Can a man who’s been selling $3,000 British trench coats for the past decade help grow sales of $75,000 electric cars? We’ll soon find out.
On Friday, we learned (thanks to a Bloomberg exclusive) that Tesla Motors has recruited Ganesh Srivats, the former vice president of Burberry, the historic British high fashion company known for its pricey plaid outerwear, to head up the luxury electric car maker’s North American sales operations.
Srivats would be an unusual hire for most luxury car companies, but Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California, doesn’t play by traditional automotive industry rules. It prefers the Silicon Valley playbook inspired by Apple and its direct-to-customer retail model.
“They’ve always been open to the best talents, pulling from other industries,” said Andrea James, senior research analyst at Dougherty & Company who specializes in emerging technologies. “They’re following a retail-like mindset, selling cars out of shopping malls, so this makes sense.”
This is the second executive Tesla has pulled from the world of retail clothing. In 2010, the company lured George Blankenship, a former executive for The Gap, away from Apple Inc. to set up Tesla’s showrooms.
Blankenship’s retirement in 2013 left Jerome Guillen, a former executive for German auto giant Daimler, in charge of Tesla’s hefty global sales strategy. But earlier this year, Tesla announced it would break up the world into three key regions – North America, Europe and Asia – and return Guillen to his previous role as the company’s customer-satisfaction czar. "Jerome has not been demoted in any way," Tesla said in a statement to Automotive News in March. "He has been and remains part of the senior executive team.”
Theodore O’Neill, senior research analysts at Ascendiant Capital Markets, who follows companies involved in clean technologies and alternative energy, says Tesla is due to begin taking Blankenship’s retail vision to the next level, and Srivats will play an important role. Current Tesla stores display Model S chassis and have interactive displays and Tesla baseball caps and smartphone covers for sale. But with Model X crossover SUV deliveries starting later this year, as well as the lower-priced Model 3 expected out by 2018, Tesla’s stores will need to be revamped.
“To do that you need someone who owns the retail experience. You won’t find that person in the car business, or from dealer networks like Penske or AutoNation,” he said. “[Sirvats] has experience in a whole bunch of emerging countries, so I expect he’ll help out in terms in finding people to fill the other two roles in Asia and Europe.”
Tesla is expected to begin delivering the highly anticipated Model X in the third quarter, and eventually Tesla showrooms will need to be updated. Though Tesla will begin filling Model X back orders in the late third quarter, there’s no word yet on when the SUVs will begin appearing in the showrooms. "We are still on track to begin Model X deliveries in Q3, 2015," Tesla spokewoman Alexis Georgeson, said in an email Friday. "While Model X will be featured in our stores, I can’t yet speak to a date when Tesla will begin displaying them."