Kunal Chandra, 37
Vice president of shared autonomous mobility, Siemens Mobility
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
My current job is my first one in this field. It was a unique opportunity to bring my business and leadership skills to a sector that is going through a paradigm shift. Autonomous vehicle technology builds on the ongoing de-fossilization of fuels thereby accelerating the decarbonization and decongestion of modern cities. This job has given me the opportunity to work on a fascinating future technology that serves an important purpose for society.
Your greatest achievement?
I have enjoyed great professional success, however, it's the opportunity to work in Nigeria that has been the most rewarding. A few colleagues and I co-founded Generation for Societal Change. It's as non-governmental organization that aims to help Nigerian youth with their professional and personal development. We started with a small group of volunteers and about 20 to 30 beneficiaries in local schools. In the last decade we have grown to thousands of beneficiaries and more than 50 volunteers. We plan to take GSC global in the coming years. This has, by far, been the most rewarding endeavor of my life and it helps me keep things in perspective.
Born: Lucknow, India
Languages: English, Hindi, German
Education: MBA, IMD Business School, Lausanne, Switzerland; bachelor's degree in technology, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
It came while leading Siemens Energy's transformation portfolio toward a more decarbonized future. One of the options we considered was to devise a business plan for an energy consulting company that would work closely with our current and future customers. They were to develop and deploy decarbonization technologies. The plan didn't require much initial investment. We just needed to transfer some of the experts into the new company and give them a marketing and engineering budget to get started. While we managed to sell this idea to most senior stakeholders, the division's CEO wouldn't go for it. It was only about a year later, when I transitioned to my next role, that I had a chat with this CEO. It turns out, he had liked the idea and was sorry he didn't support it at the time. I learned that perhaps if I had tried a bit harder I could have convinced him after all. Because I was new at Siemens at the time, I was perhaps a bit too concerned about my personal reputation and put the brakes on this idea too soon. I realize now that business executives who want to drive radical portfolio transformations in large companies shouldn't hesitate to take big risks.
What is your current challenge at work?
In my current role, I'm leading the development of our shared autonomous mobility portfolio for Siemens. We are targeting development and deployment of autonomous shuttles supported by connected infrastructure to deliver safe and cost-effective first- and last-mile public transport in major urban centers. We believe such solutions are critical to achieving the vision of sustainable smart cities. Despite a compelling business case, there is still a lot of uncertainty around the regulatory framework for autonomous driving. While Germany has recently made major strides in clarifying the legislation around Level 4 autonomous driving, there is still a long way to go before investors, city authorities and technology companies feel truly confident about autonomous driving solutions. For us this means we have to carefully time our development activities to avoid falling behind but, more importantly, also not getting ahead of the market.
2019-present: Vice president for shared autonomous mobility, Siemens Mobility, Munich, Germany
2017-2019: Global head, new energy businesses, Siemens Energy, Munich, Germany
2006-2016: Several technical and commercial roles in energy industry for Royal Dutch Shell in India, Nigeria, Netherlands and Singapore
What is the best advice you have ever received?
It came from my mentor. He said 80 percent of success is about showing up. This is true for both individuals and companies. It's important to approach all opportunities with an open mind and say yes more often. For individuals, it means trusting their abilities to learn and grow with new challenges. In the context of companies this means that in today's rapidly changing business and technology environment we should not focus on endlessly de-risking new business opportunities, rather we should be willing to take calculated risks and not take our current successes for granted.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Future mobility solutions have the potential to create major paradigm shifts in our society. This will have the same impact as the creation of the internet or renewable energy. Highly motivated and conscious business and technology professionals will, therefore, find several opportunities in this industry going forward. My advice to someone joining this industry is to make sure that they identify a higher purpose that they can serve by being a part of this industry and to relentlessly pursue that purpose through innovation, customer focus and forging partner ecosystems.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
My midterm goal is to scale shared autonomous mobility into a viable commercial business unit for Siemens.
What do you do to relax?
I really like going cycling and enjoy long drives in the car.
What is your dream location to live?
That would be the tiny city of Wanaka in New Zealand. It sits on the banks of Lake Wanaka.
What is your favorite driving song?
"Blowing In the Wind" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" by Bob Dylan.
What was your favorite road trip and why?
My wife and I drove 1,600 km in three days from Munich to Amsterdam and back to catch the tail end of the tulip season in the Netherlands. We took the trip in a new Audi A4. It was long but definitely worth the effort.
What was your first car?
A Hyundai Accent.
I drive a Mercedes C-Class sedan.
If you were a car, which one would you be?
I really like the 1963 Corvette Stingray with the split window. It's bold and quite avant-garde for its time.