Roland Klein’s exhausting schedule as head of global corporate
media relations at DaimlerChrysler might have qualified him for a new
role in some advisory capacity to the airline industry. With an office
in Stuttgart and one in the US, he commuted between the two almost every
week. Instead, Klein is joining that other industry beloved of the busy
corporate executive, the mobile communications industry. He will join
the Swedish company Ericsson as senior vice-president in corporate
communications next March.
He joins Ericsson at an interesting time as the company re-locates from
Stockholm to London and plans a corresponding increase in its
international activities. The move is reminiscent of that which saw him
go into PR at Daimler-Benz back in 1992 after 14 years in journalism.
David Waller, who was then the Financial Times’ correspondent in
Frankfurt, saw Klein grow into his new PR role just as Daimler-Benz
similarly developed increasing confidence as an international
corporation. ’He joined the company at a difficult time and I think it
is true to say that his career grew in parallel with the success of
Daimler at establishing itself as an international company,’ he
Waller dealt with Klein when Daimler became the first German company to
list on the New York stock exchange. This involved the company accepting
much harsher financial strictures than before and Klein’s job was to
explain to both internal and external audiences the importance of this
for its future growth.
’He has a very sophisticated grasp of the interaction between the press
and financial markets and this was particularly apparent when Daimler
was beginning to become an international company,’ says Waller.
His major challenge at Daimler came in 1998, when the company merged
with US auto giant Chrysler. The merger - at the time the largest in
corporate history - went smoothly from a press point of view, but
characteristically, Klein plays down his role in this.
’We were lucky in that it was a positive merger - not one involving
loads of redundancies. We quickly identified the stumbling blocks and
addressed them proactively and I think this is mainly why it went down
smoothly with the press and the public,’ he says.
Part of the job was also communicating with the new company’s two very
different audiences: that of the press and public in the American
Mid-West where Chrysler was based, and that in the rest of the world.
But one of Klein’s skills appears to be an ability to pick up local
tastes and it is one that he will need in his international role at
He sees his new role as involving three main elements. First, the
creation and enhancement of the corporate brand. Second, all parts of
the international organisation having the same understanding of the
corporate brand and how products fit within it. Third is the importance
of the company’s employees as ’ambassadors’ of that message. At
DaimlerChrysler there were 430,000.
At Ericsson it will be 100,000.
Another colleague from his newspaper days, Markus Will, who now runs the
centre for corporate communications at St Gallen university in
Switzerland, says that his approach is ’one of the most complete’ he has
come across in a corporate communications professional. ’He really
understands what issues management is about and the importance of
strategic planning to the positioning of a company.’ Will goes on to
add: ’He also has that understanding which you cannot learn, about the
political implications of everything a company does.’
Klein worked with Will ten years ago when he was the London
correspondent of the leading German financial daily FAZ. But despite
having happy memories of the city, Klein says he has no regrets about
his move from newspapers to PR. ’When I had the Daimler offer I had to
think very hard about it.
It was not a planned career move, it just came up and I did it because I
was curious. I found it was a totally different job from on the other
side - the only common factor was that it involved news.
’I have found to my surprise that I really enjoy PR. You have to
convince people that what you want to do is right and I enjoy that.’
In his new role Klein will have plenty of opportunity to deploy these
skills as the company faces the challenges of the fast-moving telecoms
scene and prepares to become more global.
Not having to cross the Atlantic every week and being able to spend more
time with his young family and playing tennis, his favourite sport,
should also make the move rewarding.
Director, financial and business relations, Daimler-Benz
Vice-president head of global corporate communications, DaimlerChrysler
Senior vice-president in corporate communications, Ericsson