Musk, Rowan … These bosses who don’t come from the automobile

If we look at what is happening at the top and very top levels of the different manufacturers, we get the impression that the automotive world is less and less linked to the car.

Indeed, in the past, the people at the head of the different brands were, in the vast majority of cases, true automobile fans: people who had grown up with bread and engines, who stood out for their technical skills. and engineering and who ended up sitting in the chair of the CEO.

Today, this is no longer the case: the sector is undergoing major changes due to electrification, digitization, service delivery and the evolution of sales channels, we are looking for leaders with different skills, often unrelated to the world of four wheels, in the strict sense of the term, but allowing different manufacturers to meet the challenges of the moment and plan for the future.

Experience in the field of technology

The most recent case is that of Jim Rowan, the new CEO of Volvo replacing Hakan Samuelsson effective January 4, 2022. Mr. Samuelsson, a mechanical engineer who worked at Scania and Man, has spent his life working on engines, frames and suspensions of trucks and cars, while Mr. Rowan was trained in companies such as BlackBerry, Ember Technologies and Dyson. Groups that have nothing to do with cars and which, in the case of Dyson, tried to get into the world of electric mobility, but then turned around.

Rowan’s choice fits perfectly with the new mission of the Swedish company, which has declared that it wants to focus strongly on digitization and services, which will in the future become the real core business of the Gothenburg-based company.

The Marchionne affair

Looking back, we discover another famous case in which a manufacturer relied on a CEO who was not from the automotive world to lead the company at a specific point in its history. We are referring to Fiat and Sergio Marchionne. Marchionne, CEO of the group since 2003, held the same position for Fiat Auto in 2005, guiding the brand through a deep financial crisis.

Marchionne was considered the ideal person for his position at SGS Geneva, a company which operated in the inspection and certification sector and which, thanks to him, went in just two years from the brink of bankruptcy to the reorganization of its accounts.

Sergio Marchionne

Marchionne, main architect of birth of FCA thanks to the merger with Chrysler in 2014, based the restructuring of the Fiat group mainly on the profitability of the models.

It is for this reason that he decided, for example, to stop the Punto, thus interrupting the Turin tradition of small cars, or not to support the relaunch of Lancia, a brand that had already been “shelved. “in the pre-Marchionne era and which did not promise to give satisfactory financial results in the short term. Difficult choices, not always shared by all, but which, in one way or another, have contributed to the accomplishment of the mission entrusted to him.

From digital to electric cars

Among the CEOs who have come to lead an automaker after gaining experience in other fields is obviously the eclectic Elon Musk. The South African entrepreneur and super manager, who initially focused on the digitization of services (the famous PayPal case), decided to invest in Tesla, fascinated by the company’s innovative spirit. , which produced and marketed the Roadster since 2008.

herbert diess elon musk vw id3

Elon Musk with Herbert Diess, PDG of Volkswagen

Elon Musk was appointed CEO of the Palo Alto-based company in 2008. Since then, he has led the company on a path of phenomenal expansion that has seen him become the richest man in the world. Why ? Simple, because Musk, precisely because of his position as CEO, does not receive a salary but can buy bundles of shares at a reduced price depending on the results obtained. But this is another story.

For the supercars of the future

More recently, two other iconic automotive brands have been given personalities from worlds that have little to do with four wheels. These are Maserati and Ferrari.

2021 Maserati MC20 exterior

La Maison du Trident, from January 2021, confided in Davide Grasso, who worked three years ago for the Nike group and was also Managing Director of Converse. The Maranello company has been run since last summer by Benedetto Vigna, a 52-year-old man with a degree in physics from Pisa, who worked for 26 years in the semiconductor industry.

Live Ferrari Daytona SP3

Finally, it is impossible not to mention Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, who, unlike all the managers mentioned so far, was born and raised in the automotive world.

It was precisely because of the skills she demonstrated in her work at GM that she was approached by other companies that had nothing to do with the automobile, and she now also sits on the boards of administration of Duke University, the Detroit Economic Club and even the Walt Disney Company. As if to say: the important thing is to have the right person at the right time.

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