Sean Killen, VP at Geotab: “I want to make myself unnecessary as a manager”
Late last year, global vehicle telematics giant Geotab added two regions to Sean Killen’s job description. The VP for Latin America now also is VP for Asia and Australia/New Zealand. How will he expand business on both sides of the Pacific? By focusing on quality, choosing his battles wisely, and finding the right team: “I look for extraordinary talent, and make sure they don’t need me!’
Why is it important that next to LatAm, you also supervise APAC?
Sean Killen: “Geographically, APAC is massive. But telematics across the region is pretty much in its infancy right now. Australia is 5 years behind North America in terms of data usage. We want them to catch up. I want to tell the world-class companies over there what they can do with telematics. It’s about data intelligence, ROI, adding value to fleet – and to the business overall. And making people safer.”
“Outside of Australia, it’s a different story. It’s about smartphones and GPS right now, not about telematics. Nevertheless, plenty of Fortune 500 companies have big footprints in these APAC countries. South East Asia for example, with a huge population and an important presence of companies like PepsiCo and Heineken. They care about people, safety, brand value. That’s where I see Geotab play a role. That’s where we can help solve problems. Because there isn’t a product in Asia at the moment that has the capabilities that Geotab has.”
So your focus will be the biggest companies with the biggest fleets?
“Absolutely, as it is in LatAm as well. Latin America is not an SME market. My biggest fleets over there are 5,000 to 10,000 vehicles, from companies with large local operations but global rather than regional standards – notably on safety and increasingly on sustainability. I expect it will be the same in Asia.
In these emerging markets, Geotab needs partners who see our value and who will get an ROI on our product, which is expensive to have. For SMEs, we are not price-competitive. But for large companies, we are very good in producing value for money.”
How are you going to divide your time between Latin America, Australia and Asia? Will you end up living on airplanes?
“(Chuckles) You know some people from my team, and they’ll confirm I’m very much a believer in making myself unnecessary as a manager. I look for extraordinary talent, coach them and make sure they don’t need me. In Latin America, I’m almost superfluous – that’s how good my team over there is. I help them with strategy and I empower them, but day to day, they can do without me. I’m going to do the same in APAC. I’ll spend a lot of time on chats and I’ll be over there each quarter at least. If they need me there every day, I’ve done a bad job and I hired the wrong team.”
In the two years you’ve been in charge of LatAm, what have you learned that you can take with you to APAC?
“The economics are pretty similar. If you exclude Australia, that is. The companies force their operations to be extremely efficient. Take AB InBev: I would argue that their operations in South America are probably the most efficient. Why? Because they have to be, in order to add value. So they do more with less, they’re immensely creative, and there is less waste.”
“In Latin America, if you believe in your company, you put in a lot of hours and you’re proud to be part of a team. I see the same thing in Asia. You’re not getting margins like in the U.S. or Western Europe, so you have to be lean to be profitable. That’s why companies with a reputation for being operationally efficient do so well over there – and vice versa.”
In LatAm, you manage a fleet of 200,000 connected vehicles. What’s the ambition?
“I don’t like to throw around numbers. I define success as those 200,000 existing customers to be happy with the quality of service we deliver. It’s always a struggle. Geotab isn’t perfect either.”
Where can you improve?
“Big fleets are complex. I want to make sure my customers feel we’re improving every year. That’s the number one goal. We want growth without sacrificing quality. I’d rather have a fleet of 235,000 happy drivers than a fleet of 250,000 where there’s a problem with 15,000 drivers. To be honest, neither APAC nor LatAm are big regions in terms of volume for Geotab. So it’s better for me to focus on delivering great experiences for the customer, rather than grabbing every last dollar.”
APAC is huge and prosperous, yet you only manage 60,000 connected vehicles across the region. Isn’t that on the low side?
“I would agree on the consumer side and on the B2B cell phone side. If I look at SaaS adoption, Asia is underdeveloped. But that’s OK – that means there’s a lot of opportunity here.”
“I’m keen to invest in Australia, because local telecom giant Telstra is shutting down its 3G network in 2024, so the entire telematics market will upgrade their hardware. The next 18 months is when the market will choose its long-term partners. Geotab is not well known in Australia. We must make people realise we’re the best telematics platform in the world, not just the biggest.”
“In Asia, Geotab first needs to figure out in which markets we can tell our data and value story, and in which ones we can’t. You could really drive yourself crazy trying to change the entire Asian market. It’s just too big, you have to pick your spots. I need to see where the best opportunities are, where the Fortune 500 companies are located, and where they want to work with us.”
“Where? Indonesia for sure. India, I don’t know. We do have individual customers there, but as an overall market, it’s so big. We’re still figuring out what to do there and how to do it. Japan and South Korea are interesting. However, both markets are quite protectionist. And then there’s the language issue. In LatAm, you can use Spanish in all countries except Brazil. In Asia, almost each country speaks a different language.”
What about the Philippines?
“I like it. Because it’s an archipelago, like Indonesia, the fleets are spread out in an interesting way. The brands are there. There’s a value on safety and efficiency. The market is growing and people want bigger brands. So yes: exciting. As is Thailand, also a big market. And Vietnam is growing fast. I will continue to invest where it makes sense for Geotab, but we can’t do everything. Asia is just too big!”
How come not all Fortune 500 companies are Geotab customers?
“The market is still very competitive. Telematics has been around for a long time. We’ve been around for just 20 years. Some of our competitors have a much longer history. Even if they’ve innovated less. Now, when their contract cycles end, Geotab has the opportunity to step in. Don’t forget that Fortune 500 companies are hard, and they don’t make decisions lightly. Another thing is that Fortune 500 companies are set up regionally for decision-making. So we might have their business in North America, but that’s not a guarantee that we will have them in LatAm or APAC.”
Final question: What does Sean Killen do when he’s not working to make Geotab bigger and better?
“I’m very much a family guy, and a soccer dad. I have two adorable boys, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. My family is the best thing in my life. I love working for Geotab, but it’s not a hard decision to spend a day with my kids. And traveling can be hard. I do a lot of Facetiming when I’m away. But it’s part of the job. Geotab is great, but there’s nothing better than to play soccer or splash in the pool with my boys.”
Geotab will be partnering with Global Fleet for the Global Fleet Conference in May 2023
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