Joanna Cooper on Building People Who Build Trucks

June 8, 2023
Joanna Cooper, General Manager, Daimler Trucks
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Joanna Cooper, General Manager, Daimler Trucks

Key Takeaways:

  1. Daimler Trucks produces Freightliner medium-duty trucks, including box trucks and 18-wheelers.
  2. The company collaborates with customers like Penske Truck Leasing and Ryder to provide trucks for various purposes.
  3. Daimler Trucks has been focusing on automation, safety features, and autonomous truck development.
  4. They are actively working on electrification, with the production of electric Big Rig trucks and medium-duty variants.
  5. The transition to electrification requires customer and dealer acceptance and involves long development cycles.
  6. Joanna Cooper believes in living a purpose-driven life and finds passion in taking risks, being uncomfortable, and building people who build trucks.

Paul Daly: 0:01We have Joanna Cooper general manager of Daimler Trucks with us today. Hello,hello.

Unknown: 0:06

This is Amplified, a retail automotive podcast brought to you by Reuters events and to suits you. It's time to make the most innovative voices in retail automotive louder

Paul Daly: 0:24

we can already tell this is gonna be a fun one.Absolutely. Because Because first of all, you run a giant manufacturing facility.

Joanna Cooper: 0:31

Absolutely. I build trucks.

Kyle Mountsier: 0:34

which is dope.Everybody else is just cool. I got a data thing. Or I do you know, I just now commit i and stuff. It makes them look pretty, right. You make stuff look cool.Move. Tell us about your trucks you make

Joanna Cooper: 0:50

we build in my facility and Mount Holly North Carolina, Freightliner medium duty trucks.

Kyle Mountsier: 0:57

big truck. What do you drive at him duty?

Joanna Cooper: 1:00

What do I drive?He's like a Miata. I drive a Mercedes Benz JLE. Okay, we'll

Kyle Mountsier: 1:08

take that. That works. Good.What's your so actually, I'm trying to think the medium duty trucks. What is that? What is that class you said Freightliner? So I automatically think of like a semi.

Joanna Cooper: 1:20

Yeah, we are in class six through eight. So that doesn't help me either. So medium duty. So all of our trucks that we build are turned into things like car haulers and construction vehicles. Okay, he also sailed trucks to Penske Truck Leasing, they're one of our biggest customers as well as writer so they rent you know,

Kyle Mountsier: 1:43

not like an 18Wheeler but like a box truck or something like that.

Joanna Cooper: 1:47

We do the box truck type thing, but we also build 18 wheelers.

Kyle Mountsier: 1:52

Man, I want to see this plant.I know, can we come take a tour through this thing? That would be a ton of fun.

Joanna Cooper: 1:57

I do at least three a

Kyle Mountsier: 1:58

week. Oh, we're doing tours. We're going on a tour truck tour. How did that how did you end up in this business? And how did you end up to be the general manager? Like where did you start? Like how'd you get there?

Joanna Cooper: 2:08

Oh, man, I saw I started in Detroit, Michigan as just a simple girl that went to Detroit Public Schools and said yes to a lot of different things. When I graduated from college, I wanted to be a real estate tech home. Okay, and I crashed and burned very quickly.What was that about it? That didn't work? I didn't know what I was doing. align with the wrong people that didn't have a lot of integrity. And I was young. Yeah. And so full

Kyle Mountsier: 2:38

energy ready to go. You know,

Joanna Cooper: 2:41

I'm a millennial.So I don't want to work a job because I don't want people to have to tell me what to do. I already know, I already know everything. I knew nothing. So a recruiter called me one day said that he saw my resume out in the internet, and said there was a perfect position for me Detroit Diesel corporation. So I did three interviews in a week,January of 2008. And in Daimler,or big box corporate fashion things take some time. Yeah. So may 2008, I finally actually started in purchasing actually,as the associated buyer in the purchasing department. So I spent the first seven years of my career in purchasing three of those seven, I lived in Germany.And yeah, I can do a

Kyle Mountsier: 3:28

drop in the drop in German too. That's really cool, speak

Joanna Cooper: 3:31

German. And during that time, I just, you know, I learned a lot about the business, I was able to develop this business acumen and build a network and learn so many different facets, but I knew purchasing. I was good at it,but it wasn't my passion. And I wanted to find that. So I said yes to an opportunity to return back to Detroit. And at the time, we were industrializing,the DT 12 transmission, so it's an automated manual transmission. And so, you know,truckers used to shift 1.5million times. And then yeah,you know, now most of the trucks that are on the road have an automated manual transmission,so they don't have to shut I did not know that. So it's pretty cool. So that technology took off and we needed to industrialize and at that time,I felt like man I enjoy being in the plant. Way more than I like being at my desk putting together a PowerPoint presentation can see that point,though. I'm phenomenon, wrong,PowerPoint, PowerPoint skills.Microsoft has nothing on me.

Kyle Mountsier: 4:32

It's like getting your hands dirty being in the work of like, hey, let's put something together a lot better.

Joanna Cooper: 4:40

And it was the collaboration. It was the gray area. It was the people I was an athlete growing up so you know,it's wins and losses. It was that what sport basketball?

Kyle Mountsier: 4:50

Yes. Very nice.I like it. Yeah. So you have that like it's a contact sport.Or yeah, there's offensive defense.

Joanna Cooper: 4:57

You got to have grit. You have to have resilience. You Gotta be able to pick up dusty clothes. Yeah,keep moving forward. And that's what manufacturing is to me. And so it felt like I had arrived back at home. And I had found my, my, my place. And so I transitioned over to the dark side of operations in 2016. And

Kyle Mountsier: 5:17

seal front of the house back of the house,even in here's, here's what I love a second ago, you said like, you kind of glazed over this fact that the truckers shift, what 1.5 million times? A ton. They I mean, they're just constantly so many. Yeah,especially if they're in any sort of mountain conditions or hills or anything like that.Right. And so the technology was serving the end user really,really well. What, what type of end user stuff right now are you guys looking at and the manufacturing side to solve and make sure that like, the people driving are served well by what you're doing in manufacturing?

Joanna Cooper: 5:56

Oh, absolutely.So as technology has improved,we have safety functions, on our trucks for Lane Assist eye radar, you know, stopping,right, you know, same thing that you have in the passenger cars,we're doing work with in in the autonomous space. So we own torque robotics is a subsidiary of Daimler truck now and one of my colleagues, Joanna Butler,she runs that division of how do we have safe autonomous trucks on the road that can stay in the lane and deliver product and move the world?

Kyle Mountsier: 6:32

You know, come on, like think about how long have you been in the seat?You're in now?

Joanna Cooper: 6:37

In this seat?Almost a year. So it'd be a year in June?

Kyle Mountsier: 6:41

I'd have have you. What is the the shift to electrification mean for you?Are you in that world yet?Right. Like, what's what's happening? What do you see coming down the line? Because obviously, it's it's a big transition coming. We're hearing a lot about it in commercial trucks.

Joanna Cooper: 6:56

Yeah, it's here.Actually, we build in our Portland, Oregon facility, the E Cascadia got few weeks ago, we just unveiled the EM two at the AC T Expo. So those are two products that are actively designed. What is that product?It is the electric Cascadia is that electric Big Rig trucks 18wheelers and the EM two is the medium duty variant of what I'm building in my plant today. So we are at Daimler truck. Leading the transformational change in our in our industry. That's one of our what's for the purpose of moving the world and to make sure we have a world here for the next generations to actually live in. And it's not like Mad Max.

Kyle Mountsier: 7:41

Well, yeah.Because like trucks are a ton of the road traffic a ton of the consumption of fuel. Right? And so it's it's a big focus, but it's, I feel like it's tougher,or is it not? It's kind of like in the same lane as what's going on on the passenger side. Like,what what's the what's the difficulty in the commercial side and the in the large truck side that maybe the passenger side of vehicles isn't having to deal with?

Joanna Cooper: 8:07

Well, why do you think is tougher? It seems

Kyle Mountsier: 8:09

tougher, because you gotta get a battery that can move a truck like that thing's huge. It's just way bigger.

Joanna Cooper: 8:16

Everything's bigger and better. The the development cycles take time.But that's with any new new product, the transition for the market takes time, the extra customer acceptance, the dealer acceptances. But I think that we've been on this journey already for years. So in secret in developing, so it's not a start, oh, no, we're not just at the beginning trying to figure it out. We, we have a strategy,we have a vision, we know where we want to go. We know how quickly we want to try to get there. And so we are actively working on all levels of our organization to make that happen. And and the important thing is, it's for the right reasons.

Kyle Mountsier: 9:05

We're coming out of the supply chain debacle.Everything's starting to loosen.This is a debacle. We'll call it a debacle. Things are loosening up with different manufacturers in automotive, um, at different rates. How are you faring? You know, as far as being able to source all the materials and supplies you need to put out the volume need to match demand right now.

Joanna Cooper: 9:25

I wish you had some wood on this table before I got it.

Kyle Mountsier: 9:31

There's literally there's for mica and glass. There's no one

Joanna Cooper: 9:34

this year it's been better. For the for the most part, we have acute challenges here or there. But in comparison to the past years from COVID and coming out COVID We're in a much more stable condition.

Kyle Mountsier: 9:50

So stable,stable, stable, knock on wood,just to make sure things don't go crazy. Correct.Last question. Last question.You sure Yeah, positive unless you unless you ask the question,because there is our last question. What what drives you as a person? Like, why do you why do you Where does the passion come from? Because you obviously haven't? Oh,

Joanna Cooper: 10:16

good question. I think that I live a purpose driven life. And I only was able to have the passion that I have for what I do, because I continue to say yes to a number of different things, and always willing to take a risk always willing to be uncomfortable. I was able to find my what and my why. And I think those are two very important answers to questions that we all should be able. What's your why to achieve?

Kyle Mountsier: 10:47

One more question.Got us. She got us. She knew.Yeah, she's like, really?

Joanna Cooper: 10:52

I say all the time that I build people who build trucks. I

Kyle Mountsier: 10:56

I'm glad we asked that. Come on. Now. That's the way to drop it. I don't think you need to explain that too much. Because our community and our audience totally understands that and I love that you build people that build trucks. That is a great way to end. Thank you so much for joining us. Your energy is infectious and I love that we get to have a conversation about something like manufacturing today. Awesome.

Unknown: 11:22

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