Michael-Robert Buechsner, 41
Vice president and general manager for occupant safety systems, ZF TRW Automotive
Family:Partner, Christine; son, David, 18; daughters, Nadine, 16, Isabell, 11
Born: Salzburg, Austria
Languages: German, English, Spanish
Education: MBA, SGMI Management Institut, St. Gallen, Switzerland; doctorate in mechanical engineering and economics, Technical University Graz, Graz, Austria; master's degree in chemical engineering, Technical University Graz
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
My first job in the automotive industry was in technical services at TRW in Salzburg, Austria, when I was a student. I was impressed by the high complexity and dynamic environment of this field from the very beginning. I had the chance to learn a lot and, to be honest, the pay was very welcome during my student days.
Your greatest achievement?
The greatest achievement of my professional career was managing the turnaround of TRW's plants in Mexico during the worst of the global economic downturn in 2008. I found myself in a completely different cultural environment. However, it turned out well and brought us even closer together as a team.
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
The biggest mistake I made took place during the handover of our high-performing plastics production plant to one of our other divisions. During the transfer, which took place in 2010, I didn't look closely enough at the capabilities of the division that was taking over the business. We soon discovered that they were not working with the same drive and enthusiasm as the former management team. As a result, we struggled for more than two years to get the operational performance back on track. The lesson I learned was that I will more thoroughly examine the organizational setup of the companies involved in any future M&A process.
What is your current challenge at work?
We have to expand globally because automotive standards are getting tougher in every region. What limits the industry is the availability of talent. I strongly believe that finding and recruiting top talent will be the most important success factor in the future. Therefore, this is and will be the area where I spend the biggest portion of my time.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
I would not say I am surprised, however, I am deeply impressed by the tremendous speed of innovation we have seen over the past few years and that we will continue to see in the future. That's especially true when it comes to the HMI (human machine interface) or in the areas of autonomous driving and electromobility. I see a great future for the automotive industry, and I am happy to see that "thinking green" continues to become more important.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
The most useful advice I ever got is: Focus your energy before you make a decision. Take a deep breath, step back and reflect on what your counterpart may feel. This mind-clearing exercise allows me to connect to my business partner during critical situations and negotiations so we can achieve fast consensus and reach common goals with less effort.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
When considering a career in the automotive industry you have to love speed, innovation and working in a truly global environment. But it's also important to find the right work-life balance otherwise this business will overwhelm you.
If you were CEO of a company what would you do first?
One of my first actions would be to ask my management team three questions: 1) What should we as an organization keep in the future? 2) What should we change? 3) What should we reinforce? And, in order to foster an open atmosphere, I would suggest that we have an off-site meeting in the Austrian mountains.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I want to be a CEO in the near future. It's definitely a personal goal of mine to carry the overall responsibility for an entire company.
What do you do to relax?
Every year I go hiking for a week somewhere in the Austrian mountains. I'm definitely not one of those extreme mountain climbers. That's why I prefer to be based in a nice hotel from where I can take day trips and bond with nature without a lot of people close by. As soon as the mountains are covered with snow my family and I begin our winter sport activities such as skiing, ice skating and sliding. In the future I would like to improve my golf handicap -- and there is a lot of room for improvement.
A yellow Volkswagen Polo.
2015-present: Vice president and general manager for occupant safety systems, ZF TRW Automotive, Alfdorf, Germany
2013-2015: Vice president occupant safety systems Europe & seat belt systems global, TRW Automotive Systems, Alfdorf
2009-2012: Product line director seat belt systems global, TRW Automotive Systems, Alfdorf
2007-2009: Director operations seat belt systems, TRW VSSI, McAllen, Texas, USA
2005-2007: Plant manager, TRW Occupant Restraint Systems, Salzburg, Austria
1999-2005: Various posts with TRW Occupant Restraint Systems, Salzburg