Thomas M. Mueller, 44
Vice president electrics/electronics & e-propulsion, Volvo
Family: Wife, Uta; son, Max-Loic, 9; daughter, Marie-Fleur, 6
Born: Dudweiler, Germany
Languages: German, English, French, Swedish
Education: Doctorate in physics, Ruprecht-Karls-Universitaet (Heidelberg, Germany) and Institut Laue-Langevin (Grenoble, France); master's degree in physics with specialization in electronics, IT and economics, Ruprecht-Karls-Universitaet
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
As a project manager at BMW in a business process and IT convergence program in the UK working with Mini, Land Rover and Rover Cars, all of which were part of the BMW Group at that time. Cars have fascinated me ever since I was a child. They are very emotional products that signify freedom and underline drivers' personalities while also expressing their lifestyles.
Contributing to the successful launch of the new Volvo XC90 with a completely new, intuitive human-machine interface including a gesture-based touchscreen interface, full connectivity including over-the-air software updates, and a world-class plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. All based on a new domain architecture of the world's first complete AUTOSAR 4 board net.
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
It was assuming that people had enough information to draw the right conclusions on their own when we executed a new strategy. I quickly realized that certain things were not really clear. That's why I now say it is better to communicate, discuss and clarify one time too many than one too few. Of course, it is a very thin line between being specific enough on the one hand without limiting room for creativity on the other. It can be tricky to achieve the right balance.
What is your current challenge at work?
Leading the organization into the next phase of innovation and efficiency after the tremendous achievements with the all-new XC90.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
Its image transformation from being part of the "old economy" at the turn of the millennium to being part of the "high-tech industry" that it is today.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Embrace change, because the world has always changed and will always change. This is especially important today because a lot of disruptive business models are arising due to new technological possibilities. Look at Kodak, which underestimated the power of digital cameras. They got stuck in their old business model and essentially went out of business. Nowadays, there are bigger and bigger changes, a faster rate of change, and bigger disruptions caused by new technologies.
This is affecting the automotive industry as well, with connectivity, with telematics and the way people will think about mobility in the future. People may not want to own a car and instead they may be purchasing mobility services, using car-sharing schemes, and so on. We are facing a lot of challenges. The automotive business needs to adapt to stay relevant for its customers. Right now, the automotive industry is exposed to a couple of big trends that are influencing the way we do business. We need to be smart and innovative and constantly reinvent our business.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
To develop cars and mobility services that customers really want, one needs to be passionate about the product and think in a customer-centric way because the car is not just another industrial good.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Listen to people, understand the company's situation and then take the necessary actions.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I think very holistically about business and all its various aspects – the financial aspects, how to grow new businesses, how to explore new possibilities, but also operations and human resources. For me that is why eventually I would like to have the chance to be a CEO. That way you can act more holistically. You can work on all the different aspects of a business.
What do you do to relax?
I spend time with my family and friends. I enjoy mountain biking, snowboarding, skiing, boating, scuba diving, swimming and hiking. I also like going to the opera and theater as well as traveling. I like Europe, Asia, North America, the Caribbean and I'm a big fan of Africa, but I also like driving up to the North Cape, exploring the northern part of Europe. Traveling allows you to look at life from different angles. You broaden your horizons and learn things about yourself. Most importantly, it's a chance to free your mind because you are out of your normal environment.
1985 VW Polo Coupe.
Volvo XC60 D5 AWD Polestar (and soon the new XC90).
2014-present: Vice president, electrics/electronics & e-propulsion, Volvo, Gothenburg, Sweden
2012-2013: Vice president, electrical/electronics systems engineering, Volvo, Gothenburg, Sweden
2011-2012: Director, connected drive, BMW, Munich, Germany
2009-2011: Director, navigation and connected car, BMW, Munich
2008–2009: Director, strategy electrics/electronics processes, BMW, Munich
2007-2008: Task force manager, electrical/electronics systems integration and approval process and vehicle coding/programming, BMW, Munich
2005-2007: Director, business IT international production control & CKD, BMW, Munich
2004-2005: Director, process and IT strategy, BMW, Munich
1999-2004: Several project and group leader positions in process IT for production and logistics, BMW, Munich and Birmingham/Solihull/Oxford, England