Wolf-Henning Scheider was named CEO of ZF Friedrichshafen in January, following the departure of Stefan Sommer amid a boardroom dispute over the supplier's expansion strategy. Scheider came to ZF from top positions at Robert Bosch and Mahle, where he had been chief executive since 2015. He spoke with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Peter Sigal about leading the world's fifth-largest automotive supplier during a time of industry transformation.
You have been in your position for just a few months. What is your experience so far?
I was thrilled by the unique technology position ZF has. This is a very good starting point for the transformational phase that the automotive industry is in. We want to be a key player for the next generation of mobility in four areas: integrated vehicle safety, where we have already today an excellent position; vehicle motion control, where we have all the elements in hand: steering, braking, damping, axles and the propulsion system; electrified powertrains with pure-electric drives, plug-in hybrid transmissions and other powertrain opportunities; and fourth is our automated driving abilities.
What are your immediate goals?
This year, we are reviewing our strategic plan since it was developed a few years ago. There are many elements suitable for years to come, but our industry is moving quite fast. And we have acquired TRW, which is now part of our strategy. Don't expect huge changes in strategy, but refinement. We want to be an even stronger enabler for the auto industry globally.
You previously worked for Robert Bosch and Mahle. What kind of management style are you bringing to ZF?
What helps is that the challenges in the automotive industry are similar for most companies. The business transformation needs are similar to those that I had in my last companies. Looking at management style, there’s not one style anymore. We see a situation of transformation that leads to innovation, and to flexible and rapid problem-solving of issues that come up faster than they did in the past. You need a certain flexibility in management style. What does that mean? For example, when we talk about business transformation, it means very clearly top-down directions. On the other hand, if we talk about problem solving, creativity, innovation – we want to promote a culture of team spirit. People have to feel that they have a high degree of decision-making responsibility, that they can grab the opportunities. This is the path we want to take at ZF. Depending on the situation, we need to apply the appropriate management style.