Lecitrailer: Transformational leadership

There is many a theory surrounding the notion of good leadership, but traditionally, it is about one person at the head of a group directing, teaching, and encouraging it to create and implement a shared vision. Ideally, the result is a successful business – but sometimes the concept of leadership has to change to ensure that success will last.

Carlos Leciñena’s father Fernando, who founded Spanish trailer manufacturing company Lecitrailer in 1990, always believed in the dynamism of good leadership and hard work, having spent his youth repairing leaf suspensions and truck chassis alongside Carlos’ grandfather in a Zaragoza workshop, some 300km west of Barcelona.

When he set out to establish his own business some 23 years ago, he had learned that setting a good example was vital to business success, especially in the customer service department. He passed that valuable lesion on to his son Carlos, who pledged to keep investing into the development of both product line-up and production processes to ensure Lecitrailer’s clientele would have access to the latest in Spanish manufacturing technology. 

Fuelled by Spain’s real estate boom, the strategy soon paid off – but neither Fernando nor Carlos were aware of just how important inspirational leadership was until the GFC hit in 2007.

In the wake of the economic storm, many Spanish manufacturing businesses went bankrupt, unemployed skyrocketed, and the economy declined overnight. The Lecitrailer business, however, managed to survive. Not just because of a solid product mix or a reliable service offering, but also because Fernando Leciñena’s management style had adapted to a changing business reality, knowing that Carlos would soon take over as CEO.

In the beginning, the strong connection between Fernando and the product helped Lecitrailer gain a foothold in the market, before the brand developed more momentum during the Spanish real estate boom and became an entity in its own right. During the GFC, that development not only helped the company survive, but thrive.

Unaware of the Spanish case study, Six Sigma Black Belt Benjamin Warsinske of global engineering and management firm, Parsons, described the process in a 2009 article. “At first, the brand may be linked directly with the entrepreneur as though they are one. But as the brand grows, the entrepreneur steps back and lets the brand become dominant.”

By finding the right mixture between charismatic leadership and laissez-faire, Fernando Leciñena had created a brand that was more than the sum of its parts. In an economy where solid financing had become a faint memory and governmental support was almost non-existent due to economic and political turmoil, businesses like Lecitrailer hat taken on the role of a national icon. Put simply, they held up the morale. Not just for the trailer building community, but maybe even for the country itself.

Today, Carlos Leciñena is running a healthy €103 million business that is leading the new trailer registration ranking in Spain with a market share of more than 30 per cent; trying to make the transition to a global organisation. “Spain continues to be our home market, but we are already exporting more than 52 per cent of our total production,” he says. “Naturally, we are considering going global at some stage.”

According to the CEO, Fernando’s change of leadership style and his own rise to the CEO position during the GFC also caused a change of Lecitrailer’s self-perception as a brand and vice versa. “The ‘Made in Spain’ label is still an important element of the brand, but above all, we now feel like a European company.”

3,200 trailers have left the Lecitrailer production hall in Zaragoza in 2012, but the new European focus is supposed to bring that number up in the long term. To underpin that expansion strategy – a classic example of anti-cyclical investment – Lecitrailer has recently launched the brand’s first refrigerated semi-trailer range, manufactured 100 per cent in-house.

“I am confident it will help us to break into one of the most important markets in European road transport,” says Carlos Leciñena, acknowledging that having access to a refrigerated model also makes sense on a domestic level. Spain is one of the largest producers of fruit and vegetables in Europe, supplying all of the European market – so refrigerated transport is likely to be the ‘next big thing’ once the economy is picking up again.

CEO Carlos Leciñena is expecting a market penetration of 20 per cent with the new model, he recently told Spanish media. “It took us two years and lot of research to develop the new refrigerated model, but now we have a product that is different to everything else in the market. The steel chassis is robust, yet lightweight, and the body design is a completely new development.”

Reportedly, Lecitrailer collaborated with several Spanish universities to calculate the ideal wall thickness and improve on cold retention. The company even bought a local panel production business, Ega, to ensure that the newly acquired knowledge would find its way into serial production.

To rule out temperature variation, the engineering team also focused on the link between side walls and the platform itself. The result is a stainless steel bracket running along the edge of the platform that is able to ‘clasp’ the side walls and form a durable link; not only making for a less permeable shell, but also for a more stable construction. They also added Wabco’s rear distance measuring device as standard – a handy tool when backing up to a loading dock.

Given the substantial investment, the development of the new refrigerated equipment range must also be seen as a vote of confidence in Spain’s economy. Carlos Leciñena: “The Spanish economy is still strong; I think some strengths you might not be able to find in other countries. We are not as weak as we are sometimes seen from the outside, and even as weak as we sometimes see ourselves.”

While many a business analyst would avoid predicting a swift recovery of the European economy, Spain’s conservative Government recently supported Leciñena’s cautious optimism, stating that Spain should emerge from recession as early as 2014.

At the moment, however, Spain’s trailer fleet is still aging and the replacement rate is low, making for a fierce competition in the manufacturing industry. “The biggest challenge for transport businesses is to obtain adequate financing in order to carry out all the necessary fleet renewals,” says Carlos Leciñena – criticizing the lack of support for private companies from the Spanish Government. “Over the last five years, many road transport companies have simply disappeared from the scene.”

As a result, pricing is key to success in Spain’s consolidated market, even before build quality and service. But the CEO is convinced that if Lecitrailer is to go global, there is no compromising on quality. “Being recognised for quality is vital, it can make or break a brand. That’s why we didn’t rush the development of our refrigerated range,” he says – pointing out that while constant re-adjustment is important, one element of Lecitrailer’s corporate strategy is irrevocable.

“Lecitrailer is all about service. Many trailer manufacturers in the south of Europe cannot offer a reliable, company-owned and run service network, so we will keep investing in that side of the business.

“Our work philosophy revolves around guaranteeing the best possible service for our clientele, and that’s the spirit we want all 400 people in our business to embrace. We believe that we have to provide a complete service package, supporting our clients from the moment they buy the vehicle until they decide to substitute it for a new one.”

In Spain, Lecitrailer can already boast five company-owned after-sales service facilities, with the capacity and experience to repair, supply spare parts and carry out preventative maintenance. Now the first service centre outside Spain is operational as well. It was opened in Lyon, France in April – a 50,000m2 site bringing Lecitrailer’s service attitude to the company’s most important export market.

To Carlos Leciñena, that “internationalization” of the Lecitrailer business was inexorable, and both brand and leadership style will have to evolve accordingly. Just as the first evolutionary leap forward was triggered by his father’s ability to give guidance and lead by example, the latest development is influenced by his personal growth as an executive who is happy to give the brand and its people the space to step outside the comfort zone of a local manufacturing business.

So, what’s next? According to young CEO Carlos Leciñena, he is currently eying the Eastern European market, which is supposed to recover more rapidly than the Mediterranean region. But there is a second market he would like to explore as well – South America. “The South American market has numerous ties with Spain, but the cost of transporting the vehicles still is a problem. But we are already working on it.”

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