Hacienda Motors Owner Uwe Waizenegger Has Seen the World with Mercedes Benz

There are probably a few places where Uwe Waizenegger, owner of Hacienda Motors, has not yet travelled. He's been able to cover most of the planet with his footprints, doing business from Guam to Alaska to England to Italy.

"I just enjoy working with people I've been all over the world, I've worked in different countries, seen the different cultures and perspectives," he says.

It was his interest in meeting people that helped him make his first real career decision, as a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

"I wanted to be a research chemist, since that was my favorite subject in high school," he explains. "I went down there first semester and saw these guys in white coats with Bunsen burners and you couldn't talk to anyone. I enjoyed the subject, but I couldn't see myself doing that for the rest of my life."

Waizenegger's thirst to get to know the world started long before UNC, however. He was born in 1944 in Stuttgart, Germany, where his father began working for Daimler-Benz in 1949. Eight years later, the family moved to the U.S., where his father was to work for the company's export division in South Bend, Indiana.

"I came to this country on October 8, 1957," he says. "It was one of those entries to the U.S. that you really dream about. We came on the USS America and arrived at 8:00 in the morning, with a beautiful sunrise and the Statue of Liberty just what you dream about."

After attending high school in Indiana, he was accepted at the Air Force Academy where he dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot. Since he was not yet a U.S. citizen, however a status he earned in 1968 he was unable to attend.

After attending North Carolina for a year, he transferred to Indiana University. It was after his graduation from IU that he, too, began to work for Mercedes.

"Since my dad worked for the company, we decided that I should go in the executive training program back in Germany, so I went there for a year and a half and worked at the factory and for different departments of the export division," he says.

It was then that his globetrotting nature began to assert itself.

"I worked for about nine months in Great Britain, signing up Mercedes Benz dealers in the British Isles."

Another assignment took him to Italy for three months, where he reviewed the dealer organization in that country prior to Daimler-Benz taking over that responsibility.

"I liked learning the various aspects of the business, seeing the variations in different countries and the techniques you needed to use with different people," he explains.

He married a woman he met in Germany in 1967, right around the time he took his first full-time position as part of his training. It was as a salesman at Mercedes Benz Hollywood and turned out to be one of the most important experiences of his career, despite the fact that he did it for just 14 months.

"A lot of people in wholesale (the corporate ranks) cannot make it in retail and vice versa: The mentality is different," he explains. "The worst thing that happened to me when I was a salesman was, by the 25th of one month, I hadn't sold a car and my rent was coming up. Of course, I sold five cars in the next three days and everything was fine, but that's the cycle sales people go through, a 30 day cycle. The day it closes, it's 'what have you done for me lately.'"

His insight into the retail end of things would prove essential when he started Hacienda Motors many years later. In the meantime, however, there was more travelling to do.

He was selected to become the general manager of Mercedes Benz Manhattan, which was the largest dealer in the country at the time. After undergoing a year of training, he was instead promoted to regional manager for the Mid-Atlantic states.

"It was a tremendous promotion, especially since I was only 28 years old at the time. I was the youngest regional manager in the country and, in fact, when I retired from Mercedes in 1986, I was still the youngest."

After seven years overseeing the Mid-Atlantic states, Waizenegger was moved to the San Francisco region, which covered the Northwest as well as Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam another position that helped him rack up the frequent flyer miles.

Again, he found a variety of people to work with and learned flexibility as a result.

"Obviously, you talk differently to a dealer in Fairbanks Alaska, than you do to one in San Jose. Dealerships in the Bay Area have a large volume, they're very well organized. When you go to Fairbanks, it's more of a mom and pop operation where you talk about the real basics on how to operate a business and how you would like to see Mercedes Benz represented."

Seven years later, the company wanted to send Waizenegger and his family overseas to either Australia, Great Britain, or Italy.

"I was willing to do it, but I wanted a guarantee that after a certain number of years they would return me to the U.S., which they were not willing to do."

As regional manager, Waizenegger knew that the company was ready to appoint a new dealer in the Bay Area so the idea of leaving the company to start a dealership interested him.

"When you're 42 years old and an opportunity like that comes about after you've been transferred so many times my first ten years in the company I was in seven different locations staying in one place sounds attractive."

He also got a little advice from someone he respected: the chairman of the board of Mercedes Benz.

"He was in San Francisco to make a speech and as a regional manager I had to take care of him. One night we were driving into the Marin Headlands and he said, 'You know, if I can give you any advice as chairman of the board of Mercedes Benz, it would be to go into retail.' That had a big influence on me."

Hacienda Motors opened in 1987 and has grown from 16 employees to 58. The service department had 80 customers in its first month and now serves 1,100.

"I've never looked back and never regretted it, not once, even during the tough times," he says.

His son has also joined him in the business, after completing a one-year training program sponsored by the National Automobile Dealer Association.

Looks like another generation of Waizeneggers will make a career with Mercedes.

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