Profile: Matthew Kendrick
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, 1984
General Counsel, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International
Jack of All Trades | Kendrick is the only attorney employed by Mercedes-Benz in the U.S. and is based at the automaker’s plant in Alabama. While outside law firms assist, Kendrick is involved in everything from employee relations and immigration to product liability and patents. “It changes every day, which is exciting.”
Bridging the Divide | Kendrick says his degree in business administration helps him navigate the traditional divide between executives and attorneys. “Legal departments are historically an impediment to business. That’s a matter of personality and strategic thinking, but business decision-makers are savvy. They understand risk and they want it clearly explained so it can be minimized.”
Heavy Metal | While Mercedes-Benz is one of the best-known brands in the world, Kendrick says he sought his current job because it fit well with his previous experience. “Manufacturing printing presses is different than manufacturing cars, but it’s all heavy metal and the issues are the same,” he says.
State of the Industry | About half his time is spent on employment issues, which, in today’s economy, often means buyouts and staff reductions. Parts suppliers in financial trouble are another big responsibility. The factory builds each model “just-in-time,” with only two to three hours worth of inventory stocked. That avoids having to stockpile large amounts of inventory, but it means that “we have to move fast when a parts supplier is in trouble.”
Changing Market | The Alabama plant manufactures the M-, R- and GL-Class Mercedes, the automakers’ sport utility and crossover vehicles. It’s the only place in the world Mercedes builds SUVs. About half stay in the U.S. and the others ship to 138 countries. “With declining interest in SUVs, we’ve had to make roughly a 25 percent negative change in our personnel here.” But the plant will start making all the C-Class entry-level luxury sedans for the North American market in 2014. Kendrick hopes that will take the current staff size of 3,000 back up to its previous level of 4,000.
A Car-Dealing Family | Kendrick’s father owned a dealership in Lafayette, Ind., and his brother eventually took it over. The dealership used to sell Buicks and Cadillacs but now sells only Nissans and used cars. Family members debate the issue of foreign vs. American cars, but Kendrick says the lines aren’t as clear as they used to be. “The cars we build here are built in America and they provide a decent living for American citizens,” he says. “But those discussions are lively.”
And a Xavier Family | Kendrick’s siblings all attended Xavier, and three of the four met their spouses at Xavier. Kendrick met his wife, Lori (Harkins), a 1985 graduate, the first day of school. They have two daughters, Caroline, 14, and Olivia, 12.
His Ride | Kendrick drives a future model of the R-Class crossover vehicle, and offers feedback to colleagues on the test car.