Two automotive chiefs who rose to the C-suite from the shop floor say the top level at companies shouldn't only be for those with a university education.
"I really hope that it doesn't become rarefied air and the only people who can get to the C-suite are those who have been fortunate enough to afford to get a degree, especially in Western countries where getting a high-level education is becoming more and more expensive," Volvo Cars CEO Jim Rowan told Automotive News Europe. "I think talent is in every area and at every level of the business. Most people just need an opportunity."
Rowan, who grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, in a blue-collar family, said he was "lucky" because he got those opportunities.
He also credits his rise to his parents, who stressed that education, work ethic and treating people with respect were key factors in getting the best from yourself.
Former Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer, who is now CEO of electric bus and van manufacturer Switch Mobility, left school at 15 and became an apprentice at a UK-based supplier at age 16.
"Apprenticeships are superb at teaching you your trade, but more importantly teaching you empathy with people at all levels," Palmer told the Automotive News Europe Congress in Prague last month.
When asked whether it is harder or easier to match what he did today, Palmer said: "To some extent I think it’s probably harder now than it was during my time because so many more people have degrees. If you don’t have a degree you stand out more as a negative. I don’t think that’s right."
While both men started on the shop floor, each has augmented his hands-on knowledge by being lifelong learners who have accumulated university degrees during their working careers.
To Palmer, combining the practical and the theoretical creates something special.
"I think the companies that encourage both and allow Darwinism to prevail," he said, "are probably going to get the best leadership."