Joergen Ernst, 45
Vice president, procurement for product group complete seat Europe and Americas, Johnson Controls
Family: Wife, Stefanie; sons, Jannis, 12; Jona, 10
Born: Wuppertal, Germany
Languages: German, English
Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration, VWA (Verwaltungs-und Wirtschaftsakademie), Wuppertal, Germany
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
My first job was at Happich GmbH (a midsize automotive supplier) as a program buyer for the Mercedes C-class tunnel console and the Mercedes SLK instrument panel back in 1994 to 1996. My interest in the automotive industry came from a strong interest in cars and vehicles and all the different products that go into making them. I was also attracted to the challenging, fast-changing environment of the industry in general. The highly technical nature of the products and the great number of different materials involved in making them was and is highly interesting to me, especially from a procurement point of view. Through buying materials made from a broad variety of commodities (metals, steel, plastics, chemicals, foam, trim, fabrics, etc.) one can actually learn a lot about all the products and processes behind cars. That experience gave me a wealth of technical knowledge in a relatively short time, which was a terrific addition to my formal business education.
On the professional side of things, it is difficult to choose a single event or activity. In all the roles I have had over the years, I have consistently been able to achieve or even exceed challenging goals and metrics together with my teams. My biggest achievement in this regard was to keep my teams motivated and in good spirits despite rough headwinds from time to time. I also consider it to be a big achievement to have received consistently good results in employee surveys from the teams under my supervision. On the private side of things, I would say that my family is my greatest achievement. I would also mention a couple of successes I've had in my tennis career.
Biggest failure and what it taught you?
I once told an employee about a forthcoming promotion before it was approved at all required levels. When I told the employee that the promotion didn't go through, it naturally caused frustration and disappointment. What I learned is to communicate things officially to people only once they are fully confirmed and approved. I am happy to say, however, that I was able to bring about the promotion at a later stage.
What is your current challenge at work?
Other than the constant year-over-year challenges, such as reducing costs, I would say it's managing a team that is spread around the globe (North America, South America, South Africa, Russia and Europe) and building organizational capabilities on all levels globally to ensure robust succession planning and a reliable talent pipeline. Also key is managing the ever-changing challenges of a matrix organization without any negative effect on business results and performance.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
Not a lot surprises me anymore. I have experienced the speed and volatility of the industry for more than 20 years now. That said, I still find the speed of growth in China and its significance to be breathtaking. The speed of development related to vehicle technology and safety over the past 20 years has been quite impressive.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
No matter what level in the organization that you have risen to, no matter what challenges you are facing, always remain respectful and humble. Filter and convert the pressure you receive as a leader into positive pressure for your teams so that they believe that any goal is achievable. As one of my best supervisors used to say: You will only be as successful as your team. The way you deal with them, interact with them, communicate with them and motivate them will determine how successful you are. Following that guideline has helped me in my career so far.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Go for it, because it is highly interesting, challenging and rewarding. But be prepared for change. If I look back at the start of my career in purchasing 20 years ago, how we operated as buyers then versus now is completely different. Twenty years ago, a buyer got three drawings from engineering, sent them out to a couple of suppliers, got a quote with a bottom-line price, negotiated for two days, and then placed an order. Today it's all about cost breakdowns, cost models, process analysis and it requires a much deeper technical knowledge. You need to be prepared to constantly learn new commodities, products and processes. Even if you are a finance person, you need to understand the business behind the numbers.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Ensure excellent communication of the strategic direction; understand the strengths and weaknesses of the products, processes and people; understand the engagement levels of the employees; and take action to improve any of the above, if necessary.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I have no precise definition of the job I want to have in the future, as I have always felt challenged and motivated in all the roles I have had so far. My future job should certainly continue to be a leadership role with responsibility for global teams in a growing company with a clear strategic direction and vision for its future.
What do you do to relax?
I travel with my family, read and play tennis. I am part of a tennis team that competes in the summer and winter against other teams from the region. I recently played in my hometown championship.
Honda Accord hatchback.
2013-present: Vice president, procurement for product group complete seat Europe and Americas, Johnson Controls, Burscheid, Germany
2010-2013: Director/executive director for global procurement trim and fabrics, Johnson Controls, Burscheid
2005-2010: Purchasing director, foam, trim, chemicals, resins and electrical components, Johnson Controls, Burscheid
2003-2004: Purchasing manager, BMW business unit, Johnson Controls, Burscheid
2001-2002: Purchasing manager, VW business unit, Johnson Controls, Burscheid
2000-2001: Strategic commodity buyer for plastics Europe, Johnson Controls, Burscheid
1996-2000: Program buyer for all Volvo programs, Becker Group Europe, Wuppertal, Germany
1994-1995: Program buyer Mercedes programs, Happich, Wuppertal