What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
I have always been a car and technology enthusiast and a passionate musician. Life is short, so I knew I wanted to follow my passions without making any compromises. About 25 years ago, high-end audio simply did not exist in cars; and the recording industry was right on the edge of a long period of disruption by digitization. In response, I founded my first companies in the music and automotive businesses. From there, I started my career in the automotive industry by designing sound system concepts for automaker and suppliers and building award-winning concept cars as a self-employed consultant.
I am proud that the companies I have created from nothing but “crazy ideas” continue to provide jobs and value for others, and that I have been able to spread my entrepreneurial way of thinking and doing things to great companies such as Lear and Harman.
Biggest failure and what it taught you?
There’s a reason there are so many quotes about the important role of failure on the path to success. I’ve certainly had my share! I have to answer this question by describing an ongoing struggle that I continue to face every day: the need to quash my natural impulse to avoid making mistakes and only strive for perfection – which ignores the concept of failing often and early to disrupt and innovate given the rapid pace we all face today. As the owner of my own companies, I was always concerned about failing, because I paid for every mistake – literally. My failures would impact other people, too – people who were committed to me. This approach doesn’t work when you drive cutting-edge innovation at a fast pace. My failure then – and my personal challenge today – is to not let myself fall back into my comfort zone of going for perfection, especially now as I guide an entire organization attached to a larger company that demands innovation, discipline and speed.
What is your current challenge at work?
Harman’s board of directors assigned me a special project that requires forming a start-up culture inside the corporation. To meet our target, the pace at which this team works has to be exponentially faster than the conventional way of working. Transforming the mind-set and behavior of people away from the approach of scalable efficiencies to a totally new track – being completely disruptive in our thinking, but at the same time remaining collaborative – that is my most exciting challenge right now.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
Talking to people in the automotive industry, the dominant perception is that automotive is a highly innovative, fast-paced environment. This is also reflected in the broader media. Nevertheless, if you look at how agile new entrants are, companies that are redefining the essence of what a car is and how cars will be used in the future, you see totally new skill sets and approaches that are disrupting the industry almost instantaneously.
That said, I am amazed that so much time in the traditional automotive industry is still spent on scalable efficiencies and linear improvements; being satisfied talking about the future, but often not being prepared to introduce radical changes to organizations or business models. I am not surprised – but I am inspired – by the rapid speed of change we’re seeing now, and which has been prompted by unlikely players. I think it’s great, and I love being a part of it at Harman, where innovation and change orientation are in our DNA.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
In various situations I was told to just “go for it” – to try new things, to learn from mistakes and to gain the resilience to achieve success.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Don’t go looking for a career. Pursue what you are passionate about. Never stop learning and always be the best you can. Enjoy what you are doing and share this sense of fun with others. Never let yourself be put inside a mental box. Be authentic and daring. Only then will you excel in what you are striving for, and a career will come looking for you.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
As I have been CEO and founder several times, I would point to the importance of people and communication – building the best team by finding people who are smarter than I am and listening carefully to all levels of the organization. Then I would make sure I share my vision with others in a creative way. Communication has to be effective so employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s success.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I excel when I can create and shape, when I can push the boundaries of what is possible and inspire others to share this passion. Being challenged to change the world instead of being part of a linear progression really motivates me. So being an innovation leader with the mission and freedom to disrupt and reinvent things is a perfect fit, and it is what I have been privileged to do my whole life. To focus 100 percent on an assignment that also includes loads of “crazy ideas” is what I strive for.
What do you do to relax?
I spend time writing songs, sketching, discovering new music, reading, dining with friends and doing martial arts.
Opel Kadett D.
Audi A5 coupe.
2013-present: Vice president and general manager, automotive audio Europe, Harman Automotive, Karlsbad, Germany
2012-2013: Vice president, business development & general manager of the Volkswagen, Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover business units, Harman Automotive, Karlsbad
2011-2012: Co-founder and owner, Konzept-X, (high-tech start-up with focus on virtual acoustics and multidisciplinary simulation), Karlsruhe, Germany
2010-2011: Global vice president, center of competence systems, automotive audio; and head of product delivery, automotive audio Europe, Harman Automotive, Karlsbad
2008-2010: Director, acoustics systems group Europe, Harman Automotive, Karlsbad
2005-2008: Lead product manager, sound systems, Lear, Kronach, Germany
1992-2010: Founder and owner, proMusic GmbH; founder and owner, Tonez Music Studios; founder and owner, Konzept-X GbR