Mazda SA demonstrates the passionate spirit of a company that always challenges the status quo and has an unorthodox spirit driven by a desire to do things differently and unconventionally. Craig Roberts, Managing Director, shares more about the company’s evolution, how it defies convention and its groundbreaking technology.


Please could you tell us more about Mazda’s history and establishment, its global footprint and expansion into South Africa and about how it’s established itself as a leading automotive manufacturer in the country, as well as globally?

Mazda started as a cork manufacturing company 97 years ago in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The company evolved into a diversified manufacturing company with its core business of automotive manufacturing beginning with the manufacture of the famous three-wheeler “mini truck”. After the tragic events of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki World War II atomic bombings, Mazda played an integral part in the re-establishment of Hiroshima ie. Starting production only three months after the bombings. Mazda has had a presence in South Africa for the past 39 years and has been an independent National Sales Company owned by Mazda Motor Corporation for the past three years.

What has the company’s evolution been like over the past 97 years in terms of thinking outside the box and innovation? What role does innovation play in the company and how has this been demonstrated in terms of your car offerings?

Mazda has its roots firmly in the area of innovation. This is typified by the challenger spirit that exists within the Mazda culture. The elements of defying convention have been applied to all aspects of Mazda motor vehicles with innovation that is aimed at continuous improvement. These elements are always centred around people and the environment. And are executed with simplicity, humility and practicality.

Mazda prides on defying convention—what sets your company apart from other car manufacturers and what makes your people unique in the way they view convention? What would you regard your competitive advantage to be?

As already stated, Mazda aims to defy convention, however, this defying of convention always has, at its core, the benefit and improvement of Mazda vehicles for the Mazda owner. “True Mazda People” have a spirit of “making the impossible possible”. This provides a distinct competitive advantage as things are not viewed as done or complete until they are perfect or as close to perfection as is possible. The development of the Rotary Engine 50 years ago, the only Japanese automaker to win Le Mans in 1991, and the manufacturer of the best-selling two-seater roadster in history, the Mazda MX-5, are some of Mazda’s pioneering achievements that exemplify this spirit.

Please tell us more about your SKYACTIV technology—why is it described as ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘technologically unconventional’?

SKYACTIV technology is ground-breaking in that it takes the boundaries of what is possible with combustion engine technology and elevates the technology to levels previously not envisaged. Currently in Phase 1, and with Phase 2 soon to be released; SKYACTIV technology should be seen as a holistic approach to reduced emissions. This includes reduced fuel consumption incorporating all elements of a vehicle. Lighter construction and more efficient engines where higher compression ratios allow for fuel to be converted to usable power in greater quantities.

What are some of the greatest challenges the company has faced, how were they overcome and what were some of the most important lessons that were learnt?

Mazda as a company has faced many challenges in its history. Some as obvious as the events of 6th August 1945 to the tough financial crises times in 2008. However, these always have had to be overcome for Mazda to, today, be in the best position of its history as an automotive manufacturer with global demand ahead of current production capacity. Growth prospect for the brand both locally and internationally remains strong.

What would you regard as some of your company’s greatest successes?

Mazda SA’s history is a short one as we are only three years old, having started the business on 1 October 2014. In the time we have been operating as an independent Mazda, we have seen sales volumes grow from 4 500 units in 2014 to over 12 000 units in 2016.

In terms of strategic growth and future endeavours, what does the company hope to achieve within the next few years?

Having achieved phenomenal growth since re-launching the Mazda brand to the SA market in 2014, we will look to continue this growth over the next few years in a realistic and orderly manner. The main focus will be for Mazda to continue to ensure that our owners and future owners have access to the best possible combination of value-for-money offerings in great vehicles as well as an “Ultimate Mazda Experience” in all aspects of their motoring with Mazda.

Please tell us more about your role—what do your duties entail and what excites you most about your position?

As Managing Director of Mazda SA, it is my duty to ensure that the team at Mazda SA remains focused and committed to delivering quality automotive products and service to our Mazda customers. At Mazda SA we have to, as our primary objective, deliver ultimate levels of service to our dealer partners who in turn have to, as their goal, deliver the same complete ultimate experience to our Mazda owners.

The most exciting part of my role is a combination of delivering the incredible Mazda product to the SA market and being able to work with the incredible support from all business areas of Mazda. It is also extremely pleasing to be able to deliver on the aforementioned whilst also delivering on profitable returns for our shareholders—this combination of delivering an ultimate Mazda experience on all fronts, combined with profitable returns, excites me the most.

What is your leadership style and what does good, effective leadership mean to you?

My leadership style can best be described as one of being “inclusive”. I believe in an “open door” policy with “discussion and sound communication” being key factors. Cross-functional departmental collaboration is important to achieving a collective goal.

What are some of the most valuable leadership lessons you’ve learnt throughout the course of your career?

To be able to listen and reason with unimpaired logic are two valuable lessons, however, these are not always the easiest to live up to. I learned early on that it is vital to surround oneself with the best people possible and to not feel challenged by these people but to harness their abilities for the inclusive good of the Mazda brand. 

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