Jesus added.
A WORTHY COMPANY
But he loved new challenges and one day in 2012, de Jesus got a call from Wurth of Germany to join its Philippine subsidiary as managing director.
Although Wurth has been in the Philippines since 1992, the awareness of consumers, particularly car owners, toward the brand was very limited. So for de Jesus, the situation at Wurth was like starting something from scratch, again.
“Then I realized immediately what I had to do. That’s what appealed to me again [at Wurth], to do something from the ground up,” he said.
“Its [brand awareness]was limited to end users like technicians, service advisors, parts managers and the motoring and automotive enthusiasts, especially those who love to get their hands dirty,” de Jesus added.
He, however, admitted that he was not aware of how big Wurth was as a brand and his trip to Germany to train for the brand served also as an eye-opener.
“I was amazed by the size and awareness of Wurth in Germany – it’s like Motolite in the Philippines [when it came to brand awareness],” de Jesus said.
“And I knew right away, we have a very good brand, fantastic organization and the highest range of products in the market. It’s just how to make the market know that we even exist. That’s the challenge,” he added.
Under the leadership of de Jesus, Wurth Philippines became a leaner organization with its sales representatives now numbering 65 from the previous 90. He said he had to “filter” the sales force when he assumed leadership of the company.
This year has also been a good one for Wurth so far in the Philippines.
“Month after month, we are posting sales increase probably 20 percent higher than last year. In fact, in January the start of this year, that really set the tone and marked the highest January output in any year, or 30 percent from last year. And I think that set the tone [for this year],” de Jesus said.
Today, Wurth has a total of 90 employees including the 65 who make up the national sales force.
De Jesus said while Wurth is known more in the Philippines for its automotive products, it also has products for construction, marine and industrial. There are more than 1,500 products under the brand.
“Right now, we are known for automotive, but we have different divisions like construction, metals and maritime. We are opening up other divisions like construction,” he added.
For automotive, Wurth is known for its products for preventive maintenance, body protection, detailing and engine protection. It also has tools for automotive applications like wrenches.
De Jesus said his job at Wurth is not like what he had at Toyota where he was its de facto spokesman, at Subaru where he headed marketing and was also its face to the press, and at Castrol where he headed marketing.
“It’s a notch higher, because it’s not only about the products but it’s also about learning how to lead an organization, engaging my employees, making sure that we are on the same platform, we have the same understanding on what we need to achieve, every month, the parameters of performance,” he added.
De Jesus said Wurth required another “learning curve” for him that provided one good lesson for him.
“One thing I learned is ‘the day we stop learning is the day we die,’” he said.