Michael Weiss, 42
Vice president thermal management & water pump bearings, Schaeffler
Family:Wife, Christina; son, Konrad, 9; daughter, Sophia, 7
Born: Munich, Germany
Languages: German, English, French
Education: MBA, Nuremberg University of Applied Sciences, Nuremberg, Germany; bachelor's degree (with honors) in automotive engineering, Munich University of Applied Sciences, Munich, Germany
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
I have always been fascinated by anything with a motor because I grew up in a home where we had lots of vehicles and engines. The technology fascinates me and the passion people have for vehicles inspires me. Before university, I did a three-year apprenticeship at BMW where I learned how to build a car from scratch and to demand perfection from myself. While studying I also spent a lot of time at racetracks as a mechanic. After university, I joined Schaeffler as a designer for variable valve trains.
What was your big break?
Moving to Japan with nothing more than a business plan and starting a company called GIF Japan, which is a subsidiary of GIF mbH near Aachen, Germany. It was a great experience because I had so much freedom and got to push myself to new levels. We achieved results that no one could have predicted.
Your greatest achievement?
Establishing Schaeffler as a player in the thermal management field. It was an entirely new area for the company so I was allowed to develop the product and business model with my own team. The company challenged us in a tough but fair way to create a winning product through a collaborative effort.
In my personal life, it was being one of just two riders who completed a motorcycle race through Morocco this year. The physical and mental stress of racing while reading the landscape and monitoring all the instruments was tremendous.
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
We once had a great product idea, started working on it and promoted it to our customers. However, we ignored some critical customer feedback because test results under lab conditions were good. We later learned that the system wasn't controllable using reasonable efforts. Even worse, there were already working solutions on the market. The lesson was: You need to challenge your own ideas and maintain motivation to achieve innovation but most importantly, never ignore the customer's voice.
What is your current challenge at work?
My area consists of the very innovative field of thermal management and a commodity product, water pump bearings. The first one requires fast innovation and great attention to organization building due to the product's tremendous growth. The other one is a stable market leader where the focus is on constantly improving productivity. It is a difficult balancing act.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
The unrelenting drive to be successful. Even the best people don´t relax after a great achievement. They keep going, striving for even better results. We always deliver when we're under pressure. Once we are told something is obsolete, for instance, due to electrification, we find new roles and business models that push us ahead.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Be open-minded and mean what you say. Any team will be able to follow you when you give clear direction and you lead by example.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Pursue something you are passionate about because there is little joy without passion. Think out of the box and always try to understand how your contribution will benefit the customer and stakeholder. Be aware that the automotive world requires a lot of dedication. However, this industry has so many facets that you will be able to find the job that suits you best.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Recognize the achievements of my predecessors to build on their momentum then implement an open and frank strategic dialogue across all functions. Next I would develop the strategy leading from status quo to outstanding and use effective communication to streamline the company's activities and resources.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I need room, responsibility and a challenge and I feel best when I work in the triangle of r&d, sales and production. I strive to be in the first row and to have the most momentum.
What do you do to relax?
I love riding my motorcycles in challenging environments such as the desert or on the racetrack. That type of complete concentration clears my mind. I also enjoy time spent with my family and friends. I love being active with them and am always amazed by how the children develop. They are so much fun.
What is your pet peeve?
When people are fixated on assigning guilt rather than solving the problem.
What was your first car?
A BMW M3 that I got after secondary school. It was totally beyond my financial means but its performance was fantastic. I have no regrets.
BMW 535 Touring.
If you were a car, which one would you be?
Probably a high-performance station wagon. It would be understated, powerful, agile and offer enough room to take my crew with me.
2014-present: Vice president thermal management & water pump bearings, Schaeffler, Herzogenaurach, Germany
2010-2014: Director of the product group thermal management, Schaeffler
2009-2010: Representative director, GIF Japan, Tokyo, Japan
2008-2010: Lead project manager for powertrain development, GIF mbH, Aachen, Germany
2005-2007: Designer, application engineer and project manager for variable cam phasing systems, Schaeffler, Herzogenaurach