Etienne Henry, 42
VP of product strategy & planning for Europe*, Nissan Europe
Family: Wife, Monika; sons, Jules, 12, Gregoire, 9; daughter, Tess, 4
Born: Langres, France
Languages: French, English, a little Japanese and Dutch
Education: Degree in mechanical engineering, Institut National des Sciences Appliquees de Lyon, France
*Recently promoted to new post at Nissan alliance partner Renault
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
I have always been a car enthusiast, and I had training periods with Citroen and Peugeot while studying mechanical engineering. This on-the-job experience gave me a good idea about the automotive industry. My first job with Philips Electronics provided good insight into consumer products (televisions) and product planning, but I always knew I wanted to join the automotive industry. When the opportunity to work as a European product manager for Nissan came along, it was an easy decision to make.
I was European product planner for the Qashqai from 2004 until 2007. As it was a European product made in Europe, I was heavily involved in every aspect of the planning. We recognized that we needed a bold approach for an innovative product, and in the end the car was a great success. It opened the way for a new category of vehicles, as Nissan was the first to introduce crossovers in Europe. Today it's the best-selling Nissan in Europe, and it has been the best-selling Nissan car globally.
Biggest failure and what it taught you?
When I joined Nissan, I gained the responsibility for Primera. The car had just been launched and was not selling well. I tried to improve the product, but it was missing some basic performance aspects that the consumers expected. We never really managed to improve the car enough. This taught me the importance of understanding customer needs when designing products. We need to not only fulfill expectations but also come up with new ideas and solutions that answer the questions customers haven't even asked themselves.
What is your current challenge at work?
The current challenge at Nissan is entering new segments, and also building the brand to the next level. The Qashqai and Juke – particularly the second-generation Qashqai – need to be replicated across the entire lineup, establishing Nissan as the No. 1 Asian brand in Europe. In my new role at Renault, my challenge is creating more synergies in the alliance across the two companies.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
It is my job to anticipate and understand trends and customer needs, but it can still be surprising to see customers' reactions when we show them new products. Customers don't think in segments, like automotive professionals do. They are very spontaneous, very natural. It's especially important to think like a consumer in the area of new mobility solutions. If we don't offer innovative solutions for sustainable mobility, we could simply be out of the game.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Never give up; it takes time to achieve results and success. Embrace challenges and stretch to achieve. There are no good ideas that don't sound crazy at first. If it sounds easy in the beginning, it may not be a great idea in the end.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
To be really successful, you need to have passion for automotive products. But more than that, you need to have sensitivity, feeling and emotion. When you drive a car, you should be able to describe what the customer will perceive. If there is no emotion or passion, it's just a commodity. And I think a car should be much more than that.
If you were CEO of a company what would you do first?
Focus on the brand. This is really key. It is the promise we give to customers. In everything we do – products, services, anything – we have to keep the brand promise in mind and make sure we deliver according to customer expectations. I would also set priorities on how we make decisions in the business.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
My dream job would be chief planning officer, perhaps head of planning for the Renault-Nissan alliance. I would like to be in charge of planning for the company.
What do you do to relax?
I spend time with my family. We enjoy activities such as skiing and mountain biking.
Infiniti FX and Nissan Juke: two very different crossovers, from the smallest to the biggest in the market. They're both very fun to drive and practical for everyday use.
April 2014-present: Product planning director in charge of A-segment, B-segment and electric vehicle range worldwide, Renault, Paris, France
2012-2014: VP product strategy and planning for Europe, Nissan, Rolle, Switzerland
2010-2011: Global program director Infiniti brand, Nissan, Tokyo, Japan
2009-2010: Europe and Russia program director, Nissan, Rolle
2007-2008: Global chief product specialist, Nissan, Tokyo
2002-2006: European product manager, Nissan, Paris
2000-2001: Product manager, Philips Consumer Electronics, Brugge, Belgium
1995-1999: Development team leader, Philips Consumer Electronics, Paris