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Military Leadership in Action: A Q&A with Mercedes CEO Steve Cannon

by MTN Staff

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Article Sponsored by: MBM Food Service

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Steve Cannon has been the Chief Executive Officer and President of Mercedes-Benz USA LLC since January 1, 2011. Prior to that, he served in a number of functions at Mercedes with stints in marketing, executive leadership and financial services. During his time at the company, Steve also moved to Stuttgart and joined a team tasked with the development, manufacture and launch of the M-Class.


Mr. Cannon was an Airborne Ranger in the Army and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated with honors.


To help commemorate the Top 40 Under 40 Military issue and Veterans Day, MTN caught up with Mr. Cannon and asked him for his advice for transitioning military and veterans.


MTN: You’re a graduate of West Point. What drew you into the military?

Steve Cannon: I won’t say that I came in through the back door, but when I graduated from high school, the military wasn’t on my radar screen. My younger brother actually started. I went off to college. My younger brother started at West Point and came back with all these amazing stories. He was off tank training at Fort Knox; he was repelling down 100 foot cliffs.


He was going through “Beast Barracks,” which is our basic training at West Point and coming back with some of these crazy, even some fantastic stories about guys in his face and challenging him and all the hardships that he had to go through. I just got captivated. I went to college on a wrestling scholarship and was doing fine, but then I saw this and I said, “Wow that’s pretty cool.” I could either just keep going and have a really regular college experience or I could lean out of my comfort zone and leap into this world that I had no idea about. I don’t come from a military family, even extended family; didn’t have a whole lot of connection points into the military until my brother landed at West Point and he told me the stories he was going through and I said, “Wow I’ve got to try that.” So that was my ticket into West Point, more opportunistic than intentional, but none-the-less it was great.


MTN: How did your military experience help you when you went to transition into the civilian world?

Steve Cannon: I almost think that my military experience was the reason that I got hired. I spent three years in Germany as an officer, which was actually kind of a really cool time, it was 1987 to 1990. We were a border patrol unit. I was attached to part of the second armored cavalry regiment and we were right there patrolling the East German/Czechoslovakian border as the “Iron Curtain” walls came down, so it was neat to be right there at a significant shift point in history and have a front row seat.


When I left the Army, interestingly, I signed my out processing paperwork at Robinson Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. And as I drove past Robinson Barracks, there was Mercedes-Benz global headquarters, and I said to myself, “I didn’t know that it was here.” That’s how much I knew about Mercedes-Benz at that time. I signed my papers and a few months later, just by luck and good fortune, I’m working at Mercedes-Benz.


I spoke German, plus the person that hired me loved the West Point background and some of the intangibles that obviously you learn in spades when you’re in the military: discipline, leadership, self-confidence, someone who could command a presence and who could represent the company and the brand. Those attributes served me very well when I made the transition.


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