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Interview of the month: KTM CSO Hubert Trunkenpolz

Followers and fans of ‘Orange’ will know the name ‘Trunkenpolz’ has a close affiliation with the brand and is much more than simply the ‘T’ between the ‘K’ and ‘M’. If Hubert Trunkenpolz’s uncle was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the company in Mattighofen then the 54 year old has then been key in expanding KTM around the globe.

As KTM’s influence spreads at the same swift rate as the increase in their motorcycle product catalogue, we thought it would be curious to learn a bit more about Trunkenpolz connection with the KTM of both ‘old and new’ and to hear how he has filtered the word to different countries through his fifteen year professional tenure. He has been on the Executive board of Directors since 2004 but on the KTM staff list since 1998 and an associate of Stefan Pierer since 1992 …

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Hubert Trunkenpolz (KTM CSO)

Obviously there is a special link for you with KTM. Tell us about that …
“My uncle was the founder. When I was younger I was racing motorcycles and of course those bikes were KTMs. So I always had a desire to be part of the company and in 1998 I got the chance after a telephone call with Stefan Pierer. It was brilliant for me.”

What was your first reaction to that call?
“In the course of our talk, Stefan (Pierer) asked whether I could imagine to support the sales team with my experience. I was grateful for the opportunity. My first role was to look after the new distributors we had onboard in Eastern Europe and Asia and then later South America. I was involved – from an early stage – in expanding the business of KTM. After that I was promoted to look after the global distribution picture and then in 2001-2002 I was appointed as Managing Director of KTM UK. I spent quite a lot of time in England, at Brackley, next door to what was BAR racing (what is now Mercedes) and Silverstone. I was also in charge of establishing a few subsidiaries and the most difficult one was KTM Japan; I was CEO there for quite a while. I couldn’t have been too bad at all these jobs because I was promoted to the Board in 2004 in charge of Sales and Marketing.”

“I couldn´t have been too bad at all there jobs beacuse I was promoted to the Board in 2004 in charge of Sales and Marketing.”

Going back before you joined … was it hard to see KTM go through some tough years before the Pierer-era?
“Yes, and it came from a family tragedy. I spent quite a lot of time when I was young – certainly a month every summer holiday – in Mattighofen with my cousins and we were out on bikes from morning to evening. It was great fun. We were young and students but even then we could see that my uncle was looking to diversify the business, and my Dad was actually involved. The bicycle industry was suffering a lot at this time and my uncle was looking for new business directions. The idea was to produce water-cooled radiators for engines for the automotive sector. The project was good but hit some set-up problems. The industry was very demanding. The company was not in good shape but also not too bad. Then on December 24th 1989 my uncle died of a heart attack.

The company was then in between banks and one of the managers, Mr. Taus from GIT Trust Holding, took control and in the three years in charge he halved the turnover and doubled the debt. It went bust. The first time I met Stefan Pierer was in 1992. He was a young guy then but very ambitious. He was not the one with the most money [to take over] but he had the best ideas. I, and the whole family, were very happy that he could bring together the distributors and other partners to start from zero. In the first year just 6000 bikes were built in Mattighofen. At that time I worked for another family-owned company which also became part of the Pierer group in 1992.”

From those episodes when you were working internationally which was your favourite?
“In the UK we had a management programme overhaul because the MD maybe wasn’t the best pick. We had quality problems. I recall the first dealer meeting that we had there. Some dealers were really angry; one even throwed some conrods on my table! That was quite an experience … but we had some great dealers and we started to gain trust again and prove that the products were moving forward. We had very loyal dealers in the UK and fans of the brand so this was – despite a bumpy start – such a nice time in my life. I really like going to England, and to see all that enthusiasm for motorcycles and motorsport is really great.”

“I really like going to England, and to see all that enthusiasm for motorcycles and motorsport is really great.”

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Hubert Trunkenpolz (KTM CSO) & 1290 SUPER DUKE R

And what about Japan?
“Totally different! It was somewhere in between a nightmare and a tough job! It was full-on, because nobody was really waiting for us there, as you can imagine. We were confronted by import regulations, emission tests and other restrictions only in place for European products. It was a very bumpy start and on two occasions we were close to giving up. We lost money for five years trying to get things going in Japan but in the end we saw that the product we could deliver was well-suited to the Japanese market. To a certain extent the community there liked the fact that we didn’t give up and we got more and more confidence from dealers and riders. For a couple of years now we have done great business in Japan and the management is doing a good job. I’m not so involved in the specifics anymore but of course I keep a close look at it because I started the project. The business and profits from the last few years proved that it paid off to keep pushing. It was an exciting time. Between 2002 and 2004 I was partly living in Japan and doing a lot of traveling back and forth.”

We can only imagine how tricky it was … how did you find the cultural difference?
“It was one of the best learning experiences I had in my life. I really like Japan and the Japanese people and I think in some respects it is a great country where we can learn a lot. But, yes, it is a very difficult place for a European motorcycle manufacturer to get in! In the end though there was no bad taste. Sometimes you need those sorts of experiences in life and with things where you have to put in more time and effort than which you first thought.”

“Sometimes you need those sorts of experience in life and with things where you have to put in more time and effort than which you first thought.”

So what are you doing right here and now in 2014?
“I’m based in Mattighofen and oversee KTM’s global sales as a member of the board. I’m blessed with a great group of people working with me. The main project at the moment is to keep pushing the globalisation of KTM. We have great growth rates in Asia and Latin America. This is possible due to our partnership and products with Bajaj; this was the missing link for these markets. It also opens opportunities not only in Europe but also the United States, which is still the biggest single market for KTM and will remain so for a while. The real growth momentum though is coming from Asia and Latin America. The reason? Years ago a typical KTM dealer in those regions was a motorcycle enthusiast. He would buy a KTM for him or friends or became a dealer but it was not a ‘business case’. We simply did not have the product line-up that you could sell in volume in these places. Now with the 125s, the 200s and the 390s coming through the corporation with Bajaj we suddenly have a line-up that meets the requirements and needs of those motorcycle communities. We have the business case for the distributors and dealers in Asia and South America. They can sell an amount of KTMs whereby they can make a living from it and this gives us a new quality of business partners in these regions. It means leverage of the business case because of more sales, better business partners, etc. and it generates more interest and the brand becomes better known. Frankly the sales we are doing now in these two areas is just the beginning. Expect massive growth at both ends and at the same time I think we can still grow and there is some potential in the United States and also Europe.”

“The main project at the moment is to keep pushing the globalisation of KTM. [...] This is possible due to our partnership and products with Bajaj [...]“

Hubert Trunkenpolz (KTM CSO) & X-BOW RR

Hubert Trunkenpolz (KTM CSO) & X-BOW RR

So you are a regular in airport lounges as you take KTM far and wide …
“For sure! It feels like I am on first-name terms with the Lufthansa crew. I did something like 300,000 in the last two years. But I love what I do: to be able to make my profession out of a hobby and a passion. I feel it is extremely exciting to be involved in this development of the company. I also like to meet people and explore business opportunities and evolve businesses together with my people. It is good fun; challenging but brilliant.”

Do you ever stop and wonder at the extent to which KTM has grown and prospered?
“Definitely. Just now we have had an extremely intensive phase of creating new buildings. I sometimes drive into this ‘KTM Campus’ in the mornings and remember when it used to be just a green field. Now we have offices, buildings and factories covering something like 100,000 m2. It is still emotional for me. Even now when I look out the window I can see the construction crane over the main R&D building putting another floor in place so we can house another 100 engineers. We are committed and confident in the development of the company otherwise we would not have these heavy investment programmes. It makes us proud but it is also an obligation. We have to do our job properly.”

It makes us proud but it is also an obligation. We have to do our job properly.”

Lastly … what’s in the garage?
“Ha! Quite honestly I have three products from KTM. The 1290 SUPER DUKE R, which is absolutely my favourite motorcycle that we have: I love it. The second is a FREERIDE E, our electric bike that is ideal for an old guy like me and can take me into off-road areas where I never thought I’d still be able to go. The third is a KTM X-BOW but this is a real toy because I still do some racing in the Battle series. This is not in the garage but kept down in Graz where it is maintained and prepped for the next race … which will be in Slovakia next week!”

Hubert Trunkenpolz (KTM CSO) & X-BOW RR

Hubert Trunkenpolz (KTM CSO) & X-BOW RR

Photos: www.ktmimages.com & X-BOW BATTLE